The Restoration of the Sha’ar Hashamayim Synagogue

When we initiated our program for the preservation of Egyptian monuments, I looked with particular attention at the Jewish synagogues in Egypt. We have about nine synagogues in Cairo and one in Alexandria. The Shaar Hashamayim Synagogue in Adly Street in downtown Cairo was in particularly poor conditions and needed to be restored. These synagogues had always been neglected due to the fear and political sensitivity associated with the allocation of public funds to their restoration. However, the Jewish synagogues are part of Egypt’s heritage and to neglect them means to neglect and erase an important of our history. When we drafted a project to restore six monuments in Cairo, I insisted to include them in this project.

We began with the Sha’ar Hashamayim Synagogue since it was a particularly important praying centre for Egyptian Jews, as well as a tourist attraction given its location in the heart of downtown Cairo.

Facade 01

This synagogue was built in 1903 as the main synagogue of the Jewish community in Cairo. Over the past century, it retained much of its original architectural features and decoration, making it an excellent example of a traditional synagogue. It has a square form and consists of a basement and two floors. The main entrance is located in the southern corner, overlooking Adly Street. The façade of the synagogue is decorated with vegetal patterns engraved in plaster and a large Star of David above the main entrance. The synagogue’s square interior, covered by a large dome, presents arcades on three sides. Marble steps lead to the shrine, which sits at the centre of the eastern wall. The marble pulpit stands on the western wall, opposite the shrine. Stairs from the northeast corner lead to a portico which is the designated praying area for women. The restoration work began with the painting of the façade, the reduction of groundwater in the basement and the restoration of the pulpit.

I am glad that this synagogue has been restored to its past glory. It is now a place of worship which Egyptian Jews can be proud of.

In my next editorial I will tell you the story of Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon, which is very interesting and deserves to be known by the world.

 

Zahi Hawass

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