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Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History
Vilniaus Gaono Žydų Istorijos Muziejus



Published: 2018-10-31

Interior of the Great Synagogue of Vilna
which was greatly damaged during World War II


Photograph dating back to around 1945. Inventory No. VŽM 1828-2
The Great Synagogue of Vilna is not only an inseparable part of Jewish history but also a part of multinational Vilnius and Lithuania. It is closely connected to Vilna Gaon, the great Jewish thinker who lived and expounded his teachings in Vilnius, which was then the Eastern European centre of Jewish religion, culture and philosophy. One of the key highlights of the time was the Great Synagogue which was surrounded by a group of smaller synagogues and houses of prayer forming a shulhoyf (Yiddish for a synagogue courtyard).
The photograph below depicts one of the most important parts of the interior of the Great Synagogue of Vilna – bimah. In the middle of the hall of prayer of the Great Synagogue there was a podium, which was surrounded by four massive supporting pillars, and which was decorated with twelve smaller columns and a decorative dome. The photograph dates back to around 1945 after the end of World War II.
In 1955–1957, the remains of the Great Synagogue and the synagogue courtyard – shulhoyf – were finally pulled down and erased from the surface of the earth. In 1964, a brick kindergarten building was erected on the site of the Great Synagogue covering half of the floor area of the synagogue that once stood there. In 2002–2017, it was home to Vytė Nemunėlis Primary School.
In 2011, archaeological excavations started on the site of the Great Synagogue, which resulted in the discovery of a number of important elements. In 2011, a fragment of one of the four massive supporting pillars was discovered.


Photgraph No. 1: In 2011, a fragment of one of the four massive supporting pillars was discovered
The archaeological research performed on 9–31 July 2018 (headed by Dr Jon Seligman, head of the Excavations, Surveys and Research Department of the Israel Antiquities Authority, and archaeologist Justinas Račas (Public Institution Kultūros paveldo išsaugojimo pajėgos)) revealed that there were still fragments of the bimah of the Great Synagogue of Vilna under the brick kindergarten building.

Photograph No. 2: Dr Jon Seligman shows the remains of the bimah of the Great Synagogue of Vilna to the Mayor of Vilnius Remigijus Šimašius
Photograph No. 3. Scheme of the bimah and the fragment of it discovered at the excavation site
The photographs from the archaeological site of the Great Synagogue of Vilna dating back to 2011 and 2018 (Photographs No 1, 2 and 3) are courtesy of The Vilna Great Synagogue and Shulhoyf Research Project
Prepared by Olga Movšovič
Conservationist-researcher at the Inventory and Conservation of Holdings Department
© Image No. VŽM 1828-2 from the VGSJM collection


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