Jewish-Medieval heritage of Erfurt

Jewish-Medieval heritage of Erfurt
Photo by Hubert.

The Jewish-Medieval Heritage of Erfurt comprises three medieval Jewish buildings from the heydays of Jewish life in Central Europe.

The Old Synagogue, the Mikveh and the Stone House were embedded within the architecture of their Christian surroundings. The authentically preserved buildings are among the rare remaining examples from this period before the pogroms of the 14th century started.

Community Perspective: the synagogue has now opened as a museum and includes the display of the "Erfurt treasure". The mikveh can be visited by guided tour only (Saturday) and the (difficult to identify) stone house is closed to visitors.

Map of Jewish-Medieval heritage of Erfurt

Load map

Community Reviews

Write a review


Germany - 12-Nov-23 -

I stopped here today on my way to Berlin and visited both the Mikwe (there is an aboveground viewing window) and the old synagogue, with a small museum inside. Contrary to the other reviews here, I quite appreciated both the good fortune that led to the main building surviving, as well as the dedication that went into rescuing it, while still allowing all its uses over the centuries to be visible in the stone and wood. 

Was it "big" and "impressive" like others? No, sadly not, and I do think the SchUM sites offer a more comprehensive look at German-Jewish history. However, I am glad it's preserved and honored, even if it's a smaller site than others.  

That said, I would still quip that the entrance price (8 Euros) is a bit much for the size. If you want to avoid that you can see the main back stone facade from the side street, so it's easy to visit and check off for free if you wish.  

Erfurt's old town is quite lovely and is worth visiting anyway, and this is not out of the way to visit at all. 

Els Slots

The Netherlands - 27-Oct-23 -

Jewish-Medieval heritage of Erfurt by Els Slots

So I have the honour to first review this site after inscription! Fortunately, it wasn’t as gloomy as I expected it - instead of the celebratory “Wir sind Welterbe” banners common in Germany, the components of this WHS displayed happy purple signs stating “Jetzt UNESCO Welterbe - Mazal-Tov!”. Even the infamous Stone House (component #3), which was previously hard to recognize, now stands out in its street.

I don’t know whether Erfurt normally sees a lot of tourists, but on the Thursday in late October when I visited many tour groups were led through its historic center; mostly German, some Asian. I could overhear their guides talking about the newly gained World Heritage Status. I also happily explored its streets with its eclectic architecture, visited the Cathedral, the St Severus' Church, and the Citadel, and ate a hearty lunch. But after that, I couldn’t postpone the Jewish Heritage sites anymore.

The Old Synagogue seems to have gotten more accustomed to receiving visitors - you get a proper ticket plus an audio guide or a booklet on loan that explains the site and Erfurt’s Jewish history. One enters via a small courtyard and then has three floors to cover in the building itself. They did their best to fill it with relevant items and I seriously started reading in the provided guide, but after a few minutes it gets to you: there is nothing authentic of any relevance to be seen here. It’s like being in one of these caves where hominid fossils were found - one where the cave has been altered beyond recognition that is.

The top floor shows the remains of the dance hall it once was, and the basement holds the Erfurt Treasure (I think the discovery of this provided the tipping point to apply for WH status, but these are moveable objects that were not even found at one of the inscribed locations). When the building was a synagogue, there was neither a basement nor a top floor by the way.

Further disappointment followed at the Mikveh. I had read online that there is a tour every Thursday and Saturday. But at the advertised hour of 4 p.m., no one showed up. Only then I noticed a small note next to the door of the Mikveh entrance, saying "Only tours on Saturday, they have to be pre-booked and start at the synagogue". Grrr. It turned out to be a classical mistake of the English version of an official website not having been updated while the German version was. I sent an e-mail to the contact address given, they never replied and the error persists.

I feel for the well-meaning citizens of Erfurt, who so diligently have uncovered this part of their city’s history and should continue to cherish them as a local treasure. This recent article describes how it all came about.

I do not sympathize so much with those who oversee the German nominations and ICOMOS. There is a question in the FAQ of Erfurt's official website, asking why this Jewish heritage was nominated instead of the Old City or some of its more notable monuments. The answer: “Jewish heritage is underrepresented. Medieval and Christian heritage and historic old towns, however, are disproportionately represented in Germany and Europe. A further application with such a topic would therefore no longer be accepted by UNESCO.” So the golddiggers at the German national committee saw a high chance of inscription (Fills a Gap!) - no matter that there are already 95 sites with Jewish heritage on the list, and 10 mikvehs, and Germany itself is probably the most overrepresented within the overrepresented Europe/North America region. This is not equal to Kazimierz or the Old New Synagogue in Prague or even to the SHuM sites. The Jewish sites of Erfurt never had any influence beyond the city borders, not in their architecture nor in their spiritual meaning.

ICOMOS did give them a bit of a hard time in the preliminary stages - Germany needed the submission of over 400 pages of supplementary information and a lot of adjectives in describing the OUV to convince ICOMOS. It lost one criterion and an Epic Subtitle along the way, losing the intangible link of coexistence with the Christian majority.

Stripped to the bare bones, the narrow narrative now consists of the oldest known remains of an Ashkenazi synagogue (but what if we find an older one tomorrow? – Jews have been present in this part of Europe for centuries before), a Mikveh that only stands out for its “spatial distribution” (which means that it was built a few streets away from the synagogue as the surrounding area had no space anymore), and wooden beams painted with some decorative flowers in the ceiling in the once Jewish owned Stone House.

If they just had nominated the Erfurt Cathedral and St Severus' Church (a former TWHS) or Erfurt’s Central-European townscape of medieval origin (including the Jewish sites) I could have lived with it. Erfurt overall is pleasant enough for a few hours and superficially it isn’t much different from Quedlinburg or Bamberg. I would have given it 2 or 2.5 stars, and complained a bit about “same old, same old” but what they got now is one of the poorest WHS on the list, for both intrinsic value and visitor experience.

Read more from Els Slots here.


Malta - 25-Sep-20 -

Jewish-Medieval heritage of Erfurt by Clyde

I visited this tentative WHS in August 2020 as a convenient stopover during my road trips to Poland. Perhaps due to the recent unexpected positive experience I had while visiting the synagogue in Zamosc, combined with the lack of hospitality shown by the old synagogue reception staff in Erfurt, I really did not enjoy my visit and sincerely hope this tentative WHS never makes it on the list as in my opinion it lacks any tangible OUV.

That said, at least I got some value out of the 8 euro entrance fee from the Erfurt treasure permanently displayed inside since 2009. The treasure was discovered in 1998 buried underneath the wall of a cellar entrance most likely during the pogrom of 1349. This is probably the main reason why the site is heavily guarded and photography inside is strictly not allowed. Bags (even very small ones) have to be left in free lockers at the reception. The old synagogue is closed on Mondays and entrance is free every first Tuesday of the month. The highlight of the Erfurt treasure for me was the intricate early fourteenth century Ashkenazi wedding ring. The ring features a beautifully crafted ornate miniature version of a gothic tower and six engraved Hebrew letters that spell out "mazal tov", meaning good fate or good luck, on the tower's roof. I have never seen anything like it.

The Jewish community of Erfurt first appears in historical records of the late 11th century with the Old Synagogue dating from around that time. Up until the 14th century, this Jewish place of worship underwent several modifications and adaptations to cater for the needs of the growing religious community. What can be seen today after entering the reception or by peeking through the gate of the neighboring courtyard used as a parking lot, is a tall gabled building with a rose window on one side (which is the only exterior indication that this was once used as a place of worship.

Over centuries Jews and Christians lived side by side in the centre of Erfurt. However, this can to a sudden end in 1349 when the plague broke out and the Christian population held the Jews responsible for this epidemic. Jews were persecuted and several rioters murdered a large number of Jews living in the Jewish quarters and burnt down the roof of the Old Synagogue of Erfurt. The synagogue was converted into a storehouse and during Nazi rule only the Great Synagogue was burnt down. Interestingly, a fragment of the old Torah ark served as a lintel. The north facade (the one you see from the reception) shows numerous signs of the building's varying uses. After a careful inspection, you'll be able to notice part of an air grille dating from the late 19th century when the ground floor housed the kitchen of a restaurant!

After visiting the old synagogue, I peeked through a glass panel in the roof of the concrete protective building to try to actually see the mikveh but didn't see much of the medieval remains. If you want a closer look, you must join one of the guided tours “on the trail of Jewish history” (prebooking) or visit on Thursdays at 4pm or Saturdays at 2pm in April-October or on Thursdays at 3pm in November-March. Next, I made an effort to view the third component of this tentative WHS after enjoying Erfurt's historic centre (the latter seemed much more worthwhile). On Benediktsplatz 1 in the historic city centre, a medieval stone building is located known as Jewish Stone House. Numerous essential structures from its time of construction (around 1250) have been preserved but I can't see how this can contribute anything to the WH list.

Jakob Frenzel

Germany - 25-Apr-20 -

Jewish-Medieval heritage of Erfurt by Jakob Frenzel

November 2019 - in my wife's  business trip to Erfurt, my daughter and me joined to enjoy the area. Erfurt is a beautiful town. It has a quite unique cathedral, the Krämerbrücke is besides Florence and Bath one of the few bridges with houses on top. And there is also some Bauhaus, since Weimar is just around the corner. But for becoming a whs, Erfurt decided to nominate its jewish heritage. Two sites, that were only discovered lately during renovation. The Synagoge was built in between sheds, which now vanished. And the mikveh was covered with soil before. Therefore both sites are well preserved. We decided not to visit the Museum inside, but just have a glance from outside. The mikveh you can only see through a glass window. On  a guided tour through Erfurt at evening, that was organized through the Business trip, I asked the guide about the mikveh. And...he knew the code to actually visit the interior. What a lucky chance. 1500 year old jewish stones.

However,  I am not sure about the nomination. Erfurt is not like Trebic, but jews have only been part of the population. The sites propably have OUV. But please make some Serial nomination out of it.


Czechia - 06-Feb-20 -

Jewish-Medieval heritage of Erfurt by Matejicek

I think that this TWHS should be deleted or changed at least. Otherwise I do not fully understand the strategy of the state party of Germany.

There are 3 active sites on the German TWHS related directly to former Jewish communities: (1) Synagogue in Erfurt as one of the oldest, largest and best preserved synagogues in Central Europe, (2) ShUM as the important community of Ashkenazi Jews with origin deeply in Middle Ages, and (3) the cemetery in Altona as the second largest Sephardic cemetery outside Portugal.

It is not likely that all three sites will be inscribed, and I can see certain rivalry between Erfurt and ShUM: The ShUM nomination has been already submitted for year 2021, and it is cleverly stated there that “The lasting influence of the ShUM communities on Ashkenazi Judaism is attested to this day by major monuments – e.g. the excellently preserved religious buildings (the synagogue and the ritual bath) in Erfurt and the mediaeval Jewish monuments in Regensburg, Vienna and Andernach.”

The justification of the Altona cemetery plays a different game stressing not Ashkenazi but its Sephardic character.

I am afraid that these are only political games, and interest about the genuine OUV lies aside, and it is somehow hidden in the elaborated phrases. All it is about the fact, that there is only one WHS in Europe focused (almost) only on the Jewish testimony – Třebíč. The rest Jewish monuments are parts of much bigger urban ensembles, as seen in Prague, Cracow, Ferrara, Bardějov, etc. - that make sense to me.

This TWHS consists of three structures located close to each other in the very center of otherwise very beautiful Erfurt: (i) the synagogue which was closed during time of my visit, but even from outside one can partly read the history of the building with visible parts dating to 1270 and 1300 (PHOTO).

(ii) During very recent excavation, the mikveh of unusual size and structure was found close to the Kramerbrucke Bridge, and I could spot it through the window.

(iii) The last part is the stone house with fine details from around 1250 on Benedictsplatz 1 (I could not enter and see it), which was apparently owned by Jewish community in middle ages, taht is arguable and this is the weakest part of the nomination if this really contributes to OUV.

Based on my search on internet, there are about 20 medieval synagogues (sometimes also with the mikweh) in Europe: in Portugal (Tomar), Spain (Cordoba, 2x Toledo, Hijar, Barcelona), France (2x Avignon), Germany (Erfurt + ShUM), Austria (Korneuburg), Czechia (Prague), Slovenia (Maribor), Italy (Ferrara, Trani), Croatia (Dubrovnik), Hungary (Buda), Poland (Cracow), and Belarus (Hrodna). From this list, I saw/visited medieval synagogues in Ferrara, Trani, Sopron, Worms, Speyer, Erfurt, Prague, and the old mikweh in Montpellier. I also visited a lot of synagogues from later periods: such as around 10 (!) synagogues in Prague, and many others in Czechia, including Třebíč, Pilsen, etc., and also the small Jewish quarter with synagogue in Pitigliano in Tuscany, and I am sure I forgot some places… My favorite is the old new synagogue in Prague, which is perfectly preseved, still in use and built in the same time as the visible parts of the old synagogue in Erfurt.

It is evident, that the testimony of Jewish community is very complex and it is difficult to separate it from the context of other cultures. Thus, I cannot see any OUV in the single synagogue in Erfurt. The building itself is very old but certainly not unique as it has been built in standard medieval style found elsevere in Europe.

The chances of ShUM are much higher – I am planning to visit all the ShUM components again, because I have not yet seen the cemetery in Mainz. I will not be surprised also in the case of success of Altona cemetery, but my guess is it will be submitted as a serial nomination with other related sites all over the world.


Belgium - 02-Oct-16 -

Jewish-Medieval heritage of Erfurt by Kbecq

As mentioned in the review below, the building has not been used as synagogue for a very long time, but rather as warehouse and restaurant/ballroom. In the picture, you can still see the ventilation system from the restaurant. Because the building was no longer recognisable as a synagogue, it survived the Third Reich.

We visited the museum on a Tuesday to find out that the entrance was free (don't know if this true for every Tuesday), including a guided tour. The tour was given by two women, one specialist in judaism and one muslima who both explained the history of the synagogue & the rituals of both religions.

Although certainly interesting, we also feel that the site lacks outstanding universal value to be recognised as a WHS.


Austria - 21-May-15 -

Jewish-Medieval heritage of Erfurt by Hubert Scharnagl

The subtitle sounds a bit overblown and boastful compared to what this T-list site actually includes, namely a synagogue, the ruins of a ritual bath and a secular building. The photo shows the synagogue, it is the same view as in the photo of the Wiki article and the same view as in almost all photos that can be found on the web, indicating that there is not much more to see. The oldest parts of the building have been dated back to the late 11th century, but nothing inside is reminiscent of the original use. At least the façade with the lancet windows and the rosette looks like a religious building. After the pogrom in 1349, the building was used as a warehouse for several centuries, later as a restaurant with a ballroom. Therefore, it was no longer recognisable as a synagogue for a long time. In the 1990s, the Old Synagogue was rediscovered, renovated in the following years, and opened as a museum in 2009. The museum shows medieval Hebrew manuscripts and models documenting the architectural history of the synagogue. The most important exhibit is the Erfurt Treasure, consisting of silver coins and gold and silver jewellery. The treasure was hidden by a wealthy Jew in 1349 and rediscovered in 1998. The ballroom from the 19th century can still be seen on the upper floor.

Not far from the synagogue is the ritual bath, or rather its ruins. The ruins were discovered and excavated only a few years ago. Today, the mikveh is overbuilt by a protective building and can only be visited with a (free) guided tour (weekly on Thursday afternoon). But you can take a look at the ruins through a small window on the roof of the building. I visited Erfurt in 2013 and took a guided tour. The mikveh is located at the banks of the River Gera, so it's only a few steps down to the bath. There is not more to see than the water basin and the side walls up to the height where the vaulting begins. Well, it's not worth to plan your trip according to the date of the guided tours.

Finally, the Stone House, a residential building in the centre of the old town, that once had Jewish owners. The T-list entry mentions that the interior has a painted beam ceiling and other unique architectural elements, but the house is not yet open to the public, thus I can not report on that. From the outside it's just an old building between other old buildings. Admittedly, it is the oldest wall, but can easily be overlooked and I had difficulties to identify the right house.

The three buildings are close together in the centre of the lovely old town and not far from the Krämerbrücke (a kind of northern version of the Ponte Vecchio). The remains are of a remarkable age, but that's the most impressive about them.

It has been proposed to combine the nominations of the ShUM cities and from Erfurt, but I don't think that this would be an improvement. There is no obvious connection between them. The strength of the ShUM nomination is the proven significance for the development of Ashkenazi Judaism, the extension by Erfurt would rather weaken the proposal. In contrast, the sites in Erfurt have been rediscovered only recently and further research is needed to reveal their historical background. Thus the Erfurt approach is more general: to testify “everyday life, religion and town history”. However, I doubt that the sites have the quality to tell a compelling story and meet this ambitious claim.

Site Info

Full Name
Jewish-Medieval Heritage of Erfurt
Unesco ID
Urban landscape - Medieval European

Site History

2023 Inscribed


The site has 3 locations

Jewish-Medieval heritage of Erfurt: Old Synagogue
Jewish-Medieval heritage of Erfurt: Mikveh
Jewish-Medieval heritage of Erfurt: Stone House