The Watch

Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue

Alexandria, Egypt

2018 World Monuments Watch

One of two remaining synagogues in Alexandria, where there were once twelve, Eliyahu Hanavi is the witness of a disappearing Jewish community. The monumental synagogue—one of the largest in the Middle East—was built in its current form by an Italian architect in the 1850s, at the site of a fourteenth-century synagogue that was bombed during Napoleon’s invasion in 1798. Originally located in what were the outskirts of the city, the synagogue now stands in the heart of Alexandria, the second largest city in Egypt. The synagogue could accommodate 700 worshipers and was the last functioning synagogue in Egypt until it closed in 2012 due to security concerns. Though numbering over 40,000 at its height, today the remaining Jewish community in Alexandria contains fewer than 10 elderly members.

 After a portion of its roof collapsed, the synagogue remained exposed to the elements with rainwater seeping into the walls and flooring. In 2017, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities allocated 40 million Egyptian pounds for emergency repairs and restoration of the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue, a sign of growing interest on the behalf of the local authorities in the preservation of minority groups’ heritage. For Egyptian Jews living around the world, the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue stands as an emblem of the community’s legacy. For local residents and authorities, it is a symbol of Egypt’s historical plurality, when diverse national and religious communities lived and worked together in a spirit of conviviality and religious freedom. Inclusion on the 2018 World Monuments Watch aims to keep alive the memory of a once-flourishing Jewish community.

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