In the heart of the Jewish quarter (in the 7 th district), the Great Synagogue of Budapest (also called the Dohány Street Synagogue) is the largest synagogue in Europe and the 2nd largest in the world after Temple Emanu-El in New York. In short: a must-see!
💡 The Captain’s tip 💡
Want to know more about the history of Budapest? Captain Ulysses highly recommends this free guided tour of the city. It’s up to you to choose how much you wish to tip the tour guide!
Are you looking for a hotel in Budapest? Be sure to check out the Captain’s article: Where to stay in Budapest? Advice & recommendations
Planning your trip to Budapest? Take a look the Captain’s detailed article on the best things to do: A Guide to Budapest
Brief history of the Great Synagogue of Budapest
The construction of the Great Synagogue (or Dohány Street Synagogue)
Entrusted to Viennese architect Ludwig Förster, the construction of the Great Synagogue began in 1854 and was completed five years later.
The architect who designed the interior decoration was no other than Frigyes Feszl, Ludwig Förster’s rival!
Resolutely Moorish in style, the building also draws on Romantic and Byzantine influences. The synagogue owes its impressive dimensions to the large Jewish community that lived in 19 th century in Budapest. At the time, they represented 25% of the population of the Hungarian capital.
The synagogue was inaugurated in 1859. For the occasion, Hungarian virtuoso Franz Liszt was invited to play the organ. French pianist and composer Camille Saint-Saëns was later invited to perform in the synagogue as well.
The Great Synagogue during the 1930s and 1940s
In 1939, the Arrow Cross Party (a Hungarian nationalist, fascist, anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi organization) attacked the Great Synagogue.
During World War II, the Budapest Ghetto was created around the synagogue, which was transformed into a German radio base and later on into stables.
The Great Synagogue since the 1990s
It was not until much later, with the fall of the Soviet regime, that Budapest’s Great Synagogue was finally renovated.
The renovations were partly funded by an association of American philanthropists from the Hungarian diaspora, including businesswoman Estée Lauder and actor Tony Curtis.
A museum, a memory park and a memorial adjoining the Great Synagogue were also built in the 1990s.
Visiting the Great Synagogue
The facade of Budapest’s Great Synagogue
Before even entering the Great Synagogue of Budapest, take moment to peer at its imposing facade made of red and yellow bricks.
The building, which was inspired by the Alhambra in Granada, is resolutely neo-Moorish in style and is decorated with oriental motifs. Its two bulb-shaped towers are undoubtedly reminiscent of the architecture of mosques.
Above the main entrance, be sure to take a look at the large rose window surmounted by the Tables of the Law.
The dimensions of the mosque are quite simply monumental: 75 meters (246 ft) long, 27 meters (89 ft) wide and 43.6 metres (143 ft) high at its highest point.
The interior of the Great Synagogue
The Dohány Street Synagogue is as richly decorated on the inside as it is on the outside. The synagogue’s layout is similar to that of a Christian basilica… Astonishing? Not that much, considering that the synagogue’s architect, Ludwig Förster, was himself a Catholic.
Other Christian elements stand out, in particular the Torah reading table, located at the back of the building and not in the middle as is usual in synagogues, as well as the two side pulpits and the great organ.
🤔 Fun Fact 🤔
The Jewish religion prohibits worshipers from playing music on Shabbat (the weekly day of rest). It is therefore a Shabbes goy , a person who is not of Jewish confession, who is responsible for playing the organ during the ceremonies.
Like on the facade, the decoration of the interior of the Great Synagogue blends different influences with a distinct inclination for neo-Moorish aesthetics. c
The synagogue can accommodate up to 3,500 worshipers and has 2,964 seats in total: 1,492 for men (on the ground floor) and 1,472 for women (in the galleries upstairs).
Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Park and Imre Varga’s “Tree of Life”
Behind the Dohány Street Synagogue, the Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Park ( Raoul Wallenberg Emlekpark in Hungarian) pays homage to the 600,000 Hungarian Jews massacred by the Nazis.
The park is home to the “Tree of Life”, a memorial created by Hungarian sculptor Imre Varga, representing a weeping willow on the leaves of which are engraved the names of Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Some specialists also suggest that the sculpture is reminiscent of the shape of an inverted menorah (the seven-branched candelabrum symbolizing Judaism).
Memory Park also includes a memorial dedicated to Raoul Wallenberg as well as other “Righteous Among the Nations” (including Carl and Gertrud Lutz, Giorgio Perlasca, Ángel Sanz Briz, Angelo Rotta or even Friedrich Born): non-Jews who risked their lives to help Jews escape death during World War II.
🤔 Who was Raoul Wallenberg? 🤔
Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat sent on a mission to Budapest during World War II. He issued temporary passports declaring their holders to be Swedish citizens awaiting repatriation and obtained the cancellation of many deportations. Raoul Wallenberg is said to have saved the lives of almost 20,000 Jews.
The Jewish cemetery
In Jewish tradition, cemeteries are rarely located near synagogues.
The presence of a cemetery adjoining the Great Synagogue may therefore be surprising. But the very high mortality in the Budapest Ghetto made it necessary to bury the victims in the garden located behind the synagogue.
The Jewish Museum
Created in the 1990s, Budapest’s Jewish Museum is housed next to the synagogue, in the former home of Theodor Herzl, founder of Zionism.
The museum traces the history of the Jewish community in Hungary, and exhibits a number of archival documents, photographs and historical objects. The museum also hosts many artistic exhibitions.
💡 Guided tours of Budapest’s Great Synagogue 💡
If you want to know everything about the rich history and impressive architecture of the Dohány Street Synagogue, Captain Ulysses recommends opting for a guided tour.
👉 More info: Guided tour of the Great Synagogue of Budapest
Getting to the Great Synagogue
To get to the Dohány Street Synagogue, head for the Jewish quarter of Budapest, east of the Danube. The synagogue is located a short walk from the Hungarian National Museum, St. Stephen’s Basilica and the Opera House.
The nearest public transports are:
|Metro||Astoria Station||Line 2|
|Bus||Károly körút stop||Line 74|
|Tram||Astoria stop||Lines 47 and 49|
Hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses also pull up close to the Grand Synagogue. They’re a handy way to take in the sights and landmarks of the capital city, all while enjoying the fresh air.
👉 More info here.
The synagogue is open:
|June – October||Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday: 10 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. Friday: 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Saturday: closed|
|November – February||Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday: 10 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. Friday: 10 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. Saturday: closed|
|March – May||Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday: 10 a.m. – 5.30 p.m. Friday: 10 a.m. – 3.30 p.m. Saturday: closed|
Entrance tickets to the Great Synagogue and the Jewish Museum are priced at:
6 – 14 years
– 6 years old
|Free of charge|
The Great Synagogue of Budapest is a very touristy monument and the queues at the entrance can be quite long, especially during the high season. Captain Ulysse therefore recommends opting for a skip-the-line ticket to avoid wasting time.
👉 Skip the lines: book your tickets and visits in advance!
👉 Looking for tips and recommendations? Here are all of Captain Ulysses’ suggestions!
🛏️ Accommodation: if you’re looking for an accommodation in Budapest, Captain Ulysses highly recommends Booking. You’ll find a wide choice of hotels, hostels and apartments in the Hungarian capital. The Captain recommends in particular:
– tight budget: Avenue Hostel
– intermediate budget: Tempo Life Apartman
– to treat yourself: Hotel Moments Budapest
🎟️ Activities: as for booking visits and tourist activities, Captain Ulysses recommends three websites: GetYourGuide, Tiqets and Civitatis. Guided tours, cruises, skip-the-line tickets, tourist activities… there’s plenty to choose from!
🎫 Citypass: If you are staying in Budapest for several days, you might want to consider investing in the Budapest Card. It includes free public transport, free entrance to the Lukacs Spa, two guided tours, free entrance to 17 museums, as well as numerous discounts.
🚐 Transfers: Budapest airport is located about twenty kilometers from the city. If you want to take a load off your mind, you can book a private transfer into Budapest’s city centre from the airport. A car will be waiting to take you to your accommodation in the city. Find out more: airport transfer.
🚌Transport in Budapest: Budapest’s public transport system is well-developped and quite easy to navigate: metro, bus, tram and even ferry. If you wish, you can also opt for a hop-on hop-off bus tour which stops at all the top tourist attractions in Rome (audio guide included). Otherwise, there’s always the good old local ways of getting around the city: in a russian jeep or a Trabant.
✈️ Flights: Captain Ulysses highly recommends booking your flights on Skyscanner. You’ll be able to compare countless offers to find the best deal. If your dates are flexible, you can also compare prices over several months to find the cheapest flights possible.
Fabrizio Lussu | Pixabay | Fred romero | Yelkrokoyade
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