Ben Ezra Synagogue
Encyclopaedia Britannica describes a synagogue as "a prayer place for the Jews." In old Greek, it means " the usual place where the Jews assemble to receive religious teachings and to worship." Some of these temples were built close to a water source, not just for ablution but also for protection from any attack!
The Synagogue of Ben Ezra in Cairo was initially named El-Shamieen Church and is situated today behind the "Hanging church."
The Synagogue once had an old copy of the Old Testament, and it was said that Ezra the Prophet (Al-Azir) had written it. Yet, It is believed that the site of the Synagogue where the box of Baby Moses was found.
Ben Ezra Synagogue was originally a Christian church that the Copts had to sell to the Jews in 882 A.D. to pay the annual taxes imposed by the Muslim rulers of the time. Therefore, Abraham Ben Ezra, who came from Jerusalem during the reign of Ahmed Ibn Tulun, bought the church for 20,000 dinars.
The Synagogue has undergone extensive restorations and renovations throughout the centuries. The current building, which replaced the collapsed original, dates back to 1892.
It is built in the shape of a basilica (rectangle) and consists of 2 floors: the 1stis is dedicated to men, while the 2nd is to women. The entrance is situated on the north side.
The 1st floor:
It is rectangular, measuring 17m in length and 11.3m wide. It is divided into three parts, the largest being the middle one (4.75 m in width); these parts are separated by steel bars painted in a marble-like color.
A marble lector platform is in front of the sanctuary, where the rabbi stands to read the Torah. It is octagonal, and on its 8th side, a copper fence holds the Torah and its rolls.
A memorial, Stella, is located in front of the platform. In the middle of this Stella is a top part consisting of 2 semi-arches carried on three pillars, with a height of 85cm. On the 1st floor, two rooms are on each side of the Holy Ark.
The Most Important Decorations of the Synagogue:
This decoration dates back to the Turkish period period. It is seen in the side halls, with patterns such as stars, pentagons, and rectangles.
Floral patterns surround the geometrical designs, also used as a background for the Star of David in the middle of the ceiling. The floral patterns are a mixture of the Hatai and Roman decorations, called "Ottoman Arabesque." This decoration includes floral designs, palmettos, and lotus flowers.
The southeastern side of the top of the Torah closet is decorated with stalactites, on top of which is a semi-circle with ray decorations. The Torah Ark's frame is a mimic decoration; on each side are two wooden columns with geometrical patterns. The two columns have Ottoman-period stalactite capitals.