Designed by Vasily Stasov, the striking Grand Choral Synagogue opened in 1893 to provide a central place of worship for St Petersburg's growing Jewish community. Its lavishness (particularly notable in the 47m-high cupola and the decorative wedding chapel) indicates the pivotal role that Jews played in imperial St Petersburg. The synagogue was fully revamped in 2003. Visitors are welcome except on the Sabbath and other holy days. Men and married women should cover their heads upon entering.
The Grand Choral Synagogue of St. Petersburg is the 2nd largest synagogue in Europe and has a fascinating history. It now stands as a testament to the perseverance of the Jewish community in St Petersburg to finally have their own place of worship, and a most beautiful one at that. It stands discreetly off Ulitsa Dekabristov, with its corkscrew-ribbed cupola poking above the rooftops, on the corner of Lermontovskiy Prospekt.
During the Soviet Era the Jewish community had a rocky relationship with the authorities and the Grand Choral Synagogue was closed several times, only to be re-opened after the authorities realized the importance it played within the community. A famous Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn was even imprisoned for "anti-soviet" activities. However, the Grand Choral Synagogue remained a part of the community and the persistence of the Jews in St Petersburg kept it alive.
Today the Great Choral Synagogue of St Petersburg is a registered landmark and an architectural monument of federal importance as well as, of course, an important cultural center for the Jewish community in St Petersburg. The Synagogue runs several schools and is involved in charitable works such as a Yeshiva that dispenses cheap meals to Jewish pensioners. There is also a Matzobakery and a Kosher restaurant along with a souvenir shop for visitors. Several renovations have taken place during the last 15 years including renovation of the concert hall and a new Mikvah.
There is now an informative exhibition on Jewish history in the foyer of the Great Synagogue (Bolshaya Sinagoga), whose magnificent prayer hall, with its stucco squinches and stalactite mouldings, has been restored following a 5 million dollar donation from the Saffra family in 1999, along with others from the diaspora. This hall holds in excess of 1,200 people and has woman's galleries on three sides.
The Synagogue is praised for its wonderful acoustics and it is said that by placing ones ear in the right place, one can hear the minutest of whispers from way across the opposite end of the hall, your guide will show you where to put your ear.