|Veroia, a small town in the
Greek province of Macedonia, has a very long history dating from antiquity.
Veroia, located only about one-hour’s drive from Salonika, was one of
the cities that St. Paul the Apostle visited during his second trip to
Greece, in the 1st century AD. The Jewish community of Veroia, which received
St. Paul at its synagogue, dates from antiquity. It was a Romaniot community,
which grew further after the 15th century, and the arrival of the Sefardi
Jews from the Iberian peninsula.
The almost completely preserved Jewish quarter, called Barbouta, dates
from the early and mid-19th century. It is of a defensive and introverted
typology, where the houses are built around an open courtyard, with access
only through two gates that used to be locked at night. The houses communicated
among them with doors that opened from one to the other, without being
exposed to the common courtyard. The Jewish quarter is located west of
the Byzantine walls of Veroia and adjacent to the sloping banks of the
Tripotamos River, both of which form a second layer of defense to the
protected quarter. This protective and introverted arrangement is common
to the Jewish and Greek Orthodox quarters of the Ottoman Empire prior
to the Tanzimat Reforms that led to the emancipation of the Ottoman Jews
and other minorities (1839-1856). Prior to the Second World War, 460 Jews
lived in this quarter. In May 1943, during the German occupation, 424
Jews were arrested by the Germans, and locked temporarily inside the synagogue,
before being deported and killed in concentration camps in Poland.
Today, there are only two families living in Veroia. The
Jewish quarter, empty of any Jewish life, still stands but with new occupants,
most of them children of refuges from the surrounding villages, who took
over the houses after the deportation of the Jews. They later legally
purchased these houses from the temporarily re-established Jewish community
in the 1950s and 1960s. The Jewish houses, though, still keep their original
identity, in the form of inscriptions and dates in Hebrew, drawn on the
exterior walls of the houses. For example, on the exterior walls of the
house of the Mordochai family, one of the few who escaped deportation,
thanks to their Christian neighbors who hid them inside the attic of an
old mosque, is adorned with the following inscriptions:
"If I forger thee, O Jerusalem, Let my right hand forget her cunning"
(Psalms, 137, 5) and the date 5619 (1858).
The synagogue, built before 1850, is located at the northern point of
the triangular open courtyard of the Jewish quarter. It blends modestly
with the surrounding fabric of adjacent Jewish houses, in scale, materials,
and detailing. It is a wooden frame building built behind a stone masonry
wall and a portico, the only elements that give this building a more prominent
character. According to Nicholas Stravroulakis, Emeritus Director of the
Jewish Museum of Greece, "the structure is somewhat theatrically built
insofar as the front is of stone and appears quite solid and only in examination
is it apparent that the entire structure rests on wooden supports and
these have rotted in place, making the entire structure tremble at times."
The synagogue is constructed in the local vernacular style, and built
by Balkan local builders, who formed the builders’ guilds of the Ottoman
empire, called isnaf. Throughout the Ottoman Empire these men built houses,
palaces, aqueducts, mosques, churches, and other commissions for their
Turkish, Armenian, Greek Orthodox and other patrons within the vast borders
of the Ottoman Empire, preserving with their work the construction traditions
that evolved during Byzantine times.
In terms of its historical importance, the synagogue of Veroia is unique.
It is the last remaining standing synagogue in northern Greece, outside
Salonika, a region where there used to stand over 100 synagogues before
World War II (Salonika alone had over 60 synagogues and midrashim). These
synagogues were destroyed during the war, and the years immediately after.
The synagogue in Veroia is also the oldest standing synagogue in northern
Greece (Monastirlis in Salonika dates from 1927). It is a very unique
example of local vernacular architecture, the work of the Balkan builders’
guilds, and it is the last remaining example in northern Greece within
a fairly well preserved Jewish quarter. The synagogue itself is a unique
combination of local builders’ tradition used for a religious Jewish building:
the synagogue in Veroia, together with the synagogue in Ioannina (Eprirus)
are the last surviving such examples in Greece.
The synagogue is a rectangle, single-story structure, with interior women’s
gallery, and basement. It is approximately 192sq.m. (2,066sq.ft) of floor
area. The interior is divided by six columns; four mark the central core
of the main prayer hall, and two separate it from the entrance. The portico
of the main entrance is an influence from outside Veroia, probably Kastoria
or Pilio. The women’s gallery is elevated and accessed from a door outside
the south wall. It is also separated from the rest of the prayer hall
with a wooden lattice, a common traditional separation prior to the Tanzimat
Reforms. The basement consists of two spaces, an open one to the south
and a closed one, reached from a door on the north wall. To the west of
the synagogue, adjacent to the steep sloping river bank of Tripotamos,
are the remains of the mikveh. The decorated eihal of the synagogue is
located on the east wall, towards Jerusalem, while the temporary readers’
desk, that serves as a bimah, is located in the center of the hall. The
ceiling decoration, including an octagonal rosette and a shallow dome,
in the center and western part of the ceiling respectively, may suggest
that the permanent bimah, probably destroyed in World War II, was located
along the western wall, rather than at the center of the hall. The floor
of the synagogue is plain wood, except for the central area, among the
four columns, that is adorned with decorative terrazzo tiles. The wooden
areas of the floor were once adorned with colorful carpets, a local tradition
The conservation effort
The synagogue although registered by the Ministry of Culture as a national
historic monument, and characterized as "Maintainable at 1st degree"
by the Ministry of Culture (presidential decree no. 450/20.4.1994, published
in the official Gazette no. 383/D), has been in disrepair for many years,
and further neglect would almost certainly have led to its collapse.
Unfortunately, other synagogues, such as those of Didimoticho and Komotini,
that indeed collapsed and were eventually demolished, support this frightening
scenario. It was therefore urgent to do anything possible to preserve
this structure. The present conservation effort begun in 1994.
In March 1994 the synagogue of Veroia was briefly revived for services
during a seminar organized in Veroia by the Jewish Youth of Athens.
At that seminar I delivered a lecture on the present state of the synagogues
of Greece, where I emphasized the dangers that the abandoned synagogues
were facing. I spoke about the synagogues in Komotini and Xanthi that
were demolished shortly after, and about the abandoned dilapidated synagogue
of Veroia, which we were planning to visit the same afternoon. At that
time I had already been working for over a year on the documentation
of the synagogues of Greece, thanks to the seed support that I received
from the World Monuments Fund, secured through Sam Gruber, director
of the Jewish Heritage Research Center, and the Jewish Museum of Greece,
secured through M. Mordochai, treasurer of the Board of Directors of
It was only the same afternoon that my words of the same morning were
understood in their true proportions. We were visiting the Jewish cemetery,
only to realize that it was cleared of its Jewish tombstones, and in
their place stood a recently build open basketball court. Some of the
tombstones lay on one side of this court, under a pile of construction
debris and garbage. Although I was familiar with this site from my previous
visits to Veroia and other Jewish sites, such as the cemetery in Xanthi,
in a similar state, it was a shocking sight for the visiting youth.
Some cried, some lit candles, some read "askava". They were all silent
witnessing the death of their history, of their heritage. For them,
this was the experiencing of the destruction of the Shoah.
During that seminar, the former deputy mayor of Veroia, Costantinos
Vafides, was present, and after my lecture he approached me for help:
he was looking for sources of support in order to conserve the synagogue
in his city. This is how the project began, or better, the mission to
conserve the synagogue of Veroia was born.
Nicholas Stravroulakis first brought international attention to the
plight of the building at the New York "Future of Jewish Monuments"
conference in 1990. At the time, in situ preservation of the building
seemed an impossibility, and arrangements were discussed to move surviving
fittings and furnishing to the Museum in Athens, as had been done with
synagogue of Patras shortly before that building was demolished in the
early 1980s. Indeed, prior to 1995, when the Identification phase took
place, there was no other organized conservation program in effect for
the synagogue of Veroia, or no apparent intention of creating such a
program. All previous attempts were local repairs (e.g. local repair
and replacement of broken roof tiles), mostly to prevent water penetration
in the building. Some of these repairs, although necessary, were not
sensitive and responsive enough to the original fabric, and had altered
its original character (e.g. the entrance portico, color repairs in
the interior, etc.).
Following that seminar, I was able through my contacts in the United
States and my experience in similar projects, to secure two grants from
the Getty Grant Program - the first, in 1995, for the identification
of the synagogue, and the second, in 1997, for the preparation of the
construction documents of the conservation work.
The Identification phase work was conducted between 1995 and 1996, and
following it, the Preparation phase, was completed in 1997. During these
two phases the team of E. V. Messinas (architect, project coordinator),
P. M. Koufopoulos (architects - conservators), P. Panagiotopoulos (structural
engineer), G. Dogani and A. Galanos (conservators), Socratis Mavrommatis
(photographer), A. Giourousis (quantities surveyor), FASMA (electromechanical
engineers), and Geoerevna (material testing laboratories), prepared
a complete and detailed documentation survey on the present condition
of the building and the necessary documents for the conservation work.
These documents included architectural, structural and photographic
survey documents, preparation of architectural, structural, and electromechanical
construction (conservation) documents, investigation sections in the
fabric of the building, material testing, and specifications for the
conservation work. Upon completion of the work, two reports were prepared
which summarized the work performed in these two phases. Copies of these
reports, titled Identification Phase report and Preparation Phase report
are located in the Getty Conservation Institute Library, available on
a non-circulating basis to the staff of the J. Paul Getty Trust and
to outside professionals in related fields.
The Preparation phase also included limited Emergency Work, in order
to maintain the building safely until the complete conservation work
was implemented. This work included repair of the north wall of the
synagogue, repair of the roof, repair of the pointing of the masonry
wall to the east and the basement, and other external repairs to safely
protect the building from the natural elements. As a result of this
work, the buildings is no longer in a state of danger, in terms of withstanding
natural decay, but it is in danger of remaining semi-completed, in terms
of architectural and historical integrity. For this purpose, the efforts
by the author continue, aimed at securing additional funds to complete
the conservation work on the synagogue, both in its exterior and its
The conservation work proposed for the synagogue is based on the Identification
Phase report recommendations (pp. 79-80), according to the designation
of the synagogue as "Maintainable at 1st degree" no work is permitted
that might change the typology and morphology of the building. Therefore,
the following work will take place:
a. The openings of the earlier ezrat nashim (women’s gallery) will be
unblocked for the purpose of exposing the original wooden lattice (which
has been found intact under the interior plaster layer of the blocked
opening). This is meant to record the original location of the openings
of the women’s gallery, prior to the later construction of the women’s
gallery at the south wall of the synagogue. This earlier women’s gallery,
which will be further explained and elaborated at the exhibition in
the basement, has a similar typology and location to the 19th century
synagogues found in Izmir, Turkey. This alteration to the present fabric
of the synagogue will allow the visitor to understand the construction
phases of the building and the different traditions that were alive
in this part of Greece in the 19th century, such as the location of
the women’s gallery, the use of wooden lattice on the women’s gallery
windows towards the main hall, etc.
b. The entrance portico posed a serious question as to whether it was
an addition that enhanced or an addition that destroyed the original
fabric of the synagogue. As has been already mentioned, porticos are
not very common in the traditional architecture of this part of Greece
and the Balkans. However, porticos have been found in rare occasions
in Kastoria and Pilio, northern Greece, and in several instances in
the Balkans outside Greece, such as in Berati and Permeti, Albania.
The existing portico, which is considered a later (pre-World War II)
addition to the original fabric of the building, while it was repaired
recently. The proposed portico, like the synagogue itself, is based
on the traditional work of the isnaf (builders' guilds).
c. Missing benches will be rebuilt to complete the existing, on areas
where benches are evident but destroyed. The new benches will be identical
in construction, materials, details and colors to the existing ones.
Decorative details of the existing benches will be repaired and completed,
based on the available information.
d. Interior decoration will be repaired, based on the conservation study
of the Preparation Phase. For example, dampness in the building has
destroyed many painted (mostly false-marble) surfaces, that will be
repaired and re-painted to match the original. In addition, hidden decoration
has been uncovered, on the octagon and
shallow dome of the ceiling, and on the surfaces of the eihal. These
delicately painted surfaces will have recent paint layers removed, cleaned,
and repaired to reveal the full expression of their original character.
These surfaces have revealed, during the conservator’s investigations,
delicate paint work, in gold and other bright colors, depicting floral
decoration and other naturalistic themes, similar to painted work found
in the Veroia houses of the 19th century.
e. New electrical wiring and light fixtures are proposed, of the same
style as the existing ones, and those traditionally used in this area
of Greece. Fixtures will be placed on the same locations as the existing
ones, but with the wiring hidden from view (today all wiring is surface
mount). The electrical panel will be located near the women’s gallery
stairs, hidden inside a new - traditionally - built shallow closet.
All wiring and other electrical work is specified to be fire-resistant
and code complying. The exhibition space in the basement will be lit
with track lighting, hidden between the ceiling rafters. Both the main
synagogue floor and the exhibition basement floor will receive electrical
outlets (with cover) conspicuously located on the baseboard of
the wooden benches and walls.
f. Electrical points (outlets) will be provided for movable electrical
heaters for the heating of the synagogue space and exhibition. Cooling
or other ventilation has not deemed necessary.
g. A security system is specified both for the synagogue floor and the
exhibition floor. The reason for this system is not only for the protection
from burglary and stealing, as there are plans to exhibit, inside glass
cases, old Torah scrolls, belonging to this synagogue, currently at
the Jewish Museum of Greece. The protection is also destined to prevent
the building from broken into and vandalized.
h. A new service area will be established at the open basement of the
building, complete with two toilets, and a storage area. This new addition
has been located to least affect the exterior look of the building,
but still be easily used by the visitors. The doors to this area will
be securely locked when the building is not in use.
i. A permanent exhibition will be accommodated within the building,
for the presentation of the history of the synagogue and the Jewish
community. For this purpose the ground floor (basement) of the synagogue
has been chosen as the best location, as proposed in the Preparation
Phase. The exhibition presentation panels will be attached to wooden
panels, designed to project from the wall, and provide maximum flexibility.
These preparations for the exhibition will have a minimal effect on
the original fabric of the synagogue. Recently, the Hellenic Society
Paideia of Connecticut, has pledged to provide the funds for the creation
for the permanent exhibition in the synagogue. Kol haKEHILA would
like to thank Mr. Elias Tomazos, president of "Paideia" and the fundraising
board that was formed for this purpose, for this initiative, and for
their commitment to help in the preservation of the Jewish monuments
For the purpose of completing the conservation work at the synagogue,
Kol haKEHILA is inviting all the friends and members of our special
KEHILA to help find ways to support the completion of the work in this
important building. In the meantime, we are making all necessary efforts
to nominate and list this important synagogue in the World Monuments
Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites for 2000-2001. We hope that
this nomination will bring to the building more international attention,
and will enable us to secure the necessary funds for its conservation.
The budget of the conservation
Based on the specifications and budget prepared in the Preparation Phase,
the budget for the implementation of the conservation work for the synagogue
is the following (source: Preparation Phase report):