Southern French city of Carpentras to renovate 650-year-old synagogue

Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) – Local authorities in the city of Carpentras in southern France allocated $1.25 million for renovating the ceiling of the country’s oldest synagogue ahead of its 650th anniversary next year.

The city intends to defray some of the cost through admission fees to exhibitions that it is preparing to put on next year of items connected to the synagogue, including some of its priceless items of scripture – which predate the invention of the printing press, and an exhibit of photographs related to the local Jewish community, the news website France Bleu reported.

Fleeing persecution in 13th-century France, many Jews sought pontifical protection in Carpentras, which was controlled by the Avignon papacy at this time, according to the World Monuments Fund, which supported some restoration in 2001. They established the synagogue shortly thereafter, in 1367.

The building was renovated in the 18th century by the architect Antoine D’Allemand, whose work on the synagogue reflected contemporary baroque décor.

A monumental stairway leads through from the ground floor to the first floor, belying the synagogue’s modest façade. On the ground floor, the ritual baths, or mikvaot, and two bakeries represent some of the building’s oldest retained features.

The 2001 World Monuments Fund-supported conservation work on the synagogue’s interior included cleaning the plaster on the ceilings and walls, and replacing the floor tiles, according to the website Jewish Heritage Europe.

The synagogue is still in occasional use by the small Jewish community in Carpentras, numbering about 200 people.