Tuesday, November 17, 2020

How the Great Synagogue of Tunis came to be built

It is a handsome Art Deco building, a landmark in the city of Tunis. How did the Great Synagogue come to be built? Here is an extract from a fascinating  Facebook post at Musee juif deTunis by Freddy G:

The Great Synagogue of Tunis  is the main synagogue in the Tunisian capital. It is located at number 36,Avenue de la Liberté in the centre of Tunis, in the Lafayette district, not far from the 'Republique' Metro sation ′′ and the Habib-Thameur garden. 

The initiative for  its construction came from Baron Giacomo Di Castcelnuovo. The building was intended to replace the synagogue in the Jewish district of the Hara. Castelnuovo was a  doctor, explorer and diplomat from the Grana community. He  wanted a common place of worship uniting the  Grana and Twensa, the two branches of Tunisian Jewry.

 In the 1870 s, he reclaimed a plot that had been offered to  Sadok Bey  in 1832. However, the current site was  donated by Daniel Iffla Osiris, who wanted  his architect to build on land provided by the community, in order to comply with all usual permits and regulations.

Upon his death in 1907, Osiris bequeathed his fortune to the Pasteur Institute. They were  forced by his will to acquire  land unsuitable for building  in Garibaldi square. This was re-sold and replaced with  the site  at number 100 of Avenue de Paris, currently avenue de la Liberté. 

 A first Romano-Byzantine project for the dome was presented on March 31, 1909, but the high cost and lack of  enthusiasm scuppered the project; it was soon replaced by a new version after an architectural  competition  in 1911.

The jury unanimously retained the services of a  young architect, Victor Valensi, combining oriental shapes and structures and materials like concrete. The dome was begun  in June 1933; it was inaugurated on December 23, 1937. 

During the occupation of Tunisia by the Axis forces, from November 1942 to March 1943, the building was occupied by the German soldiers who came to arrest community leaders. In 1967, in the context of the Six-Day War, the synagogue  was ransacked by rioters. Restored in 1996 and then in 2007, after intervention by President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, it is guarded by the municipal police and sometimes is open to visitors though services are rare.

1 comment:

Hels said...

Although I have visited Sephardi shules in large cities in Greece, Turkey and Egypt, I have never seen The Great Synagogue of Tunis. Thank you for that photo of the front entrance... it looks both inviting and unusual, so I have a lot of reading to do :)

Now for something completely different. You may like to read about the Hobart and Launceston Synagogues, published in Tasmanian Geographic:
These are special because Australia didn't have many mid-19th century synagogues.