Jewish Modernism

Looking at a range of European synagogues from the early part of the twentieth century, this itinerary is designed to illuminate not only the significance of the Jewish contribution to European built heritage in that time, but also to show the depth and range of that heritage as it still stands. For that reason, this is a transnational tour that draws on themes of aesthetics and architectural style as much as it does on more established themes of Jewish religion and culture. The devastation to Jewish populations and culture across Europe in the mid-twentieth century also had an inconceivable impact on Jewish built heritage. Despite this, it must not be forgotten just how much still survives and how significant the conservation effort to save it is. Recognition and promotion of these structures in a wider European architectural context can only further support these efforts.

The modern synagogues in this itinerary are not representative of all the buildings that existed or currently exist, but it seeks to draw a number of important 20 th Century works, some well-known and others less so, together thematically. It is meant as an online heritage trail, through which we can explore the architectural history of the early twentieth century synagogue across the continent.

The first style in architecture we can truly identify as modern is Art Nouveau, although visually it appears very linked to the historicism of the 19 th Century in Europe, it is really a transitional step towards modernity. Many European architects worked in the style from the turn-of-the-century onwards and the range of aesthetics produced in the style is surprising, from the flamboyance of Subotica Synagogue in modern Serbia, to the understated elegance of Lucerne Synagogue in Switzerland.

This break with historicism that marks the beginning of our itinerary means many interesting buildings from the latter part of the 19 th Century that one may consider to be proto-modern, lay just outside the scope of this work. The search for an identifiable style in Europe at the turn of the century expressed itself in a huge variety of aesthetics. Architects in certain countries embraced the avant-garde and other ideas of modernity more readily than others, Hungary, for example, contains many notable examples as architects there stretched the possibilities of bringing together modern technologies with historical styles as they sought a national style. In Holland too, progressive communities employing equally progressive architects, left behind an important modernist legacy.

Synagogue architecture in Europe in the twentieth century is a huge subject area that continues to be the focus for a wide variety of scholarship. At the end, all the itineraries on the AEPJ Website are presented as ongoing projects, if you know of a synagogue that you feel should be included, please do get in touch and we can add it.

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