Restoration work on the small wooden synagogues in the towns of Alanta and Kurkliai has been completed, and both buildings will be used for cultural purposes.
The Cultural Heritage Department of the Ministry of Culture announced the completion of work on the Alanta synagogue last week, and on the Kurkliai synagogue at the end of October. It said both synagogues will be used for cultural purposes.
There were plans to hand over the Kurkliai synagogue building, registered as a site of cultural heritage, to the regional Anykščiai Arts Center, which is to mount an exhibition of sacred art there.
The Alanta synagogue, registered as a state-protected site of regional importance, will be handed over to the Molėtai District Municipality Administration in order to adapt it for cultural and educational tourism, including exhibits and events focusing on the history of the synagogue building and the local Jewish community.
In Kurkliai, as we wrote a year ago, maintenance and conservation work had been going on since 2019. The logs of the walls were strengthened and rotten logs were replaced, there was waterproofing of the foundations, ceilings and wooden roof structures were restored, and the roof covering was replaced.
Similar work was carried out on the Alanta synagogue, which was used as a warehouse for grain and fertilizer after WW2.
The Kurkliai synagogue was built in 1936 to the design of Povilas Jurėnas. The Center for Jewish Art (drawing from the 2-volume catalogue Synagogues in Lithuania, published in 2010-1012) describes the Kurkaliai synagogue as:
a log structure on a masonry foundation. The log walls are reinforced with vertical posts. The structure is elongated on a southwest–northeast axis, and is 11.85 m long, 7.88 m wide and 6.95 m high above the foundation. The synagogue is topped with a hipped tin roof with triangular dormers on its southern and northern slopes. The tower above the main entrance is topped with a separate tin roof. According to the design, the tower was decorated by two Stars of David. The design shows a prayer hall in the southeast and the two storey part in the northwest, comprising three rooms on the ground floor and a women’s section on the first floor.
The prayer hall was a broad house, lit by eight tall windows with triangular heads: three windows each on the southwestern and northeastern walls and two windows on the southeastern wall, flanking the Torah ark. The ark stood on the axis of the southeastern wall, the bimah was situated close to the center of the prayer hall, shifted to the rear. The pews were arranged in three symmetrical blocks: two on the both sides of the bimah, facing northeast, with five rows in each block; one row of pews stood between the bimah and the Torah ark. Two stoves were attached to the northwestern wall. The women’s section was connected to the prayer hall through two wide openings. It held two blocks of pews, three rows in each. On the ground floor was a men’s vestibule in the south, accessed by an entrance in the southwestern façade; a staircase to the women’s section in the north, with a separate entrance from the same side; and a heated room between the staircase and the vestibule, connected by a wide opening to the prayer hall (it may have been a small prayer room). This part of the building was lit by rectangular windows, set in two tiers on its three sides.
It describes the architecture of the Alanta synagogue as a log structure that has a rectangular plan and is built on a rough-stone concrete foundation:
The structure is spanned with a hipped rafter roof covered with tin. On the exterior, the building is protected with horizontal weather-boarding above the windowsills of the prayer hall, and a vertical one below them. A prayer hall of almost square plan is situated on the eastern side. On the western side, the building includes a vestibule and a small room with a stove, which also heated the prayer hall. A staircase in the southwestern corner leads to a women’s section on the first floor, which opens to the prayer hall with two long rectangular windows. […] The main entrance to the building is in the western wall and the women’s entrance is on the southern wall. Ten round-headed windows opened from the prayer hall: three windows on the southern and northern walls and two pairs of windows on the eastern wall (the central windows on the north and south were later converted into doors). The windows of the vestibule and the women’s section are rectangular. The ceilings are joisted flat constructions; that of the prayer hall is supported by two large beams, resting on the western wall of the women’s section and the eastern wall of the prayer hall.
Hundreds of elaborate wooden synagogues once stood in eastern Europe. Only a small number of simple wooden synagogues survive. Around 17 of them are in Lithuania, and the Alanta and Kurkliai synagogues are the latest of several of these small, simple structures to undergo restoration.
The news site 15min.lt has written that the Department of Cultural Heritage has funded renovation work on six wooden synagogues over the past decade, with state budget funds, as part of its Heritage Management Program