In 2018, the Ministry of European Integration initiated a project aimed at digitising national cultural heritage to highlight the significance of the renovation of cultural monuments in the Republic of Serbia, as well as the importance of using EU funds in the field of culture and creativity. Through this activity, the Government of the Republic of Serbia joined the countries of the European Union that mark 2018 as the “European Year of Cultural Heritage”, by promoting the richness of cultural diversity, heritage and inter-cultural dialogue with the aim of stressing the importance of these areas for economic development and improvement of diplomatic and foreign policy relations. The renovation of the eastern façade of the Subotica Synagogue, funded from the Hungary-Serbia IPA Cross-border Cooperation Programme 2007-2013, is one of the best examples of the use of European funds in the field of cultural cooperation and the first in a series that the Ministry decided to present in a digital edition. The results of the renovation of the Subotica Synagogue are shown through the digitisation of its interior and exterior, so this pearl of Central European architecture is now available to all Internet users who can experience the virtual panorama tour consisting of 70 HDR frames and a resolution of 200 megapixels.
The building of the Subotica synagogue has been added to the list of the seven most endangered monuments of European cultural heritage “Europa Nostra”, on the initiative of their organisation in Serbia. After decades of decay, the restoration of the Synagogue commenced in January 2013, and the EU contributed to revitalization through the Serbia-Hungary Cross-Border Cooperation Programme. The project “DIAMOND – Gems at the turn of the centuries – journey to the miraculous world of Art Nouveau” envisaged, in addition to the renovation of the building’s eastern façade, a roof restoration of the Count’s Palace in Szeged and the street façade and roof reconstruction plans of the also Art Nouveau Schäffer Palace Szeged. The total value of the project “DIAMOND“was EUR 344,787, out of which the European Union, in cooperation with the City of Subotica, financed the renovation of the building’s eastern façade with EUR 100,000. The costs of the Synagogue restoration, from 2013, are almost three and a half million euro, and apart from the EU, other contributors to the restoration of this object were the City of Subotica, Provincial Government of Vojvodina, World Monuments Fund from New York and the Hungarian Government as well. After several years of restoration, the Synagogue in Subotica was restored to its old glory and in 2018 opened to the public, and by the ceremonial carrying in and placing of scrolls from the Sacred Book of Torah, the Synagogue in Subotica once again became a Jewish temple. Worship and religious rituals that were performed in the hall of the Jewish municipality during the last 40 years in the so-called Little Synagogue can now once again be held in the synagogue building.
History of the Synagogue in Subotica
Тhe Synagogue is the first building designed by architects Marcel Komor and Deže Jakab. The synagogue design was prepared for a competition announced in Szeged in 1899, when Lipót Baumhorn won the first prize, while Komor and Jakab were redeemed. However, the Jewish community in Subotica accepted Komor’s and Jakab’s project without any hesitation and the construction of the Synagogue, according to their design, began in 1901 and ended the following year. The Synagogue is one of the most valuable Central European examples of this type of sacral architecture, with modern architectural solutions that were also bold. Its uniqueness also lies in the fact that instead of an extended organisation of space, as most synagogues had in Europe at the time, the Subotica Synagogue has a centrally organised space with eight circularly installed steel pillars, representing the basis of the construction. In addition to the artistic and aesthetic value, it is the only synagogue that features the Hungarian Art Nouveau variation. Typical for this style, the floral decoration in the shape of a peacock feather, a tulip, a stylised rose or lily is found on the façade, as well as in the interior, on stained glass and painted walls. The stained glass was prepared in Mikhail Roth’s studio in Pest, while the façade decoration and tile were made in ceramics factory Zolnay in Pécs. The interior, conceived as a tent, is reminiscent of the Old Testament era, while the luminous harmony of colours was supposed to induce a sense of joy in believers. The synagogue can receive 1400 believers, 850 men on the ground floor and 550 women in the gallery. Its grandeur is reflected in the fact that the size of the interior space is 23 metres and the range of the dome is 12.6 meters. The external height of the building is 40 metres. After the Second World War, a small number of surviving Subotica Jews could not fill nor maintain this facility and in 1979 the Jewish community in Subotica entrusted the synagogue to the city, namely the local government, with the obligation to renew it. From 1985 to 1988, it was under the ownership of the National Theatre from Subotica, so above the original benches a wooden floor was erected where performances were held. Since 1988, the building had no purpose, and on two occasions in 1996 and 2000-2001, it was on the list of the 100 most endangered cultural monuments in the world.
The beginnings of Art Nouveau in Subotica
At the turn of the 20th century, novelties in Europe in the fields of art, science and culture came through Budapest and Subotica. One of the main preconditions for this development was the introduction of the railway in 1869, since this type of traffic and intensified trade in the second half of the 19th century enabled the construction and expansion of the city. Most of the buildings in today’s downtown Subotica were built during this period. Cultural changes that arrived from Europe also reflected on the architecture of Subotica, but they further developed in two directions. While one stream turned to European centres such as Munich, Vienna, Paris and London, the second, dominant, found its role model in the national Hungarian version of Art Nouveau. Although the European version is more present, the Hungarian variation dominates the city with only a few examples – exceptional by their location, size and purpose – contributing to Subotica being known as the City of Art Nouveau. Following the example of their European counterparts, avant-garde Hungarian artists considered that industrial development would lead to the destruction of everything beautiful and that art should be introduced into everyday life, relying on national construction and tradition and the use of local materials. In pursuit of national distinctions, studying folk art and national construction, the Hungarian variant of Art Nouveau created a distinctive and recognisable architectural language. In addition to all the skills, abilities, knowledge and travels of local architects, the engagement of authors from Budapest or other cities introduced the spirit of the big city and new movements into the architecture of Subotica. In 1893, architects Eden Lehner and Đula Partoš designed a one-storey house for the Leović family with elements of the new style, at the same time when a house was built according to Viktor Horta’s design in Torino street in Brussels. After that, a number of other Art Nouveau buildings were erected in Subotica, and the builders such as Marcell Komor, Dezső Jakab, Ferenc Raichle, Titus Mačković, Maćaš Šalga, Balog Lipót, the Vago brothers, Isidor Strassburger were responsible for today’s fin de siecle appearance of Subotica. When the Art Nouveau prevailed in this area, several of the most important buildings in the city were erected, such as the Town Hall, the Synagogue, the Raichle Palace, the Water Tower, the Great Terrace and the Woman’s Bath around Lake Palić, which is only seven kilometres from the city.