Slovakia - More on the Jewish Heritage Route

Ceiling, Orthodox synagogue, Trnava. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I spent the past five days following the Slovak Jewish Heritage Route -- 14 or 15 sites (out of the 24 on the Route) in all parts of Slovakia, from Bratislava to Presov and back. We stayed in top hotels but for some reason I never had a good enough internet connection to post on this blog. So here are a few highlights, with more detailed posts to come.

Synagogues -- we saw all types. Some fully restored and used for various purposes, some in use as synagogues, some under restoration.

The oldest was that in Stupava, not far from Bratislava. It was built in 1803 and is one of the oldest int he country -- one of only two built in the "Polish" nine-bay style with a four-pillar bimah supporting the vauted ceiling. The one in Stupava belongs to a private citizen, Tomas Stern, a doctor and businessman who bought it for almost literally nothing and has been restoring it as a sort of hobby (for years he documented Jewish heritage sites in Slovakia).... He will be getting married there (officiated by the Bratislava rabbi) at the end of August!

Stupava interior. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

One of the most exciting moments for me was to see the newly restored Orthodox (or Small) synagogue in Trnava, north of Bratislava. The Status Quo synagogue (a wreck when I first saw it 20 years ago) was restored in the mid-1990s as a contemporary art gallery -- a restoration that was daring, in that it preserved vivid signs of the damage and devastation that the synagogue underwent during and after WW2. From the outside, it even still looks like a ruin.

Trnava, Status Quo Synagogue. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

But the Orthodox synagogue across the street remained locked and abandoned; disused and in terribly neglected shape. It has recently though been acquired by a private investor, beautifully restored (also preserving signs of damage) and opened as the private Max Gallery. There is talk now of a collaboration between the two synagogue galleries -- I hope so.

Trnava Orthodox Synagogue. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

The little country synagogue in Spisske Podhradie, located in a town beneath majestic Spis castle, has been undergoing restoration for years.... But it is nearly completed. The idea is to have a small exhibit on Jewish history there and also use it as a cultural space. The setting is unique -- The town, the castle and the splendid monastery complex (Kapitula) all form a UNESCO cultural heritage site. But the town is poor and undeveloped. So far, there is little infrastructure for visitors and the site remains well of the beaten track for mainstream tourists (though we saw Polish and German cars).

Spisske Podhradie sign for synagogue with castle in background. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Spisske Podhradie synagogue street facade. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Inside nearly restored Spisske Podhradie synagogue. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Click HERE for information about travel and tourism in Slovakia.