Erfurt becomes a UNESCO cultural heritage site for Jewish-Medieval culture


As of: September 17, 2023, 5:35 PM

Erfurt is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The title was awarded by the UNESCO Committee in Saudi Arabia for the Judeo-Medieval Heritage of the Thuringian capital. It is the culmination of years of preparatory work.

The Judeo-Medieval heritage in Erfurt is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The decision was taken at a meeting of the Board of Trustees in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, on Sunday afternoon.

The Old Synagogue, a medieval ritual bath – the mikveh – and a historic residential building known as the Stone House are the 52nd World Heritage Site in Germany.

Three buildings represent Erfurt’s World Heritage status

Old Synagogue

The Old Synagogue in Erfurt is now part of the Erfurt UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Image copyright: dpa

Erfurt’s Old Synagogue is considered one of the oldest synagogues in Central Europe, preserved up to the roof. During a pogrom in 1349, the Jewish quarter surrounding the synagogue was set on fire, and nearly all 1,000 members of the Jewish community died. Researchers believe there are only a few survivors. After the massacre, the old synagogue was initially converted into a warehouse, then used as a restaurant and dance hall. The city suspects that this is why the building was later saved from destruction by the Nazis. Today the Old Synagogue houses a museum, the oldest traces of its construction dating back to around 1094. Evidence of Jewish settlement in medieval Erfurt is on display.

These include several thousand silver coins and bars and gold and silver engravings from the 13th and 14th centuries. The most important piece is a gold wedding ring. Researchers suspect it was buried during the Holocaust, known as the Erfurt Treasure. It was discovered in 1998 during archaeological excavations near the Old Synagogue.

This gold wedding ring is considered to be the most important in the museum in the Old Synagogue.
Image credit: imago/pictureteam


Now part of Erfurt’s World Heritage Site: The Mikveh, a Jewish ritual bath of medieval origin in the Old City.
Image copyright: dpa

Located directly on the banks of the Gera River, the Erfurt mikveh is one of the few surviving examples of mikvehs from the medieval community. The form of the building differs from the otherwise preserved shaft or basement mikvahs at Cologne and Speyer. The Jewish community had a mikveh in Gera as early as the twelfth century. The use of ritual baths ended in 1453 or 1454, when the city council forced the Jews to settle. Ritual baths were discovered by accident about 16 years ago.

Stone house

Part of the Erfurt World Heritage Site: The Stone House.
Image copyright: dpa

Built in 1250, the Stone House is a secular building and has no ritual or religious significance. The well-preserved structures in the building with doorways, light niches and colorful wooden beamed ceilings testify to Jewish life in the High Middle Ages. The building has been used as a warehouse since the 15th century. The Stone House needs restoration and is not yet open to the public.

“Treasure that guards like the apple of our eye”: Reactions to the UNESCO title

Thuringia’s Prime Minister Bodo Ramelo (left) hailed three award-winning buildings in the Old Town as architectural gems that uniquely testified to the peaceful coexistence of Jewish and Christian communities in the Middle Ages. “Let Thuringia send the message of diversity and peaceful coexistence with this decision,” he explained after the decision. Erfurt’s mayor Andreas Paswein (SPD) sees the title as the culmination of years of meticulous preparation. “Now that Erfurt has been awarded the World Heritage title, we must preserve and protect this treasure like the apple of our eye,” he said.

Reinhard Schramm, head of the Jewish regional community, sees the World Heritage title as a tourist attraction. Jewish community members now feel even more at home. Schramm also envisions a kosher restaurant in Erfurt as part of the World Heritage title.

Maria Böhmer, head of the German UNESCO commission, said Jewish monuments had been forgotten for centuries. Her rediscovery was a great gift.

Erfurt sees World Heritage status as an obligation to maintain and further research the three sites. For example, the city is working on the idea of ​​a World Heritage Center behind the town hall. Two years ago, UNESCO honored Jewish cultural property in Germany for the first time. The so-called Sham sites in Mainz, Worms and Speyer received World Heritage status as the cradle of European Jewry.

Thuringia now has five World Heritage Sites

The decision in Saudi Arabia was broadcast live in the ballroom of Erfurt Town Hall on Sunday. The meeting in Riyadh was followed by 200 guests. A total of 15 years were involved in researching the Jewish past of Erfurt and Thuringia in World Heritage Application. It is Thuringia’s fifth UNESCO World Heritage Site – after Wardburg, Classic Weimar, Bauhaus-Weimar and Heinich National Park.

More about the long journey from Erfurt to becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site

This topic in the project:MDR Thuringia | MDR THÜRINGIA JOURNAL | September 17, 2023 | 7:00 p.m

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