Vilnius Breathes Life into The Great Synagogue of Vilna

April 23, 2020 - Vilnius, Lithuania. Today marks the 300th birth anniversary of Vilna Gaon Elijah ben Solomon Zalman. On this occasion, the city of Vilnius offers a new possibility to explore one of the treasures of Jewish heritage in Vilnius – the Great Synagogue of Vilna. These days, when travel possibilities are limited, the new project, placed entirely in virtual space, offers a possibility to explore the famous synagogue from any corner of the world.

A 3D Project Allows to Explore the Jewish Heritage Treasure Online

Once known as the heart of Judaism in Lithuania, the Great Synagogue of Vilna, founded in Lithuanian capital at the end of the 16th century yet damaged during World War II and destroyed under Soviet rule, is now fully rediscovered in three-dimensional space. The 3D project reveals realistic footage of the important historical site, which marks yet another crucial milestone in preserving Lithuania’s Jewish heritage.

Historical Vilnius is now able to portray in detail the three key areas of the city’s Great Synagogue: the site’s complex, the courtyard, and the initial interior; all originating from the 19th-20th century. Short 3D based video clips were created using the archived photos and architectural drawings, which remained after the synagogue’s final destruction in the late 20th century. The synagogue was originally built across 5 floors, two of which were below the ground level. It could host up to 5,000 worshipers, which was well ahead of the other similar structures of the time.

According to the director of Go Vilnius, Inga Romanovskienė, the three-dimensional reconstruction of Litvaks’ (Lithuanian Jews) heritage is an important contribution to this year’s mission: 2020 has been designated the Year of the Vilna Gaon and the History of the Jews of Lithuania.

“In a city that’s deeply rooted intellectually, spiritually, and politically into the European Judaism history, we dare to apply the newest technology methods to preserve the layers of our Jewish heritage,” says Inga Romanovskienė.

Until this day, the city had preserved three original pieces of the Great Synagogue of Vilna: a door of the Holy Ark, a reader’s desk, and a bas-relief of the Ten Commandments. The three remains can be seen at the Vilna Gaon Jewish Museum.

In the nearest future, The Great Synagogue of Vilna will have risen not only in 3D space. The scientific archeological studies of the site, conducted by a team from the USA, Israel, and Lithuania have been taking place since 2011. To honour the Jews who died during the Holocaust, as well as the Great Synagogue, Vilnius plans to create a Jewish memorial centre at the site by 2023, when Vilnius celebrates its 700th birthday.