Preserving Heritage: Egypt To Restore, Ben Ezra, The Oldest Synagogue In The Country

Egypt’s Mogamaa Al-Adyan (or The Complex of Religions) represents how Egypt is home to the three monotheistic religions. A country rich in tradition, ancient fortunes and religious history, some of the oldest religious institutions are found in Egypt. The Saint Virgin Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church, for example, also known as the Hanging Church, has a history that stretches back to the third century making it one of Egypt’s oldest churches. The Mosque of Ibn Tulun, which is the largest mosque in Cairo in terms of land size is regarded as one of the oldest mosques in Egypt as well as all of Africa and has survived in its original shape. There are five synagogues in Cairo that have had a long history starting from Maimonides Synagogue, Sha’ar HaShamayim Synagogue, Etz Hayim Synagogue, Moussa Dar’i Synagogue, to Synagogue of Ben Ezra. Today we will be talking about the Ben Ezra Synagogue which is currently being restored.

The Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo was formerly known as El-Shamieen Church, and it is presently located behind the famous Hanging Church in old Cairo. This is a place that offers an interesting and unique take on historical architecture from outstanding buildings and sites that illustrate three of the world’s famous religions (Islam, Christianity, Judaism) all living together for several thousand years.

The Synagogue has undergone numerous restorations and reconstructions over the years. This is a synagogue that has stood since at least the ninth century and functioned as a place of worship for Egypt’s Jewish community until the 1950s. After Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah ordered the destruction of all Jewish and Christian sites of worship in 1012, the original structure was demolished. The synagogue was later restored between 1025 and 1040, before being totally reconstructed again in the 1890s. It has two stories and was built in the shape of a basilica or a rectangular structure. The men’s floor is on the first level, while the women’s floor is on the second, with the entrance on the north side. Today, Ben Ezra, like nearly all of Egypt’s synagogues, serves as a valuable tourist attraction and museum.

The synagogue is currently undergoing a new phase of repair by Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities in order to preserve the synagogue’s culture and tradition. Mostafa Waziri, the council’s Secretary-General, told Arab News that “it is of immense importance because it is Egypt’s and the Middle East’s oldest synagogue.” Cleaning of the walls and floral arrangements are said to be part of the renovations. In addition, the safety planning involves isolating the surfaces to protect them from the effects of moisture caused by rainwater intrusion, treating the colour layers to protect them from the effects of various weather variables, which resulted in the accumulation of dirt and fixing fractures.

Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities plans to restore cultural landmarks that are integral to our Egyptian identity.

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