Built between 1854 and 1859 by the Neolog Jewish community of Pest according to the design of the Viennese architect Ludwig Foerster, the Dohany Street Synagogue, named after the street on which it stands, is located in Belváros, the inner city of Pest, in the eastern section of Budapest. Also known as the Great Synagogue and constructed in the Moorish Revival style, with the decorations mainly based on Islamic models, it is the largest synagogue in Europe and a centre of the liberal and modernist Neolog community of Hungarian Jews, who were more inclined toward integration into Hungarian society, since the Era of Emancipation in the 19th century.
Apart from the synagogue, the huge complex contains the National Jewish Museum and the Heroes' Temple, designed by László Vágó and Ferenc Faragó, in memory of the ten thousand Hungarian Jewish soldiers, who have given their lives in the World War I.
The 246 feet (75 m) long and 89 feet (27 m) wide huge building of the Dohany Street Synagogue, equipped with 12916 square feet (1200 sq m) of floor space, has the capacity to accommodate 1,492 men and 1,472 in the women’s galleries, making it one of the largest working synagogues in the world. The western facade boasts arched windows with stone-carved decorations and brickwork of blue, yellow and red, the heraldic colours of the Budapest.
The western main entrance has a stained glass rose window above it and the gateway is flanked on both sides by two 143 feet (43.6 m) tall octagonal towers, decorated with stone carvings of geometric forms. Both the towers contain clocks with a diameter of 4.40 feet (1.34 m) each and crowned with copper domes with golden ornaments.
A single-span cast iron supports the 39 feet (12 m) wide nave of the synagogue. While the Holy Ark is located on the eastern wall, facing the nearby Bimah, a raised platform with a reading desk, the choir gallery is situated above the Holy Ark. The choir-gallery is situated above the Holy Ark and while the men’s prayer hall is located on the ground floor, the women’s galleries, supported by steel ornamented poles, are located at the upper levels on both the southern and northern sides of the synagogue. The internal frescoes of the Dohany Street Synagogue, designed by the famous Hungarian romantic architect Frigyes Feszl, are adorned with coloured and golden geometric shapes. Strangely, like most of the Christian churches, Dohány Street Synagogue also has a 5,000 tube synagogue organ, which was played by famous musicians like Franz Liszt and C Saint-Saens
The Dohany Street Synagogue had its bad days during WW II, when in 1944, it was included in a military district and subsequently converted into an internment camp for the city Jews. Eventually, Adolph Eichmann, one of the major organisers of the Holocaust, termed by the Nazis as the Final Solution to the Jewish Question, transformed it into a concentration point from which many of the Budapest Jews were sent to their extermination in the gas chamber. When the Russians liberated the ghetto on 18 January 1945, around 8,000 to 10,000 people had already died and one part of the deceased was transferred to the Kozma Street Cemetery.
Although It is not customary to have a cemetery next to a synagogue, more than two thousand of the unfortunate Jews, who died in the ghetto from hunger and cold, were buried in the makeshift cemetery in the courtyard of the synagogue.
Much later, a Holocaust memorial, created by the sculptor Imre Varga and dedicated to the memory of the Hungarian Jews, who perished in the Holocaust, was installed in 1991 in the rear courtyard of the synagogue, in a small park named Raoul Wallenberg. The memorial, named the tree of life, resembles a weeping willow, bearing inscriptions of the names and tattoo numbers of the victims of the Holocaust on its steel leaves. In addition to that, the memorial also includes four large marble plaques bearing the names of 240 non-Jewish Hungarians, who took the risk of their lives to save several Jews from being exterminated during the Holocaust.
Although after the end of the Great War, the damaged structure of the Dohany Street Synagogue was renovated to become a prayer house again for the much-diminished Jewish community, it was severely damaged again from aerial raids during the battle for the liberation of Budapest. However, the subsequent renovation started only in 1991, following the return to democracy in Hungary, which was completed in 1996, restoring the former beauty and dignity of the magnificent building. The Dohany Street Synagogue, the iconic landmark of the City of Budapest, today serves as the main synagogue for the local Jewish community and is reckoned as one of the most attractive tourist spots in the country.