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Beth Shalom Synagogue
From the 5th century, when the ancient synagogue of Agora was destroyed, to the 19th century, the Jewish community of Athens did not have a synagogue. Built in 1935, by the Sephardic Community of Athens, the Beth Shalom Synagogue (Hebrew for “House of Peace”) is located at 5 Melidoni St., Thission at the original site where Jewish refugees from Asia Minor held their religious sermons. Although it is the primary synagogue in Athens today, it is relatively new: the interior of Beth Shalom was finished in 1951 and further renovated in 1975 by the local architect Mr. Iosif Koen.

It is a neo-classical structure of white Pentelic marble, with an area of 400 m2 and a capacity of 550 persons. Inside, large modern stained glass windows adorn the wood paneled sidewalls. The layout is unusual for Greek synagogues because the Tevah (Bimah) and the Echal (Aron) are united by a raised platform. As it is customary in Greek synagogues, the women’s gallery (Ezrat Nashim) is upstairs, along the sides and back of the sanctuary. The front-facing bronze-covered wall is dedicated to the Athenian Jews victims of the Shoah and was designed by the artist Mr. Didonis. The engraved part represents part of the Kotel (Solomon’s Temple western Wall) and a Menorah adorns the other side. Along both sides of the rear section of the synagogue, there are plaques bearing the names of sponsors and benefactors of the community. The extraordinary stained-glass work by the artist Mrs. Lymberopoulou depicts the Creation of the world and the Exodus from Egypt. Tablets with The Ten Commandments inscribed in Hebrew are carved into the top of the Aron Kodesh and a velvet Torah curtain with gold embroidery and tassels is drawn across it. Seven silver-colored incense burners (indicating the Menorah and nowadays using electric lamps) hang down in front of the Aron Kodesh. The tevah sits in front of the Aron Kodesh, draped with a velvet cover with gold embroidery. A low white wall runs across the front of the Bimah and wood pews fill the sanctuary.

Beth Shalom Synagogue Visiting Hours
Nov 1 – Mar 30: Monday to Friday 8:30am – 1:00pm
Apr 1 – Oct 30: Monday to Friday 8:30am – 2:00pm
Excluding Jewish and Greek holidays
(Please have your passport or identity card with you.)

 

Etz Haim Synagogue
The Etz Haim (Hebrew for Tree of Life) synagogue is Romaniote and the oldest synagogue in Athens. It was originally built in 1896 and moved to its current location in 1903. After the 1999 earthquake, the building was partially damaged, but was completely restored and renovated in 2009 by a great benefactor of the community.

It is possible that Romaniote Jews lived in Greece as far back as the Babylonian exile. Romaniote oral tradition states that the first Jews arrived in the city of Ioannina just after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. Romaniote customs are distinct from those of Sephardic Jews and are more similar to Italian Jews; one possible explanation is they used the Jerusalem Talmud instead of the Babylonian Talmud. Also, Romaniote Greek Jews spoke Greek not Hebrew. Today, the only Romaniote communities in mainland Greece are in Ioannina and Athens. There are some Romaniote communities in Israel and in the U.S., mainly in New York.

The Etz Haim synagogue has an area of 300 m2 and a capacity for 400 persons. The layout is traditionally Romaniote, with the Bimah on the western wall, the Aron Kodesh on the eastern wall, and the Torah scrolls are kept in tikkim, wooden and metal cases. Wood panels surround the Bimah, with a darker, ornamental piece of wood on the front, featuring a Menorah and other beautiful carvings, which are gilded in gold. Inside are the Tevah and several chairs and it is open to the back. Behind it is a small wall with two smaller versions of the stained-glass windows on either side. The women’s gallery (Ezrat Nashim) is upstairs, running along the sides and back of the sanctuary featuring striking wood paneling. The exterior of the building is an attractive modern neo-classical design, featuring a white façade with cream moldings. Black wrought iron balconies and railings run across the entire front of the synagogue, encompassing an inviting patio area with paving stones and large umbrellas. The spacious prayer room is also decorated in a modern neo-classical design, implementing Jewish symbols into the design structure. The ceiling is cream with a tan alternating molded symbols of Stars-of-David and octagons. The floor features a large cream Star-of-David against a tan background. Rectangular stained-glass windows featuring modern designs flank either side of the Aron Kodesh.

The Etz Haim synagogue is currently used one Shabbat every month and during the High Holidays; it is occasionally used to host cultural events as well. The community’s Administration offices are located on the ground floor in rooms originally intended to house a small Jewish school.

Etz Haim Synagogue Visiting Hours
Monday through Friday: 8:30am – 1:30pm
Excluding Jewish and Greek holidays
(Please have your passport or identity card with you.)

 

Ancient Synagogue
In 1930, the remains of an ancient Synagogue were discovered in the ancient Agora, at the site of “Metroon”, the Registry building of Ancient Athens. The remains consist of a part of the mosaic floor and an inscribed plaque depicting a Menorah with a lulav (myrtle branch) on it. Archaeologists estimate that the findings date back to the 2nd century C.E. and indicate the existence of an organized community. The remains can be seen by going to the far end of the Temple of Efestou (Thision) and positioning oneself with Lycabettus Hill on the left and the Acropolis on the right.