(JHE) — The long-stalled, long-awaited restoration of the long-derelict synagogue in Vidin, a historic town overlooking the Danube, has officially begun. The building will become a multipurpose cultural center dedicated to the Vidin-born Jewish artist Jules Pascin, to include a museum, library, meeting hall, park area, and spaces for prayer and for the commemoration of the Holocaust.
At a ceremony May 28 Vidin Mayor Tsvetan Tsenkov, joined by Municipal Council Chair Gennady Velkov and architect Andrey Todorov, of the company that will carry out the work, used shovels to symbolically break ground in front of the building.
“There is no way the history, the future of Vidin can continue without the restoration of this beautiful temple, which is an exceptional creation of architecture and spirituality,” Tsenkov said, according to a news report on the Vidin city web site.
The report said the ceremony was attended by the entire municipal leadership; the Metropolitan Daniel of Vidin; District Governor Ognyan Assenov; Chairman of the Municipal Council Gennady Velkov; the President of the Organization of Jews in Bulgaria “Shalom” Alexander Oscar; members of the Vidin Jewish community, the regional mufti Nejati Ali, representatives of various institutions and organizations, as well as local citizens.
After the ground was broken, children from a nearby village splashed water on the site — a gesture the report said was a traditional means of wishing a successful outcome to the project.
See a video report by Bulgaria On Air:
Plans have long been in the works — and long stalled — to restore the neo-Gothic synagogue, built in 1894. 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.
It was announced in 2012 that it would be transformed into the cultural center, but little moved forward.
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. At a presentation of the project plans in February 2021, the architect Dragomir Yosifov from the contrator DZZD “Pasken 2020”, said the aim is to restore the Synagogue to its original appearance to the maximum extent.
At the ground-breaking ceremony, Tsenkov thanked the Jewish community for donating the building to the city and “expressed gratitude for the support provided to the Embassy of Israel in Bulgaria” and Ambassador Joram Elron.
He emphasized that “the project will be strictly monitored to be implemented qualitatively and on time.”
The restoration of the synagogue and transformation into the Jules Pascin culture center is being implemented under 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. It comes under the OPRG’s section focusing on the development of regional tourism related to cultural heritage of international significance.
The total project budget is 9,775,300 Bulgarian lev (around €5 million). The OPRG grant amounts to BGN 8,275,300 (€4.2 million), of which BGN 7,034,005.00 – European funding and BGN 1,241,295.00 – national funding, as well as financing through a financial instrument – an investment loan agreement in the amount of BGN 1,500,000.
The restored synagogue/culture center will form part of a larger set of nearby attractions including the Archaeological Museum and medieval Baba Vida fortress.