Cetate Synagogue

On its inauguration, the size and location of the synagogue proved the new status of the community, and its major contribution to the city.

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The synagogue and the city

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6 Marăşeşti St.

Architect Carl Schumann. Built between 1863 and 1865, inaugurated in 1865

In the middle of the century, the Jewish community in Timisoara was in full economic and cultural momentum. The Jewish population was a minority - 1,550 Jews were registered in 1851, representing 7.5% of the city population - but the share of Jewish participation in the city's development far exceeded their numerical value. Their political emancipation co-occurred with the religious one. In 1867, Jews became citizens with equal rights in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, which allowed them to evolve without legal obstacles in all fields. In 1868-1869, the desire of the majority to reform religious practice resulted in the separation of the community into Neologs, who liberalized the Jewish rite, and Orthodox, who opted for a strict observance of religious tradition. The reforms facilitated and perfected the social-cultural integration of Neolog Jews.

In the Cetate district, the core of the city, separated from the peripheral neighbourhoods by an esplanade, a belt about one kilometre wide where building was forbidden, there were two small synagogues, one Ashkenazi, the other Sephardic, inaugurated in 1762, built in a corner of Judencarré, the quadrangle formed by Mărăşeşti, Gheorghe Lazăr, Ungureanu and Eugeniu de Savoya streets, designated for city Jews. The place of prayer for the Ashkenazis had become too small.

Many responded to the call of Chief Rabbi Mór Hirschfeld with donations and active participation in the organization and supervision of the work. In the organizing committee under the leadership of Marcus Grünbaum, Ignátz S. Eisenstädter, the treasurer, and later, between the 1870s and 1890s, the president of the community, played a key role. Ignátz Eisenstädter, industrialist, businessman, and patron, the founder and first executive of the Lloyd Society, enjoyed formidable prestige.

The Jewish community commissioned the Austrian architect Carl Schumann (1827-1898) to design a synagogue similar to the much-admired one in Budapest, the Dohány Street Synagogue (1859–Budapest), the work of the architect Ludwig Förster (1797-1863), Schumann’s former patron.

In 1865, the year of the inauguration, its size and location in the centre of the city proved the new status of the community – a prosperous community with a significant role in the city's development. We have to imagine Timişoara at that time, intra muros, surrounded by the walls of the citadel: there was no modern centre yet, with its monumental buildings between the theatre and the cathedral, and the Fabric, Iosefin, and Elisabetin districts were rural satellite settlements, separated from the citadel. In the middle of the 1century, the synagogue and the Roman Catholic Dome (1744) in Unirii Square were the most prominent places of prayer in the city.

The synagogue, located on the street alignment - unlike the first two small synagogues with an entrance from the courtyard - is detached from the neighbouring residential buildings through side yards. Its height of 43 m is enhanced by its two massive octagonal towers with bulbous, minaret-like cupolas with Moorish decorations. The eclectic style with elements of Islamic art gives the building a slightly exotic appearance, yet perfectly integrated into the architectural-urbanistic complex of the city.

At the centre of the main facade is a round window with stained-glass, and on the sides, a rosette flanked by neo-Romanesque windows, “Rundbogenstil”. The walls are built of yellow and red brick blocks in rhomboidal shapes in the centre and rectangular on the edges, arranged in parallel strips. A blue and black glazed ceramic border discreetly emphasizes the contours of the rosette, cornice, windows and doors. The decorations - crenellations and arabesques - are also sparingly applied. The overall impression is of solidity and balance, warmth and tranquillity. “A true decoration of the city”, enthused Josef Geml, mayor of Timişoara.

Inside, the broad, crenellated arches of the blue vault with geometric designs amplify the volume. Noteworthy are the ark with a cornice with oriental style crenellations, the slender columns with floral capitals inspired by the Alhambra, and the polychrome ornaments that emphasize the elements of the construction – arches, pillars, and the ark. There are 424 seats for men on the carved wooden benches on the ground floor and 320 seats in the two-story galleries reserved for women.

The grand inauguration took place on Tuesday, September 19, 1865, at 10 o’clock, the day before the eve of Rosh Hashanah, “with great splendour and with the lively participation of the entire population of the city”, as the chronicler of the event, the Chief Rabbi Dr. Moritz Löwy, wrote in 1890.

Inside the synagogue, inscriptions on marble slabs draw attention to important events. On one, the architect of the community, Károly (Carl) Schumann, and the community leaders are named. On the wall to the right of the entrance, a text in Hungarian, written in gold letters, records another memorable event: the reopening of the synagogue on May 7, 1872, on the occasion of the visit of Emperor Franz Joseph I. It was a supreme gesture of recognizing Jews as citizens with full rights belonging to an important community in the city.

For almost 140 years, the synagogue served as a place of prayer and a setting for festive events. As the elderly from Timișoara recall, the religious service was so sublime, with a choir and a cantor accompanied by the organ, that Christians, including high-ranking officers, also came on important holidays. Back in the 1970s, on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the synagogue was packed with people. The spiritual leaders, erudite rabbis, and great orators were Mór Hirschfeld (1820-1913), Móritz Löwy (1849-1908), Miksa Drechsler (1883-1970), Ernest Neumann (1917-2004). The cantors (hazzanim) showed exceptional vocal qualities, many of them being opera singers, such as, for example, Rafael Moór in the 1860s, who had outstanding success on the stage of the theatre in Timișoara.

Rehabilitation work began in December 2017. The restoration is still not complete, but the synagogue became functional again, and on May 6, 2022, 150 years after its inauguration in the presence of Emperor Franz Joseph I, it was festively reopened in the presence of leaders of communities, cults, and representatives of the authorities from the city and from all over the country. The synagogue will be used as a place of worship and as a space for cultural events.

Getta Neumann
Getta Neumann
Author & editor

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