The Commission provided funds to restore the interior of the Zion Synagogue in Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second most populous city. Half of the amount was raised by Commission Member Michael Levy from the Bennett and Geraldine Lebow Foundation of Fisher Island, Florida. This donation was matched by a contribution from another donor.
Jews first lived in Plovdiv in Roman times. Since at least the Byzantine era, they have maintained a continuous presence in the town. They were mostly artisans and merchants in what long was one of the main trading centers on the overland route between Europe and the Middle East. More than 5,000 Jews lived in Plovdiv before World War II. About 400 lived there in recent years.
The Sephardic synagogue is located at Tsar Kaloyan Street 13, in the remnants of a small courtyard in what was once a large Jewish quarter. Dating to the 19th century, it is one of the best-preserved examples of the so-called “Ottoman-style” synagogues in the Balkans. According to author Ruth E. Gruber, the interior is a “hidden treasure…a glorious, if run-down, burst of color.” An exquisite Venetian glass chandelier hangs from the center of the ceiling, which has a richly painted dome. All surfaces are covered in elaborate, Moorish-style, geometric designs in once-bright greens and blues. Torah scrolls are kept in the gilded Aron-ha-Kodesh.
The renovation included the replacement of the electrical system and rewiring of the chandelier, installation of a security system, and restoration of plaster and painted surfaces.
The restored synagogue is one of two Bulgarian synagogues still in use.
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