The web site of the Central Board includes extensive information (including photos) of Jewish heritage sites both in nine towns where there are Jewish communities today and in 18 places where pre-Holocaust communities no longer exist.
Though this report, by the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece, is more than a decade old, it contains a valuable list of Jewish heritage sites and describes threats to them at that time. These include 18 Jewish cemeteries, in cities where there are no current organized Jewish communities (Didimoticho, Drama, Kos, Patras, Serres, Xanthi, Zakynthos) and cities in which there are current Jewish communities (Athens I, Athens II, Chalkis, Corfu, Ioannina, Kavala, Larissa, Rhodes, Thessaloniki, Trikala, Volos). It also lists 12 synagogues — in Athens (Beth Shalom, Ioanniotiki, Monastirioton), Chalkis, Corfu, Ioannina, Larissa, Rhodes, Thessaloniki (Yad Lezikaron, Avraam Salem) Trikala, Volos and in Chania, Verria, and Zakynthos).
The Chabad web site has a section on sites of Jewish interest, with much of the information taken from the book Jewish Sites and Synagogues of Greece, by Nikos Stavroulakis and Timothy De Vinney (Athens: Talos Press, 1992)
Online archives of a one-time newsletter on Jewish monuments in Greece. The material may be 10 years and more old (and has not been updated) but there a wealth of resources, news articles, essays, reports and photographs, lists and articles about Jewish heritage sites, as well as a bibliography on Greek Jewish history and heritage sites.
Centre for Advanced Religious and Theological Study
Faculty of Divinity
Cambridge CB3 9BS England
An ambitious project to map the Jewish presence in the former Byzantine Empire and collate, digitize and publish physical and archival information.
Material from the Edward Victor collection.
The ruins of an ancient synagogue on the island of Aegina were first noted in 1829. It was fully excavated in 1932, and again in subsequent years.
The plan of the synagogue is simple; the main hall appears to have been rectangular in shape, with a wide protruding semi-circular apse at the east end, a basilican plan common in religious buildings of the 4th century CE and later. The hall measured 13.5 by 7.6 metres, and the apse was 5.5 metres in diameter. There was probably a portico at the front of the building. This synagogue appears to have been built over an earlier structure of unknown function but nearly identical plan.
The floor of the sanctuary was completely covered with a mosaic of carpet-like geometrical patterns in blue, grey, red and black. The mosaic includes two patronal inscriptions, within tabulae ansatae (plaque-like motifs), attributing the construction of the synagogue to ‘Theodoros, the archisynagogos’, and providing some detail on the cost of construction and the sources and amounts of funds involved.
The original site lies not far from the harbor; the mosaic floor has been moved and is now part of an open-air archaeological display.
The web site of the Jewish community in Athens has links, photographs and information on Jewish heritage sites in the city including synagogues, cemeteries and memorial sites, as does the Chabad of Greece web site.
5 Melidoni St
105 53 Athens
Tel: +30 (0) 210 32 52 823
The main synagogue of Athens, founded in 1935 for the Sephardi community; the name of the architect, E. Lazarides, appears on the façade. Renovated in 1972-5, the building mixes neo-classical and modern stylistic elements. It is clad in Greek Pentelic marble and has modern stained glass windows. Like many Greek synagogues of the interwar period, the tevah (bimah) and ehal (Ark) stand together on a raised platform separated by a low wall from the main congregational space. The synagogue holds 500 people and has a gallery for women.
8 Melidoni St
105 53 Athens
Tel: +30 (0) 210 32 52 823
Dedicated in 1906, this synagogue, built by Jews from Ioannina, stands across from the Beth Shalom synagogue and houses Jewish community offices. Inside, as is traditional in Romaniote synagogues, the tevah (bimah) and ehal (Ark) stand on the western and eastern walls respectively. The Torah Scrolls are kept in tikkim (wooden and metal cases). Today, the synagogue is used only during High Holidays.
There is epigraphic and literary evidence for Jews in Athens from the fourth century BCE onwards, but the site of any synagogue in the city is uncertain. However, a fragment of inscribed stone was discovered by archaeologist Homer Thompson in the 1930s, while excavating in the Agora, beneath the Acropolis. It represented part of a menorah and a lulav and was very likely to have come from a building, perhaps a synagogue, which may have been built into the Metroon, which stood in the Agora.
The Old Jewish cemetery is part of the city’s municipal First Cemetery (at Neos Kosmos, near the city center), which was established in 1837. The graves here date to the early 20th century, and the cemetery has been closed to new burials since World War II. The currently used cemetery is a 20,000 square meter Jewish section of the city’s Third Cemetery that was established after World War II. It is walled and guarded. The earthquake of 1999 caused serious damage to the small ohel here; the site was also seriously vandalized in May 2000. There is a substantial Holocaust memorial, an inscribed stele atop pyramidal steps, flanked by menorot, seven-branched candelabra.
The capital of the island of Evoia (Eubea), Chalkis has been an important Aegean seaport and trading center since the first millennium BCE. In about the first century CE, the city was cited as having a Jewish community; in the later 12th century, Benjamin of Tudela reported a community of 200 Jews here. Renamed Negroponte by the Venetians, who ruled it from 1204, the city became an important link in trading routes across the Aegean, and Jews played a major role in its economic life. The community today, depleted by the Holocaust, numbers less than 100. There is a Jewish quarter, Jewish cemetery with a small museum, synagogue and various monuments.
The Jewish quarter lies around the market place behind Avanton Street, near the eastern gate of the former castle. The walls of the castle were demolished a century ago, but this gate was known as the Gate of the Jews. In the square there is a marble bust of Colonel Mordehai Frizis (1893-1940), a native of Chalkis, who was the first Jew to graduate from the Greek officer’s school and the first Greek officer to be killed in action in World War II.
The synagogue in Chalkis has been destroyed and rebuilt at least six times over the centuries. Tradition dates its founding back to the early Byzantine period, about 1,500 years ago. The present structure, at 27 Kotsou Street, was built in 1854 but was substantially rebuilt in the 20th century. The small yellow stucco building, situated in a courtyard, is an important example of the traditional Romaniote synagogue. The interior is a rectangular space with six marble columns forming a nave and two aisles. The long axis is oriented east-west, with the ehal (Ark) facing east. Crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling, and there is seating around the walls.
Inscribed gravestones from an ancient cemetery decorate the exterior of the synagogue’s arched windows. They were given to the Jewish community when the fortifications of Chalkis were demolished in the early 20th century; possibly they were taken from a lost cemetery to be used as building material when the castle was constructed. Adjacent to the synagogue is a small garden with an etrog tree, as well as other plants necessary for the celebration of Sukkoth. The garden also contains a frame for a communal sukkah. The former mikveh has been filled in.
Jewish cemetery, Museum and Holocaust memorial
The graves in this 17,000 square meter cemetery on Ellinon Evraion Martyron (Greek Jewish Martyrs’) Street (former Messopion street) range in date from the 15th century to the present; many commemorate rabbis. They include a remarkable series of monuments in the form of large rectangular blocks with a rough pedimental form at one end. Conservation work undertaken in 1990-2000 by the Jewish community revealed more grave structures in the cemetery, as well as many broken fragments of gravestones. These are now displayed in a small museum on the edge of the cemetery, housed in a former guard house constructed by the Baron de Rothschild. This building was restored in 1996-8 by the Jewish community and architect Elias Messinas. A Holocaust Memorial was erected in the cemetery in 2000.
730 11 Hania, Crete
Tel: +30 28210 862 86
The Etz Hayyim synagogue was originally a church, built in the 15th century by the Venetians and dedicated to St Catherine. Conversion of the building took place in the 17th century, re-using parts of the older building and adding a barrel-vaulted mikveh. Prominent rabbis are buried in stone sepulchres around the courtyard.
The synagogue remained in use until 1944, when the Nazis deported the community’s 263 Jews. The ship on which they were carried, which was presumably en route to a death camp, was torpedoed and sunk by a British submarine, killing all its passengers. The synagogue was desecrated shortly afterwards.
After fifty years of neglect, Etz Hayyim was selected in 1994 by the World Monuments Fund (WMF) as one of 100 endangered sites across the world, and as an initial project of WMF’s Jewish Heritage Program. The building’s conservation began in 1996 under the direction of Dr. Nikos Stavroulakis and the synagogue was rededicated in 1999. Dr. Stavroulakis has continued to develop the synagogue as a religious and cultural center, including a reference library. The building is regularly used for worship on key days of the Jewish year.
Corfu has had a Jewish community since the 12th or 13th centuries; the island’s Sephardi, Romaniote and Italian Jewish communities reflect its varied history, with periods of control by Byzantine, Neapolitan, Ottoman, French and British authorities. The community suffered badly in the Holocaust, and today has about 50 members.
The Romaniote synagogue, the Scuola Greca, built during the 17th century in the Venetian architectural style, is the only synagogue remaining on the island of Corfu out of several that existed before World War II. Seating 700 people, it remains in use. As was typical of Venetian synagogues, the sanctuary is situated on the upper floor of the building, above the community offices and a hall for funeral services. The elaborately decorated tevah (bimah) and ehal (Ark) are located on opposite sides of the synagogue, with long benches running lengthwise between these two focal points. The ehal is a spectacular, free-standing Baroque-style domed structure, set against the east wall.
During World War II the Germans destroyed Corfu’s 18th century Romaniote cemetery on Avramiou Hill and 16th century Sephardic cemetery that stood nearby in the Saroko area, not far from the monastery of Platytera. The current cemetery is in Cephalomandouko, next to the Catholic cemetery. Comprising 11,000 square meters, it is walled and gated and was recently restored by the U.S.-based Association of Friends of Greek Jewry and the Jewish Community of Corfu. A number of 19th-century gravestones from previous cemeteries, inscribed in Hebrew and Italian, were the main focus of this project.
Excavations in 1912-13 on the Aegean island of Delos revealed the remains of what was then thought to be a house that had been converted into a synagogue. The identification was made thanks in part to four inscriptions in Greek that were found among the remains. At the time, this was thought to be evidence of the oldest known synagogue in the Diaspora. However in 1980 two Samaritan synagogue inscriptions were found 90 meters north of the building, and this may mean that the structure in fact belonged to Samaritans, at least at some stage in its history, rather than Jews. The building does seem always to have had a religious function.
The existing remains measure 15.5 by 28.15 meters. The building was originally considerably larger, but much of it has been lost to the intruding sea. Founded in the second century BCE, it was renovated in the next century, probably as the result of damage during the Mithridatic wars. The main hall was divided into two sections, with the northern hall featuring a marble throne (the so-called ‘Seat of Moses’), perhaps reserved for the synagogue ruler. Marble benches were set against the walls in both halves of the hall, a configuration reminiscent of Galilean-type synagogues in Palestine.
The earliest evidence of a Jewish community in Ioannina dates to early medieval times, though Jews may have lived there much earlier. The city, the capital of Epirus, developed into the “capital” of Greek-speaking Romaniote Jewry. Some 2,000 Jews lived in the town on the eve of World War II; almost all were killed in the Shoah. Today the Jewish community numbers fewer than 100 people. There is a functioning synagogue, a Jewish cemetery and remnants of the former Jewish quarter. The collection of the Municipal Museum, located in the former Aslan Pasha Mosque (1618), includes Jewish costumes, embroidered textiles and other Jewish items including two old ketubot (marriage contracts).
Site of New Synagogue/Jewish community headquarters
18 Eliya Street
The offices of the Jewish community are located on the site of the former Kahal Kadosh Hadash, or New Synagogue, built in the 1840s and destroyed during the Second World War.
Old synagogue (Kahal Kadosh Yashan)
16 Iounstinianou (Justinian) Street
Tel: +30 26510 251 95
The synagogue is a large and impressive stone building, one of the most imposing in Greece, located just inside the old walled city, or kastro, to the rear of the former Jewish quarter. Built in the 1820s, it occupies the site of an older synagogue which probably dated back to the 17th century. A surrounding wall and gate were added in the late 19th century. Today, the entrance is on the western wall, though the original entrance was to the east. An external staircase provided access for women; a gallery along the north wall still exists. Inside, the ceiling is supported by a white-painted arcade, dividing the simple but spacious interior into three. In the wide central space, the tevah (bimah) stands on a raised dais on the western wall, facing the ehal (Ark), which stands on the eastern wall. A dome covers the center of the building. Seating is arranged in benches along the sides of the synagogue. Each bench faces two ways, so that a seat that faces towards the interior is backed by one that faces towards the walls. The names of the Ioanniote Jews who were killed in the Holocaust are displayed on memorial plaques mounted on the walls of the building.
Founded in the 19th century, the cemetery contains several historic tombs that were moved here from previous Jewish cemeteries in the city; some of these may date from as early as the 13th century. The cemetery is walled, but neglected, and has suffered from anti-Semitic attacks; attempts have been made to increase the height of its walls. There is a Holocaust monument. A small, unused portion of the 25,000 square meter site has been ceded to the local authority for use as a park.
Jews have an ancient presence on Rhodes. By the Second World War there were two Jewish quarters on the island, their four synagogues serving a Jewish population of 2,000. Just 150 Jews survived the Holocaust, and the community today numbers a few dozen people. In the city of Rhodes, there is an old Jewish quarter, or Juderia, a Jewish cemetery dating back to the 16th century, the 16th-century Kahal Shalom synagogue, with a Jewish museum located in the complex.
Simiou & Dossiadou streets, Medieval Town
Believed to have been built in 1577, this is the only synagogue in Rhodes to have survived the Second World War; it is often claimed to be the oldest functioning synagogue in Greece. The elaborate, arcaded interior has a black-and-white mosaic floor, covered with Oriental carpets. There are crystal chandeliers and several large, restored 19th-century paintings. The women’s gallery was added in the 1930s. Before that, women sat in rooms on the south side of the building. There is a small Holocaust memorial and acourtyard to the rear.
The Synagogue was on the World Monuments Fund Watch List for 2000 and the WMF web page for the site has information on the synagogue and its restorations projects
Names, dates and photographs from the Jewish cemetery on Rhodes, located outside the old city of Rhodes, on the main road to Kalithea. The cemetery includes about 2,000 gravestones and is entered through a pointed arch. Many monuments incorporate symbols of the trades practiced by the deceased. Over 200 further gravestones, many of them dating from the 16th century, were uncovered here in the course of a restoration program which began in 1997. There is also a Classical-style Holocaust memorial. Some unmarked graves are memorials to Jews who were deported to Auschwitz.
Thessaloniki, or Salonika, “the Jerusalem of the Balkans,” was historically home to one of Europe’s most ancient and important Jewish communities. In 1941 there were 36 synagogues in the city; almost all were destroyed during World War II, when the 50,000 Jews from the city were deported and subsequently murdered. Only a few synagogue buildings survived the devastation, only to be demolished in the post-war rebuilding of the city. The modern community is an active one, running its own primary school, old people’s home, and other facilities, including a Jewish history museum. Several grand historic villas where Jewish families lived also still stand, and there is a Holocaust Memorial, designed by the sculptor Nandor Glid, at Eleftherias (Liberty) Square.
Established in 1927 by Jews from Monastir (present-day Bitola, in Macedonia) who had come to Thessaloniki at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, this synagogue was designed by the Czech Jewish architect, Eli Ernst Levi. It is a simple, pale-colored building, with a marble tevah (bimah) and stained-glass windows featuring a menorah within a sun-like symbol. The aisled, two-storey synagogue stands in a courtyard; there is a women’s gallery and a small beit midrash. The synagogue was in the center of the World War II Thessaloniki ghetto but was spared because the Red Cross used it for storage; it became the city’s main Jewish place of worship only after the destruction of the others in the war. It was damaged in the earthquake that hit Thessaloniki in 1978, restored, and remains in use. It was rededicated and reopened in May 2016 after a full restoration (see our May 2016 news post).
The Yad L’zichron (Ke’la Burla, Yad Lezicaron) Ashkenazi synagogue, built in 1984 stands in a modern office building in the center of the city’s market area, at 24 Vassilis Iraklious street. Its ehal (Ark) was rescued from the destroyed Ke’la Sarfati synagogue, and the tevah (bimah) from that of Baron de Hirsch. On the walls is a list of all the synagogues established in the city since 1378. The Center for the Historical Study of the Jews of Thessaloniki upstairs has many photos and Jewish artifacts. There is also a small synagogue, the Avraam Salem synagogue, built in 1981 in the Saul Modiano Retirement Home, at 83 Kimonos Voga street.
The enormous Jewish cemetery, in which generations of Jews were buried, was totally destroyed by the Nazis, with the active participation of many local Greeks, who pillaged the site and removed most of the gravestones for use as building materials. (They are being recovered, slowly — see our June 2017 news post.) Today, its former location is occupied by the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Some gravestones can be seen at the new Jewish cemetery in the Stavroupolis area (31 Karaoli Demetriou St.), where there is also a large Holocaust memorial, and at the Jewish Museum.
An article by Leon Saltiel published in July 2014 in Yad Vashem Studies.
On Thessaloniki’s destroyed synagogues, see: Pallini, Cristina and Annalisa Riccarda Scaccabarozzi. “In Search of Salonika’s Lost Synagogues. An Open Question Concerning Intangible Heritage.” In Quest (online journal); Issue 7 July 2014
Jewish quarter (Barbouta); 19th century synagogue; Jewish cemetery.
A synagogue existed here in ancient times. The current building, disused but registered as a national historic monument, dates from around 1850. Constructed by local vernacular builders, it is the oldest surviving synagogue in northern Greece outside of Thessaloniki. The building stands almost at the end of the central corridor of the former Jewish quarter, Barbouta, near the Tripotamos River. It is a single-storey, wooden framed building with a masonry façade, the portico of which is flanked by pillars. The interior features a women’s gallery, separated by a lattice screen and a central tevah (bimah). The ehal (Ark) is set against the eastern wall, but the presence of a shallow dome at the western end of the building suggests the bimah might have originally been located here. Decorative tiles ornament the central area. The remains of a mikveh are in the basement. There have been several phases of restoration since 1997.
The Jewish cemetery is located about 500 meters from the Jewish quarter on the opposite bank of Tripotamos River.