Monday, June 1, 2009

Czech Republic -- Trebic!

Trebic Rear Synagogue. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I've come across a nice feature story on Czech Radio by my friend Jan Richter, about the historic old Jewish quarter of Trebic, in the Czech Republic -- the largest, and one of the best preserved, former Jewish quarters in the country and one of the most significant preserved Jewish quarters in Europe. In 2003, the the Jewish quarter and the Jewish cemetery, together with the Catholic basilica of St Procopius, were added to the UNESCO List of World Heritage. Click HERE for a virtual tour.

The Jewish quarter, stretched out along the opposite bank of the river from the main market square, is known as Zamosti -- "across the bridge." It includes a wide range of houses and other buildings dating from the Renaissance to the 19th century.

I first visited Trebic in about 1990, and the changes since then have been remarkable -- I have written extensively about developments there in both Jewish Heritage Travel. There has been considerable restoration work in recent years, and the area is becoming a district of quaint shops, cafes and restaurants, some of them Jewish themed. On my last visit, a couple of years ago, I took part in a weekend meeting organized by the Union of Czech Jewish Students -- there were lectures, social events, walking tours, etc.

Two former synagogues stand here. One, the so-called Front Synagogue, originally dates from 1639-1642 but was rebuilt in the 19th century. It now serves as a church -- it has a plaque inside memorializing the Trebic Jewish community annihilated in the Holocaust.

The so-called Rear Synagogue, long a ruin, was reopened to the public in 1997 after a lengthy restoration process. It was a ruined shell when restoration work began in the early 1990s. Today, it is used for cultural purposes and has an exhibition on local Jewish history and traditions, including a Holocaust memorial. The building has a barrel vaunted interior, heavy, partially buttressed walls and arched windows. Walls and ceiling are covered with baroque stucco decoration and colorful paintings that include Hebrew texts, floral motifs and painted lions on one of the doorways

You can read Jan Richter's radio report HERE -- and there is also a button to click to listern to it, as he is guided around the district by Michal Řídký, a guide for the local tourist center.

“The [rear] synagogue was built around the year of 1669, so it’s about thirty years newer than the front synagogue, and it was built in the Renaissance style. It consists of this main hall, the small hall, and the women’s gallery, because men and women were separated here during the service. Women also had a special entrance to the synagogue, there was a staircase outside. Later, a house was built just next to the synagogue, and the stairway became a part of it. A funny story is connected with that – the owner of the house was obligated to let the women go through his house into the synagogue, so every week, the women would pass through his house.”

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