Monday, December 30, 2013

The Magnificent Synagogue of Sofia, Bulgaria

The Central Synagogue of Sofia is the pride of Bulgarian Jewry and the only Jewish house of worship in the Bulgarian capital. Jewish life in Sofia, home to some 2,000 Jews out of the country's 6,000, centers around the synagogue. During the two years my wife and I lived in Sofia we visited the synagogue many times.

On September 9, 2009, a ceremony was held at the Sofia Synagogue marking the 100th year anniversary of the building's dedication in 1909 by Bulgarian Tzar Ferdinand. The ceremony was attended by Bulgaria's president at the time, Georgi Parvanov.

On every occasion that friends and family members visited us in Bulgaria, we took them to see the magnificent synagogue. The synagogue made such an impression on me that I included one scene in the building in my novel.

Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov arrives at ceremony, September 2009

The rabbi explained that the Central Sofia Synagogue was the second-largest Sephardic synagogue in Europe, and Simon recognized this term as referring to Jews with origins in Spain and Portugal. The rabbi continued by saying that Friedrich Grunanger, an Austrian architect, designed the building, and construction began in 1905.

“Take a look at the brass chandelier,” the rabbi said, pointing proudly upwards at the high ceiling of the main sanctuary. “Manufactured in Vienna and weighing over 2,200 kilograms, it is the largest chandelier in all of Bulgaria.”

Simon was stunned at the synagogue’s beauty. The rows of hard wooden benches were framed by alcoves marked by colorful columns and archways, painted brightly in magnificent ornamental designs. Above, Simon could see the partially hidden women’s section. And at the front of the hall was the raised bimah, with its curtained aron kodesh safeguarding the holy Torah scrolls within.

“During the bombing of Sofia in 1944, our synagogue was hit several times,” the rabbi said. “The balcony was partially destroyed, as were a number of these columns. Most of our Judaic library was lost. Restoration work continued for many years, but I am proud to report that this September we will celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of the Central Sofia Synagogue. The president of Bulgaria and many other high-ranking dignitaries will attend a special ceremony to mark this momentous occasion."

We last visited the Sofia Synagogue in January 2011, shortly before our return to our permanent home in Israel. At that time, the synagogue's dome was covered in snow. When we make our next trip to familiar sites in Bulgaria we will again visit one of the most interesting buildings in Sofia, something all tourists should see - the magnificent synagogue.

For more information, visit the Sofia Synagogue website.


  1. Splendit building, it reminded me of the main sinagogue of Firenze, Italy. I would imaging this is located at downtown Sofia city and not the suburbs.

    1. Yes, it is in the very center of Sofia.