Historic Synagogue in Benfeld, Alsace is undergoing fullscale renovation

The sumptuously decorated 19th century synagogue in Benfeld, near Strasbourg in Alsace, is undergoing a complex, fullscale restoration to safeguard the building and preserve its unique interior ornamentation.

Total costs for the restoration are estimated at €1.2 million, according to the Jewish administrative umbrella Consistoire of Bas-Rhin, to be covered by financial support from the Consistoire itself, along with contributions from the region, the state, and the national Heritage Foundation.

The synagogue was originally built in 1846. It was enlarged and restructured 30 years later, and an organ was installed in 1895 — a rare example of an organ in a synagogue in France.

The sanctuary was redesigned and redecorated with its current elaborate ornamentation in 1922: its walls were covered in Moorish-style geometric paintings by the local Jewish artist Achille Metzger, who is believed to have been influenced by the synagogue in Florence, Italy.

It survived World War II almost completely intact and today is listed as a national historic monument.

Ahead of the restoration the Consistoire, which owns the synagogue, said the condition of the building was “worrying,” with problems including exterior and interior cracks in the walls, damp damage, dry rot, crumbling plasterwork and masonry, and damaged painted decoration.

The first phase of the restoration, completed in recent weeks, prioritized serious threats and damage from  dry rot and humidity.

Experts in protective gear sealed off parts of the sanctuary and used chemicals and other means to decontaminate the space, treat the dry rot, and fight humidity.

Work was carried out inside the building and also outside, where poor-quality exterior plaster was removed, and asphalt around the base of the walls was replaced with gravel to better insulate the building and protect it from damp.

Forthcoming work, the Consistoire said, will include restoration and conservation of the hand-painted decoration and a range of structural and other interventions, including an upgrade of the electrical and heating systems, repair and waterproofing of the roof, repair of the parquet floor, windows, and other wooden fittings.

Only a handful of Jews live in Benfeld today, and the synagogue is not used for services but as a cultural site.

The restoration is aimed to prevent its “abandonment, its degradation, its disappearance,” Yoav Rossano, who heads the recently created Heritage and Culture Department of the Consistoire, said in a dossier about the synagogue and restoration.

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