The Schola Canton in Venice, Italy was constructed in 1532, shortly after the enforced segregation of Jews into the Venetian Ghetto Nuovo. It stands as one of the oldest and most important extant Jewish institutions in the city. The Ghetto Nuovo is often considered the first Jewish ghetto in Europe.
The Schola Canton is inconspicuous from the outside but richly decorated inside, occupying the top floor of an existing building and reflecting both the vibrancy of Jewish life in medieval Venice and the continued attempts by ruling authorities to suppress Jewish culture within the ghetto.
In 1973, the building was found to be structurally unsound, and there were concerns it would collapse into the adjacent canal. Working with an emergency grant, WMF reinforced the foundation of the building. In 1983, after those crucial structural renovations, WMF repaired the synagogue’s matroneo (women’s balcony), rebuilt its plaster ceiling, and installed a new electrical system in the building.
Over thirty years later, the Schola Canton’s sanctuary had deteriorated and required a new conservation campaign. In 2014, WMF supported a project to clean, repair, consolidate, and re-gild its intricately carved wooden surfaces, and in 2016 collaborated with local partners on a project to restore the historic windows.
As a marker of Jewish history in Venice and the Ghetto Nuovo, the Schola Canton remains an important site for Jews living in the city, and a significant monument to Jewish cultural history.
WMF’s work at the site ensures the building’s survival and showcases the synagogue’s unique decorative achievements.
Designed in the late 1890s and built in 1902, Subotica Synagogue in Subotica, Serbia, is among the area’s best examples of Art Nouveau architecture, and one of the most important works of sacred architecture in that style. It is a visible reminder of the long and prominent history of Jewish culture in the area.
Largely as a result of economic hardship and conflict in the region, the building suffered damage and neglect for many years. To highlight the plight of the building, the synagogue was included on the World Monuments Watch four times beginning in 1996.
For over fifteen years, World Monuments Fund was committed to the conservation of Subotica Synagogue. A series of conservation and restoration campaigns supported work to restore the roof, cupolas, and one of the façades. The restored synagogue reopened to the public for the first time in decades in early 2018.
WMF’s longtime work at Subotica recognizes the synagogue as an architectural treasure and a notable site of cultural significance.
The Republic of Cape Verde is an archipelago off the coast of Senegal. After Portugal abolished the Inquisition in 1821, and signed a trade and navigation treaty with Great Britain in 1842, Sephardic Jews in Morocco immigrated to Cape Verde to escape deteriorating economic conditions in Morocco. Hebrew and Portuguese inscriptions on the tombstones in the small Jewish cemeteries throughout the islands indicate that the majority came from the Moroccan cities of Tangier, Tetouan, Rabat, and Mogador (now Essaouira).
To document the legacy of the many Sephardic families and their descendants in Cape Verde, from 2015 to 2017 WMF partnered with the Cape Verde Jewish Heritage Project to survey archives in Cape Verde, Portugal, Morocco, and Gibraltar, as well as to conduct interviews with descendants.
Research on the history of Jews in Cape Verde and their impact on local culture is scattered and incomplete. This project helped fill in the research gaps and create a clear picture of Jewish heritage in Cape Verde.
In June 2017, the Cape Verdean government declared the Jewish cemeteries and other places of Jewish memory “National Historical Patrimony”, a designation that will protect these historic sites—the only remains of a once-flourishing Jewish community—for years to come.
The research completed as part of this project aims to preserve the memory of this important, relatively unknown piece of Jewish history and will serve as the basis for creating interpretive signage, tours about Jewish culture in Cape Verde.
The Great Synagogue in Iaşi, Romania, is the oldest extant synagogue in Romania and is one of two surviving synagogues in a city that once housed over 100 Jewish houses of worship. Hidden in the former Jewish quarter of Iaşi near its historic center, the Great Synagogue is a remnant of a time well before the Holocaust, when more than half of the city’s population was Jewish.
It was built in the late seventeenth century from brick and stone, with a fresco-decorated interior. The beautiful sanctuary has always been the highlight of the building, with a large, wooden aron kodesh, or torah ark, as its centerpiece.
After a major conservation project was halted in 2008, the Great Synagogue of Iaşi sat covered by scaffolding for years. The synagogue was included on the 2014 World Monuments Watch, aimed to generate greater awareness about the importance of the building and the precarious state of deterioration it faced.
Inclusion on the Watch and the celebration of Watch Day in June 2014 helped garner much-needed support for the Great Synagogue. The Ministry of Culture resumed conservation works on the synagogue, spurred by the government’s financial commitment to the project and pressure from the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania (FEDROM). In the summer of 2015, the scaffolding that had covered the synagogue for almost a decade was removed, finally revealing the restored façade and roof.
From 2015 to 2018, WMF collaborated with FEDROM to support the emergency stabilization of the nineteenth-century wooden aron kodesh, which was in an advanced state of decay. A restoration team carefully dismantled the aron kodesh and treated all the sculpted wooden elements against insects and mold and reinstalled them.
The completion of the restoration work helps ensure that this historic, religious, architectural, and artistic site will be recognized once more for its remarkable value.
Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue in Mumbai India, is the second oldest Sephardic synagogue in Mumbai. Constructed in 1884, the synagogue was designed by Bombay architects Gostling and Morris and was commissioned by the Sassoon family, who were prominent philanthropists in Mumbai—then called Bombay—in the nineteenth century.
The synagogue is still in use and is the center of Jewish cultural and religious life in Mumbai. The building contains unique features that draw on the various cultural forces in Mumbai in the nineteenth century, combining Jewish traditions with Indian and English Victorian influences.
The synagogue was in need of extensive treatment as water infiltration had damaged the roof, ceiling, and wall surfaces. In 2010, WMF funded the creation of a comprehensive conservation plan for the synagogue. In 2017, work began on structural and roof repairs, recovery of decorative finishes, as well as the restoration of the synagogue’s stunning nineteenth-century stained glass windows.
Work was completed in January 2019, and in October 2019, the project was recognized with an Award of Merit at the 2019 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.
The restoration of Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue means this treasured heritage can continue to be enjoyed by Mumbai’s Jewish community.
World Monuments Fund would like to thank the following donors for making these projects possible:
Harold & Penny B. Blumenstein Foundation Corporation / Richard C. Blumenstein, Mr. and Mrs. Michael S. Bass, Mr. Raymond Learsy, Seth Meisel, Mrs. Joyce Z. Greenberg, The Cahnman Foundation, Dean Bonis, Dawn Woods, Dr. Scott Bonis, The Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust, The David Berg Foundation, Inc., The Ronald and Jo Carole Lauder Foundation, and all of our Jewish Heritage Program supporters.