Exciting news from Ukraine — restoration work has begun on the monumental fortress synagogue in Sataniv (Satanov), a massive building believed to date from 1514.
Closed down in the 1930s and then used as a warehouse, the building has languished in disrepair for decades: a ruined shell that still, however, conserved the niche of the Ark, decorated with sculpted lions and golden griffins.
The journalist and preervation activist Dmytro Panair, who runs a web site on Jewish heritage in Ukraine’s Podolia Region, writes that technical documentation and other preparatory work coordinated by the owner, the Khmelnitsky Regional Jewish Community, which took control of the building last spring, and the Culture Ministry was carried out this summer. A respected company called PRAT “Kamianets-Podilsky-Restoration” that specializes in the restoration of historic buildings is carrying out the project.
Media reports say financing of the project comes from the regional Jewish community and also “Russian businessmen.”
Mr. Panair kindly provided the photographs we present on this page.
The actual restoration work on the building began in October.
According to Arthur Friedman, a board member of the regional Jewish community, plans call for basic structural rescue work to be completed in 2013. Restoration of the foundations and underground part of the complex, as well as final work on the structure as a whole, is to be completed in 2014. A reconstruction of the wooden interior, based on photographs, will take place in 2015.
Already the top part of the building, which had been covered in a thick layer of dirt and a small forest of trees and shrubs has been cleared, and by winter the walls and interior vaulted ceiling are expected to be reinforced and a temporary protective roof installed.
The web site of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine describes the synagogue’s thick walls, massive buttresses, and musket and cannon embrasures. “At one time it was an important node in the system of fortifications Satanov,” it notes, “and on its roof was a gun battery.” One of the conservators, Nikolai Ivashchuk, told the media that during the work restorers had discovered the rusted remains of an Austrian bayonet and rifle from World War I.
Sataniv also has a remarkable and important Jewish cemetery, where several sages are buried. The earliest legible gravestone is from 1554. Many of the gravestones have extraordinary carved decoration, including at least two that show the rare “Three Hares” design — an optical illusion showing three hares chasing each other, connected by their ears, but instead of six ears only three can be counted.