For decades, little did the principal of a kindergarten in Lithuania’s capital realise that his office stood on top of the bimah of Vilnius’ 17th century Jewish synagogue, once famous across Europe.

An international team of archaeologists on Thursday announced the discovery of the bimah of the Great Synagogue of Vilnius, Lithuania’s major Jewish prayer house before it was destroyed by the Nazi and Soviet regimes.

“We’ve found the bimah, the central prayer platform which was in Tuscan Baroque style. It was one of the central features of the synagogue,” Jon Seligman from Israel’s Antiquities Authority told AFP.

“It is really a very exciting development. When we talk about the presentation of the site to the public in the future, this will be one of the central features of the display,” he added.

The green and brown, brick and mortar bimah was unearthed just beneath the principal’s office of a former school built in the 1950s by the Soviet regime. The synagogue dates from the 1630s.

The city attracted Yiddish-speaking writers and scholars, earning it the title of “Jerusalem of the North.”

Before the war, Jews accounted for around one-third of the city’s then 60,000 residents, but most of them perished under Nazi Germany’s 1941-1944 occupation.

The Nazis burned down the synagogue and the remains were later demolished by the Soviet regime that built a kindergarten, later turned into the primary school, on the property.