Monday marked a day that many skeptics doubted would ever happen — after years of delays and false starts, the long-derelict synagogue in Vidin, on heights overlooking the Danube, opened after a full restoration as a multipurpose cultural center dedicated to the Vidin-born Jewish artist Jules Pascin.
The gala opening ceremony was attended by hundreds of people and a long list of dignitaries, including Bulgaria’s President Rumen Radev, along with Vidin Mayor Tsvetan Tsenkov, Bulgaria’s Culture Minister, Israeli Ambassador Yosef Levi Safari, Jewish leaders including the country’s chief rabbi, who blew a shofar, and Vidin’s Orthodox Metropolitan Daniil. Israel’s President Herzog sent greetings by video.
“Vidin has been waiting for this moment for decades – the day when the magnificent Vidin Synagogue will be able to shine again in its authentic form,” Radev said in his speech.
And I am sure that only people who have seen with their own eyes the ruins of the temple until recently can realize the enormous work that has been done, appreciate the efforts of the institutions, of the local government, of Mr. Tsenkov and his team, to admire the craftsmanship of the restorers of the Synagogue.
Maxim Delchev, Chair of Bulgaria’s Jewish umbrella organization, also thanked Tsenkov “and the entire team of Vidin Municipality” for accomplishing the restoration.
“[T]the fact that at the beginning of the 20th century the Jewish community in newly liberated Bulgaria decided that it would invest its members’ money in beautiful and large synagogues – like the one we are standing in front of now and like those in Sofia and Plovdiv – is indicative,” he said in his speech. It was indicative of:
how relaxed and accepted our great-grandparents felt at the turn of the century in this country. About how all of them, our ancestors, were ready to participate in the important processes for the Bulgarian society and to pass on the important values. This synagogue symbolizes exactly that – the exceptional place of the Jewish community in Bulgarian society at that time. And I think so today.
The synagogue, with four corner towers and a large arch dominating its facade, was built in eclectic style in 1894, designed by an architect identified as V. Kitov. Left empty after WW2, it was damaged by an earthquake in 1976.
Plans were long in the works — and long stalled — to restore it. Renovation work sponsored by the government started in 1983 but was 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.
Ground was finally broken and work begun in May 2021.
The restoration of the synagogue and transformation into the Jules Pascin culture center — whose budge was approximately €5 million — was 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.