The Central Synagogue of Sofia has justly been described as the pride of all Bulgarian Jewry. It has symbolized the Jewish community of Bulgaria for almost a century. It is the second largest Sephardic (Spanish-Jewish) synagogue in Europe.
The Central Synagogue is the only Jewish house of worship in Sofia. It is located right next to the Central Market Hall a.k.a. Halite, along Ekzarch Josif Street. The sinagogue was built between 1905 and 1909 by the Austrian architect Gruenanger, who’s intention was to be a smaller replica of the Sephardic synagogue in Vienna (which was destroyed during WWII).
In accordance with Bulgarian Sephardic synagogue tradition, one enters through a large, quiet courtyard. The famous brass chandelier weighing over 2200 kilos, the large candelabra (Heb. menorah), and other decorations were imported from Vienna. After four years of construction, financial crises, and much communal debates, the Central Synagogue was finally opened on September 9, 1909.
During the bombing of Sofia in 1944, the Synagogue was hit several times. The building was partially destroyed and years of exposure to the elements caused the exquisite ornamental wall designs to be damaged. The bombings also destroyed the famous Judaica library and most of the valuable Hebrew books were burned. Fortunately, the building has been restored to its former glory through a very generous donation from the Doron Foundation of Israel.
Presently, the Central Synagogue is in the process of restoration and the main sanctuary is closed. Regular services are conducted in a small prayer room in the foyer. Besides a prayer room, the Synagogue houses the offices of the Jewish Religious Council and a small museum on the second floor.
The Synagogue is a part of the so called “Square of Tollerance”. Just 60 meters away there is the mosque “Banya Bashi”, 300 meters away is Saint Joseph catholic cathedral, and St. Nedelya ortodox church is just 500 meters away. Sofia gives a fine example to the world on how all major religions can co-exist and tolerate each other.