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The High Synagogue: ul. Jozefa 38
The synagogue is a further example of the restoration that has taken place in the Kazimierz district. Destroyed during the Second World War, it was re-opened to the public in August 2005, with its official opening taking place on the 3rd November 2005. It is now used to hold exhibitions.
The third synagogue to be completed in Kazimierz, after the Old and Remuh Synagogues, it was completed in approximately 1563, its name is derived from the unusual step of having the prayer room on the first floor. The most commonly held theory for this is one of safety, it's thought that by designing the synagogue in this way the congregation would be protected from their less welcoming Christian neighbours.
The main prayer room is decorated with partially recovered murals on the walls, but its whitewashed walls, high ceiling and large windows give it an uncluttered feel. No furnishings remain, having been destroyed in the war, whilst the interior itself was destroyed by fire, either as a result of an arson attack or a grenade being thrown into the building - no one is quite sure.
The Aron Kodesh still remains in the Eastern Wall but without the curtain and doors that would have been part of the original design. On top of the Aron Kodesh there is a rather striking and unusual arrangement of two griffins. In spite of the damage caused, the Holy Ark is an original feature of the synagogue.
Over the years the synagogue has encountered many changes, most notably visitors will notice a door in the Eastern wall, just by the Aron Kodesh, that leads into an adjoining room. This rather unique design feature came about as a result of plans that were drawn up to adapt the synagogue and situate a theatre in the adjacent building.
Although the theatre never took up residence in the building the planned reconstruction went ahead and the two buildings were joined. The synagogue and the adjacent building was then used by the Krakow Historic Monuments Preservation Studio.
The murals that have been recovered form only a small part of the synagogue's original interior. Although these can't be seen today the twelve signs of the Zodiac would also have featured as part of the interior decoration in the synagogue.
It's clear from the size of the main prayer room and the murals on the wall that this would have been a splendid synagogue at its majestic peak. With its lack of furnishings or any significant interior decoration, its current appearance resonates back to the past, when untold damage was done to this once great building. Despite this, the synagogue retains a sense of pride that bears testimony to its resilience down the years.
The building also contains a stylish bookshop on the ground floor that mainly contains books from a Jewish perspective. These books are available in a variety of languages.
The synagogue is open everyday from 9 am until 7 pm during summer. During the winter season, from November until March, the synagogue is open from 9 am until 5 pm. It is closed on Jewish and public holidays. Entrance costs 7 zloty for adults and 5 zloty for students with children under 6 being admitted free. The synagogue can also be visited outside of these hours by prior arrangement with the management of the synagogue. There is no extra charge for photography.