Romania’s only extant wooden synagogue, The Cathedral Synagogue of Piatra Neamt, is located in Piatra Neamt, in the region of Moldavia, eastern Romania. As a rare example of wooden Jewish religious architecture in Romania, its special interest is reflected in its listing status as a Romanian State Historic Monument.
The synagogue is set within a compound, the oldest part of which dates to 1766. It is constructed of timber set on stone foundations of what is believed to be an earlier building. Local legend places its establishment in the 15th century. On the basis of the evidence of the stone foundations and the writ of the princely approval (Moldavian Grigore III Ghica) for the synagogue’s construction in which it is noted that it replaces an old and dilapidated earlier building, it is likely that there was an earlier masonry building stood on the site.
Built of wood in 1766 and subsequently repaired in 1826, 1854, 1870, and 1928, the synagogue is of square-plan and its style is evidences Moldavian folk-tradition. Its entrance is through another recent building and down ten steps. The means of entrance, down steps represents an uncommon factor of placing the synagogue below ground floor level. This is either due to scriptural prescription or building restriction. It has a wooden ribbed dome and walls decorated with frescoes.
The Bimah is in the centre of the hall beneath an oval canopy and the furnishings include a richly decorated wooden Aron Kodesh that consists of three levels, each resting on gold and silver painted colonettes. The Ark features are sculpted and decorated ornaments such as animals and plants. Above this composition is a basket with various artificial fruit, a symbol of offerings the faithful used to bring to the old temple in Jerusalem. The Ark was made in 1835 by Saraga Yitzhak b. Moshe, and is a fine example of monumental wood carving.
Following an eight year restoration project supported by the Worlds Monument Fund the synagogue was re-dedicated in December 2009.