Friday,23 February, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1356, (10 - 16 August 2017)
Friday,23 February, 2018
Issue 1356, (10 - 16 August 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Alexandria synagogue to be restored

Alexandria’s Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue, one of the oldest in the Middle East, is being restored by the Ministry of Antiquities, reports Nevine El-Aref

Alexandria synagogue to be restored

In Al-Nabi Daniel Street in downtown Alexandria stands the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue, today a soaring 19th-century Italianate edifice. The serenity of the synagogue was disturbed earlier this week by engineers and restorers arriving at the building with their equipment to start a long-awaited restoration project.

Alexandria synagogue to be restored

The whirring of machinery will now be heard at the synagogue on a daily basis as the comprehensive restoration work takes place.

“The restoration work is expected to last for eight months with a budget of LE100 million financed by the Egyptian government,” Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, director of the Historic Cairo Rehabilitation Project, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

He added that the amount was part of a larger LE1.27 billion budget provided by the government to finance the restoration of eight monuments in Cairo, Alexandria and Assiut.

Alexandria synagogue to be restored

The monuments are the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue and the Graeco-Roman Museum in Alexandria, the Giza Plateau, the King Farouk resthouse in Giza, the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation in Fustat, the Baron Empain Palace in Heliopolis, the Mohamed Ali Pasha Palace in Shubra and the Alexan Palace in Assiut.

“The Ministry of Antiquities is keen to restore all Egypt’s archaeological sites, including ancient Egyptian, Jewish, Coptic and Islamic sites that represent parts of the country’s heritage,” Abdel-Aziz told the Weekly.

He said that what had been published in some newspapers and posted on social media to the effect that the Jewish community was financing the restoration of Jewish monuments in Egypt was unfounded.

Under Law 117/1983 and Law 3/2010, all the monuments in Egypt are owned by the Egyptian state and are to be restored and financed by the Egyptian government acting through the Ministry of Antiquities.

“If any individual or organisation wants to provide funds to restore any monument, they are welcome to do so, but this must be without interference in the actual restoration work carried out by the ministry,” he said.

Waadallah Abul-Ela, head of the Projects Sector at the ministry, said that the work on the Synagogue was being carried out by the Arab Contractors Company in collaboration with the Orascom Construction Company, which had been assigned the task by the Armed Forces Engineering Authority. All the work is under the supervision of the Ministry of Antiquities.

Alexandria synagogue to be restored

The architecture and decorative elements of the synagogue will be restored and new lighting and security systems installed.

Considered as the oldest and biggest synagogue in the Middle East, the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue was built in 1354, but was destroyed by the French Expedition to Egypt in 1798 in order to build a wall from the Kom Al-Dekka area in downtown Alexandria to the Mediterranean.

In 1850, the synagogue was rebuilt with contributions from the ruling Mohamed Ali family. The building has an exquisite luxurious interior design featuring Italian marble columns that support the soaring ceiling.

The synagogue can host 700 worshippers and has rows of wooden seats decorated with the brass nameplates of the donors or worshippers who reserved the seats. The women’s prayer hall is on the upper level reached by marble stairs.

Elegant silver lamps are suspended above the ark of the synagogue, and there is also a small water fountain for ritual hand-washing.

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