The Great Synagogue in Plzeň is the second largest synagogue in Europe. A Viennese architect called Fleischer drew up the original plans for the synagogue in Gothic style with granite buttresses and twin 65-meter towers. The cornerstone was laid on December 2, 1888. City councillors rejected the plan in a clear case of tower envy as they felt that the grand erection would compete with the nearby Cathedral of St. Bartholomew. Emmanuel Klotz put forward a new design in 1890 retaining the original ground plan and hence the cornerstone, but lowering the towers by 20m and creating the distinctive look combining Romantic and neo-Renaissance styles covered with Oriental decorations and a giant Star of David. The design was quickly approved and master builder Rudolf Štech completed work in 1893 for the bargain price of 162,138 guilders.
At the time the Jewish community in Plzeň numbered some 2,000. The mixture of styles is truly bewildering; from the onion domes of a Russian orthodox church, to the Arabic style ceiling, to the distinctly Indian looking Aron kodesh. The synagogue was used without interruption until the Nazi occupation of World War II, and the Jewish community that retook possession of the synagogue at the end of hostilities had been decimated by the Holocaust. The synagogue was used as a storage facility during the war and was thereby spared from destruction. The last regular service was held in 1973, and then the synagogue was closed down and allowed to fall into disrepair under communist rule. Restoration was undertaken from 1995-1998, and the synagogue was reopened on February 11, 1998 at a cost of 63 million Kč. The central hall is now often used for concerts from such legends as Joseph Malowany, Peter Dvorský, or Karel Gott, while the walls play host to temporary photographic exhibitions of various causes. The synagogue is still used for worship, but only in what was formerly the winter prayer room. The present number of Pilsner Jews is a little over 70.References:
Derbent is the southernmost city in Russia, occupying the narrow gateway between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains connecting the Eurasian steppes to the north and the Iranian Plateau to the south. Derbent claims to be the oldest city in Russia with historical documentation dating to the 8th century BCE. Due to its strategic location, over the course of history, the city changed ownership many times, particularly among the Persian, Arab, Mongol, Timurid, Shirvan and Iranian kingdoms.
Derbent has archaeological structures over 5,000 years old. As a result of this geographic peculiarity, the city developed between two walls, stretching from the mountains to the sea. These fortifications were continuously employed for a millennium and a half, longer than any other extant fortress in the world.
A traditionally and historically Iranian city, the first intensive settlement in the Derbent area dates from the 8th century BC. The site was intermittently controlled by the Persian monarchs, starting from the 6th century BC. Until the 4th century AD, it was part of Caucasian Albania which was a satrap of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. In the 5th century Derbent functioned as a border fortress and the seat of Sassanid Persians. Because of its strategic position on the northern branch of the Silk Route, the fortress was contested by the Khazars in the course of the Khazar-Arab Wars. In 654, Derbent was captured by the Arabs.
The Sassanid fortress does not exist any more, as the famous Derbent fortress as it stands today was built from the 12th century onward. Derbent became a strong military outpost and harbour of the Sassanid empire. During the 5th and 6th centuries, Derbent also became an important center for spreading the Christian faith in the Caucasus.
The site continued to be of great strategic importance until the 19th century. Today the fortifications consist of two parallel defence walls and Naryn-Kala Citadel. The walls are 3.6km long, stretching from the sea up to the mountains. They were built from stone and had 73 defence towers. 9 out of the 14 original gates remain.
In Naryn-Kala Citadel most of the old buildings, including a palace and a church, are now in ruins. It also holds baths and one of the oldest mosques in the former USSR.
In 2003, UNESCO included the old part of Derbent with traditional buildings in the World Heritage List.