Serbia: Synagogue in Subotica targeted by Europa Nostra and EIB Institute

On 14-16 October, a delegation of heritage and financial specialists from the leading European heritage organisation Europa Nostra and the European Investment Bank Institute visited the Synagogue in Subotica, Serbia, listed among ‘The 7 Most Endangered’ monuments in Europe in 2014. The delegation took part in several working meetings with local and national stakeholders with the aim of supporting the rehabilitation of the Synagogue, considered one of the finest examples of Art Nouveau architecture in Central Europe. The experts will help formulate a technical and financial action plan for its conservation before the end of this year.

Rescue Mission in Subotica, Serbia
Built in 1902, the Synagogue in Subotica is a gem of Central European built heritage. In its design, shape and structure, the building represents an authentic masterpiece of the Hungarian Art Nouveau. The Synagogue has a symbolic and educational value of European importance as a testament to the multiculturalism of Subotica and its formerly large Jewish community. Despite the restoration works undertaken in recent decades, the building remains highly endangered.

During the three-day mission, the delegation – composed of Richard Deeley, Technical Consultant provided by the European Investment Bank Institute, Patrizia Valle, Architect Conservator and Member of the Scientific Council of Europa Nostra, Graham Bell, Architect Conservator and Member of the Europa Nostra Council, Alessandra Peruzetto, Architect Conservator from the World Monument Fund, and Irina Subotic, Art Historian and President of Europa Nostra Serbia, which nominated the Synagogue for ‘The 7 Most Endangered’ programme – tried to understand the main challenges in regard to ongoing conservation works, future business and maintenance planning, as well as the future use of the monument.

The main impressions of the mission concern financial, technical and managerial challenges involved in the restoration of such a unique and complex building. The Synagogue, which is under the ownership of the Municipality of Subotica, has been a top priority for the current City authorities. The Municipality is investing in step by step restoration projects and has commissioned key studies for the interior restoration which are expected to be complete by the end November.

“Only after the data from the interior studies has been gathered and analyzed will it be possible to come up with the conclusions and recommendations of the visit. It is important for a capital project of this kind that the overall cost and financial plans are completed before the works continue,” stated Richard Deeley.

“The Subotica Synagogue experience and challenges in reconstruction should be shared at international level in order to create learning opportunities for experts, students and craftsmen. This could become the center of excellence and training in reconstructing Art Nouveau architecture in the region and would be the opportunity to restore other Art Nouveau buildings in Subotica,” said Graham Bell.

“The conservation of such a building is challenging in terms of both interior and exterior restoration, but also in thinking about wider urban regeneration and tourism development. The unique value and most challenging aspect is the avant-garde construction of the building with the use of steel that owing to humidity and rust badly affects the plaster works. This structural problem has to be well thought through before starting the restoration of the interior.” said Patrizia Valle.

During the visit to Subotica, the experts had meetings with all the main stakeholders – City authorities, Institutes for the Protection of Cultural Monuments, Jewish Community, Hungarian National Council, the Ministry of Culture and Media, civil sector representatives Smile in Subotica – in order to understand a variety of perspectives. All of them agreed that the rehabilitation of the Synagogue is a project of great importance. The City, the Jewish Community and the Hungarian National Council are already working in close partnership on the restoration and are making significant progress.
As expert conservators from the city and state level underlined, it is always beneficial to exchange knowledge, experience and suggestions with international specialists, build skills and use the occasion for mutual learning and improvements. For this reason each of stakeholders saw the creation of a school for restoration of Art Nouveau in Subotica as a major opportunity.

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