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Rue Pavée Synagogue, Paris


Paris never ceases to surprise me with buildings I'd passed but not seen, and with bits of history and connections I'd never suspected. The extraordinary synagogue in the Rue Pavée in the Marais is a good example.


I was on my way to the nearby Carnavalet, the museum of the city's history, when I noticed a few clearly Orthodox Jewish children entering the building, and then noticed the Star of David over the door. And then the rest of the unusual building.


For all its impressive detail and vertical thrust, it's really quite narrow, perhaps not as wide as two storefronts. Its founders squeezed it into a narrow spot in the then-teeming Jewish community that had centered in the Marais for centuries. Agoudas Hakehilos, to give it its name, was not built by French Jews, though; it was built shortly before World War I by a growing community of Russian and Polish Jews leaving oppressive conditions in Tsarist Russia.

800px-Paris-Marais-Synagoge-102-2017-gje_GerdEichmannGerd Eichmann/Wikimedia

But the architect they chose was as French as could be: the Art Nouveau leader Hector Guimard, who gave the Métro its style in both gorgeous ironwork and typography. The Rue Pavée synagogue was his last major work before WWI and the only religious building he designed.


The interior shows again what a narrow space he had to work with, and how he used height to compensate. All the lights, brackets and benches were designed by Guimard, along with the skylights (now covered) that illuminated the hall.é


That the synagogue still exists is almost a miracle. An accidental gas explosion destroyed the main hall in 1934; it was quickly rebuilt. On Yom Kippur Eve in 1941, French fascists dynamited six Paris synagogues; only this one survived because the bomb didn't go off. Another attempt a few weeks later damaged the front entryway, which has since been restored.

800px-Agoudas_Hakehilos_Synagogue_(Hector_Guimard)_in_1917The synagogue in 1917

The building is still in use as an active synagogue, and has been listed since 1989 as a French historic monument.


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  • 1280px-Guimard-4eme-artnouveau-10-rue-pavee-synagogue-signature
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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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