Bucharest’s Ashkenazi Jewish cemetery is located on Boulevard Ion Michalache, in the north west area of the city. It is named “Philanthropy” (“Filantropia” in Romanian) and among the many personalities buried there are Mihail Sebastian, one of my favourite writers of inter-war Bucharest, who wrote the novel “It’s Been 2000 Years…” in which he magisterially documents the rise of anti-Semitism and fascism in this country, or Iosif Sava, the best Romanian classical music commentator. The cemetery also contains a monument dedicated to Romanian heroes of Jewish ethnicity fallen in the Great War.
The gate of this solemn place is of a remarkable monumental Art Deco – Modernist style, which in Bucharest is a rare sight for structures associated with religious and funerary functions. The ironwork of the gate is an interesting combination of Jewish (the star of David, menorah) and universalist (the radiating sun) symbols rendered in an Art Deco framework.
The assembly also has the outlines of a classical antiquity temple, with its concrete pilasters flanking the entrances and the suggestion of crossing under the massive lintel of an ancient city gate (entering the city of the dead from the city of the living in this particular instance).
I like the geometric way in which the menorah, the seven-branched Jewish ritual lampstand, is rendered on the side gate presented in the photograph above, of a quite unusual shape, different from the semicircular branches seen on the Arch of Titus or the coat of arms of the State of Israel.
In the above image the rule of three of the Art Deco style is obvious in the three stepped wall framing of the window, crowned by a large pediment embellished with the star of David.
The cemetery’s synagogue is of a c19th architecture, derived from the Jewish central European baroque and dates probably from the first decades of functioning of this burial ground. The star of David is noticeable about the top of each dome covering its hall and side towers.
The Art Deco – Modernist style of the gate of this cemetery signifies, in my opinion, the spirit in step with the times of this once dynamic and creative community, dwindled by the events of Second World War and Romania’s national-communist policies of the second part of the c20th.
3 thoughts on “The Art Deco style gate of a Bucharest Jewish cemetery”
Monumental architecture, isn’t it? And very elegant ironwork on the gate.
Since the synagogue was 19th century and the cemetery structure was 1930s, I wonder why the cemetery wall surrounded and blocked the synagogue from view.
Your question is interesting, but obvious for the locals, especially for the local Jews. The massive Art Deco gate structure that obscures the c19th synagogue was erected sometimes in the mid-1930 during the rise of Romanian fascism and anti-Semitism. Its role was to screen off the synagogue from the views of large fascist meetings and marches, which could turn violent at the sight of Jewish worship places, taking place in those years on the main boulevards of the city. Through its architecture, the gate intended to project the modernity, connection with western democratic values of the Jewish community in contrast with the conservatism and separateness of which it was unjustly accused. I am afraid that the set up of the 1930s Art Deco – Modernist monumental gate and the c19th synagogue reminds us of a very ugly period from the history of Bucharest, of which unfortunately not many locals, apart from the Jewish community of course, have memories or care about nowadays. Valentin