|The Ari Sephardic Synagogue|
|Renovation of the building’s main facade|
|Duration||April - December 2005|
Arch. Vardit Shotten-Hallel
During 2005 renovation and conservation work was performed on the synagogue’s main facade, on the northern side of the building. These included, among other things, treating and replacing a number of stones and reconstructing the courtyard. The renovation was planned based on historic photographs taken in 1968 that were found in the archives of “Meir House”, in Safed.
The purpose of the conservation work was to protect the structure from the processes of weathering as a result of nature and man, and preserve the architectural elements in the facade.
The Ari Sephardic Synagogue, which was established in the 14th century, is the oldest synagogue in Safed. The structure was damaged by an earthquake in 1759 and it was destroyed in 1837 as a result of the mighty earthquake that struck the region. The building was renovated over the course of sixteen years with the help of a contribution donated by Rabbi Yitzhak Guetta of Trieste; an inscription describing the renovation is affixed to its facade.
During the battles of 1948 the synagogue served as a defensive position opposite the Arab neighborhood of Harat a-Romana (the Pomegranate Neighborhood) which dominated the outskirts of the Jewish Quarter, at which time firing slits were hewn in the southern facade of the synagogue.
In 1990 renovations were conducted in the women’s gallery, in the northeastern part of the building. During the work a stone column that supported the building was removed as was a structure made of cedar that was used by the women’s gallery.
Identifying the Problems and their Causes
In order to plan the conservation measures the problems were mapped and their causes were identified:
1. Weathering of the construction materials: separation of stone layers, stone weathering, cracking and fissures, missing stone elements or damage to the bonding material.
The factors causing the weathering are:
(A) The kind of stone: the indigenous stone in Safed is soft limestone with a structure that tends to separate into layers and disintegrate.
(B) Errors in the method of construction: laying the limestone masonry blocks in the direction opposite their bedding layer accelerates the process of separation.
(C) Mechanical damage: the branches of a mulberry tree adjacent to the facade caused prolonged damage to the stones and cracked them. The absence of ongoing maintenance exacerbated the extent and intensity of the damage to the facade.
2. Biological hazards
The amount of biological hazards on the facade was limited. The development of vegetation and micro-organisms as a result of dampness related problems attests to a certain amount, albeit small, of water in the walls of the structure.
3. Man-made hazards
Included in this group are the hazards that were caused as a result of incorrect maintenance such as using cement based bonding materials in the intarsia, the use of blue oil-based paint, the installation of metal elements (e.g. lighting fixtures, an awning and railing) and wax flows along the surface of the stone resulting from the burning of candles. These hazards were quite extensive and caused damage to the preservation of the facade, as well as severe aesthetic damage.
The conservation intervention was done with the aim of renovating the facade only. Reconstruction was done in those places where it was necessary due to the extent of the weathering or the structural failure of a particular element. Stones that were identified as stable were not replaced. The historic photographs made it possible to reconstruct the missing details. The character of the stone dressing corresponded to that of the remains in the building and the stone dressing tools used to fabricate the replacement stones were similar to those used to dress the original stone.
The conservation measures that were conducted at the site included:
(1) Replacing the entire courtyard pavement of modern tiles with stone tiles.
(2) Completing the stone bench that surrounded the original courtyard.
(3) Stabilizing the southern wall of Beit Simana, standing in the northern part of the synagogue’s courtyard and which constitutes an important element in the history of the place. The wall, which was in danger of collapse, was treated and stabilized.
(4) The courtyard’s eastern wall was rebuilt. This was destroyed due to construction activity that occurred on the other side of the historic alley, in the eastern part of the synagogue.
(5) The wooden door to the women’s gallery was replaced with a door that resembles the original door. Here too, the reconstruction is based on historic photographs.
The renovation and conservation of the northern facade was completed in August 2005. The Antiquities Authority, in cooperation with the synagogue’s committee, seeks to continue the conservation treatment on the inside of the building and attend to the environmental hazards. Another contribution that was recently donated will allow the continuation of the cleaning the marble floor inside the synagogue.
The synagogue has a magnificent past and is extremely important in the tradition connecting it with the Prophet Elijah, and of course with the holy Ari. Numerous visitors arrive at the site throughout the year. When the synagogue is closed to the public one can visit its historic courtyard where one can see the impressive building and its beautiful facade.
To view the figures, click on the figure caption