At the end of January, Tsvetan Tsenkov, the mayor of Vidin, Bulgaria, said in an interview with themayor.eu portal that the municipality is “clearing the last things” before moving forward in the long-stalled restoration of the city’s ruined synagogue and its transformation into a multi-functional cultural center as part of regional tourism development.
Acccording to earlier reports, it had been hoped that renovation work on the neo-Gothic synagogue, built in 1894, would have begun in 2019 with completion by the end of 2021. Tsenkov — who took office in November 2019 after defeating incumbant mayor Ognyan Tsenkov — said in his interview that he first wanted “coordination with the Public Procurement Agency” to avoid any further problems with the estimated €5 million project.
A couple of days before the publication of the interview, JHE contributor Michele Migliori visited the synagogue and documented the state of the building, showing its current condition.
He found the synagogue area bordered by an iron fence, which in several parts was completely destroyed, making it easy to access the synagogue itself.
There were no signs, information boards, or any other signage to tell the history or the nature of the building, nor were there sign boards that explained the planned restoration project.
The only indication, written in Bulgarian, present on the synagogue is the one that warns not to enter into the synagogue due to danger of collapse. Inside, the building is filled with graffiti, and vegetation grown on the ground floor. The interior is full of trash, broken glass, and feces.
In the area where the Ark used to stand, and scattered around the synagogue, there is graffiti showing Menorahs and stars of David. The women’s gallery is accessible through concrete-made stairs, that together with the partial pavement on the ground floor, are apparently the product of renovation works that took place in the 1980s.
Some original decorations, such as iron Stars of David on the windows and painted decorations on the arks between the internal columns are also present.
Plans have long been in the works to restore the synagogue; it was announced in 2012 that it would be transformed into a cultural center dedicated to the Vidin-born Jewish artist Jules Pascin, to include a museum, library, meeting hall, and spaces for prayer and for the commemoration of the Holocaust.
The mayor reiterated this goal in his interview, stressing that the project was also part of plans to enhance tourism infrastructure and attractions in the town, which is perched above the Danube River and is a stop for Danube River cruises.
For Vidin and for me as mayor it is very important for people to know that the restoration of the temple and its transformation into Jules Pascin Cultural Center is not of national but international significance! Many tourists who come off the ships arrive to see specifically the Synagogue even in its present form. It is unique in that its architecture mimics the dome of the Baba Vida Fortress.
We have written several times about plans for the synagogue.
The first renovation works, sponsored by the government started in 1983 but were abandoned in 1989, after the collapse of the communist regime. Workers had already removed the building’s roof, leaving the building unprotected and open to the elements.
In 2004, the synagogue was added to the World Monuments Fund Watch list — a list of historic sites around the world that are under particular threat.
During an official ceremony in November 2017, the Bulgarian Jewish community formally transferred the ownership of the synagogue to the municipality, hoping that the restoration and conversion works could finally start.
Architectural plans for the conversion were revealed at a public meeting in December 2018.
Here’s a video of the planned renovation, from the Vidin Synagogue Facebook Page:
We wrote in March 2019 that according to local media reports in late February 2019, the Vidin city government had received funding for the project through the Operational Program Regions in Growth 2014-2020 (OPRG), which includes financing from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and national co-financing. Bulgaria’s Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works is the Managing Authority for the Program.