Decisions on Designation of Properties as National Monuments

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60th session - Decisions

Old Jewish synagogue, or Il kal grandi (The Large Synagogue), or Il kal vježu (The Old Synagogue), or The Old Synagogue, the historic building

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Status of monument -> National monument

             Pursuant to Article V para. 4 Annex 8 of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Article 39 para. 1 of the Rules of Procedure of the Commission to Preserve National Monuments, at a session held from 7 to 11 October 2003 the Commission adopted a






            The historic building of the old Jewish synagogue in Sarajevo (Il Kal Grandi - Great Temple, or Il Kal Vježu - Old Temple or Old Synagogue), is hereby designated as a National Monument of Bosnia and Herzegovina (hereinafter: the National Monument).

            The National Monument is located on cadastral plot 1135 (new survey) corresponding to c.p. 1 mahala XXXV Sarajevo (old survey), Land Registry entry no. XXXV/28, cadastral municipality Sarajevo I, Municipality Stari Grad, Sarajevo, Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

            The provisions relating to the protection measures set forth by the Law on the Implementation of the Decisions of the Commission to Preserve National Monuments, established pursuant to Annex 8 of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Official Gazette of the Federation of  BiH nos. 2/02 and 27/02) shall apply to the National Monument.




            The Government of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (hereinafter: the Government of the Federation) shall be responsible for ensuring and providing the legal, scientific, technical, administrative and financial measures necessary to protect, conserve, and display the National Monument.

            The Commission to Preserve National Monuments of Bosnia and Herzegovina (hereinafter: the Commission) shall determine the technical requirements and secure the funds for preparing and setting up signboards with the basic data on the monument and the Decision to proclaim the property a National Monument.




            The National Monument may be used for religious, educational and cultural purposes, with the occupant/user of the property responsible for ensuring that the original religious purpose of the building is respected.

            Works relating to conservation, restoration and adaptation may be carried out on the building and its surrounding courtyard, subject to the requirement to retain and reconstruct the original form of the building and all the elements thereof from which the original purpose of the building is plain to see.

            The original form and purpose of the building and changes thereto must be displayed in appropriate fashion as part of the ensemble.

            On the plots bordering the plot on which the National Monument stands, no alteration in height to existing buildings or new construction shall be permitted.




            All executive and area development planning acts not in accordance with the provisions of this Decision are hereby revoked.




            Everyone, and in particular the competent authorities of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Canton, and urban and municipal authorities, shall refrain from any action that might damage the National Monument specified in Clause I of this Decision or jeopardize the protection thereof.




            The Government of the Federation, the Federal Ministry responsible for regional planning, the Federation heritage protection authority, and the Municipal Authorities in charge of urban planning and land registry affairs, shall be notified of this Decision in order to carry out the measures stipulated in Articles II to V of this Decision, and the Authorized Municipal Court shall be notified for the purposes of registration in the Land Register.




            The elucidation and accompanying documentation form an integral part of this Decision, which may be viewed by interested parties on the premises or by accessing the website of the Commission (http://www.aneks8komisija.com.ba) 




            Pursuant to Art. V para 4 Annex 8 of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, decisions of the Commission are final.




            This Decision shall enter into force on the date of its adoption and shall be published in the Official Gazette of BiH.


            This Decision has been adopted by the following members of the Commission: Zeynep Ahunbay, Amra Hadžimuhamedović, Dubravko Lovrenović,  Ljiljana Ševo and Tina Wik.


Chair of the Commission

Amra Hadžimuhamedović


No: 06-6-977/03-3

7 October 2003




E l u c i d a t i o n


            Pursuant to Article 2, paragraph 1 of the Law on the Implementation of the Decisions of the Commission to Preserve National Monuments, established pursuant to Annex 8 of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a “National Monument” is an item of public property proclaimed by the Commission to Preserve National Monuments to be a National Monument pursuant to Articles V and VI of Annex 8 of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina  (hereinafter: Annex 8) and property entered on the Provisional List of National Monuments of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Official Gazette of  BiH no. 33/02) until the Commission reaches a final decision on its status, as to which there is no time limit and regardless of whether a petition for the property in question has been submitted or not.

            At a session held on 30 June 1998 the Commission issued a Decision to add the Old Jewish Synagogue to the Provisional List of National Monuments of Bosnia and Herzegovina, numbered as 507.

            Pursuant to the provisions of the law, the Commission proceeded to carry out the procedure for reaching a final decision to designate the Property as a National Monument, pursuant to Article V of Annex 8 and Article 35 of the Rules of Procedure of the Commission to Preserve National Monuments.



            In the procedure preceding the adoption of a final decision to proclaim the property a national monument, the following documentation was inspected:

Ÿ          Documentation on the location and current owner and user of the property (copy of cadastral plan and copy of land registry entry, Municipality Stari Grad Sarajevo)

Ÿ          Data on the current condition and use of the property, including a description and photographs, data of war damage, data on restoration or other works on the property if any, etc.

Ÿ          Historical, architectural and other documentary material on the property, as set out in the bibliography forming part of this Decision.

            The findings based on the review of the above documentation and the condition of the site are as follows:


1. Information on the site


            The old Jewish synagogue in Sarajevo is in Mula Mustafa Bašeskija street, on a site denoted as c.p. no. 1135 (new survey), owner: Jewish Community, c.m.. Sarajevo I, Municipality Stari Grad – Sarajevo. To the north of the building is Mula Mustafa Bašeskija street (formerly Tito street) and to the east is Gazihusrevbeg street.


Historical information

            The expulsion of the Jews from the Iberian peninsula was a significant turning point in the history of the Jewish people.  Fleeing Spain in 1492 and Portugal in 1496, the Sephardi Jews escaping from the persecutions of the Reconquista found asylum in the countries of the Ottoman Empire.  Sultan Bajazit II issued an edict to the governers of his European provinces ordering them not to send the refugees back but to extend the warmest welcome to the.  Sultan Bajazit II and his heirs accorded the Jews the same freedoms as those enjoyed by the Armenians and Greeks in the Ottoman Empire (Levy, 1996, p. 9).

            The earliest evidence of Sephardi Jews settling in Bosnia consists of records dating from 1565 in two volumes of sicils (official records of the shari'ah court in Sarajevo), which shows that by this date there were Spanish Sephardi immigrants living in Sarajevo and engaged in trade.

The buildings directly related to the past of the Jewish community, which has played a significant role over the past 400 years in the economic, social and cultural life of the city, are the remains of the former Velika avlija (Great Courtyard), a microquarter for the Sarajevo Jews. In Velika avlija stood Sijavuš-paša's han and the Great Temple; in all, the area occupied about 2200 sq.m., of which the han accounted for about 700 sq.m.  These buildings were erected during the Ottoman period and are of historic, sociological and ethnographic value (Taubman, Spomenici kulture, p. 124).

            The residential complex known as Sijavuš-paša's han, which is also referred to by other names including Sijavuš-paša's daire, and Kortidžo (courtyard), dated from 1581 (Taubman, Spomenici kulture, p. 124).  It was in that year that, at the request of the Muslim population and with the assent of the newly arrived Jews, the Rumelian beylerbey Sijavuš-paša the Elder erected, at his own expense, a residential building to accommodate the few Jewish families in Sarajevo (of which there were some sixty).  The building was endowed as a waqf in Istanbul, and the Jews paid rent for 325 years.  Sijavuš-paša's han was not a compulsory place of residence for the Jews, nor was it isolated in the spirit of the ghetto that was typical of western European countries.  The doors of «the Great Courtyard were never locked, and Jewish artisans and merchants not only had their own shops in the čaršija [crafts and trade centre], but also, later, became full members of some of the guilds, with the entire right to profess their confessional customs» (Kreševljaković, 1935. p. 107).   Later the Jews also lived in other parts of the city, in Ferhadija and Ćemaluša (in the centre) and in Bjelave (on the higher slopes), indicating that as time passed they became an inseparable part of the population of Sarajevo.  The han was damaged by fire on several occasions, in particular in 1697 and 1788, but each time it was repaired and built on to. The last reference to the han is in 1846, after which it was probably demolished.

            The first religious building of the Sarajevo Jews, known as Il Kal Grandi or the old Jewish temple or synagogue, was built at the same time as Sijavuš-paša's han.  Work began on the synagogue in 1581, with the approval of the Imperial Divan.  The date of its construction was found in a sicil written in 1728/29, preserved in the Gazihusrevbeg Library in Sarajevo.  As Dr Moric Levi notes, this date for the oldest synagogue in Bosnia and Herzegovina is corroborated by the «Responsa» of Avraham de Boton, a late sixteenth century scholar from Salonika.

            Il Kal Grandi stood within the residential Jewish quarter of Velika avlija.  All that is known of the appearance of the original Great Synagogue is that it had a nave and two aisles, with a single gallery, and that it was 14 m long and 10 m in height.  The synagogue was damaged by fire on several occasions, most severely in 1697 and 1788.  In 1788 a fire broke out in  Sarajevo that swept through the «Jewish mahala» and surrounding mahalas (residential quarters), causing the roof and pillars of the synagogue to collapse.  The Jews had to seek the Sultan's permission for the repair and renovation of the synagogue.  The Sultan's firman arrived in 1794, and stated that the synagogue might not be «an arshin wider, an arshin longer, or an arshin higher».  (arshin = ell).  The strict regulations of the day meant that the builders dared not increase the size of the building.  During construction the roof of the synagogue collapsed, and permission was sought and obtained from Istanbul for its renovation in 1813.  After eight years of building works the temple was renovated and acquired its present appearance.  The pillars were reinforced and an additional storey was added at this time.  It is not known how the Jewish Community managed to bypass the laws of the day and increase the height of the synagogue.  The synagogue has four sizeable domes over the main nave and four lesser domes over the aisles.  Photographs dating from the early twentieth century show the just completed conch on the southern side of the synagogue.

            During World War II, in early 1941, the synagogue was looted and vandalized, after which it was used as a prison for the Jews, and as a store at the end of the war.  The interior was completely destroyed, leaving only the walls and roof.  In 1957 the building was reconstructed.

In 1966 the synagogue was turned into the Jewish Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina, housing exhibits of the Museum of the City of Sarajevo.


2. Description of the monument

            The old Jewish synagogue is one of the most valuable Jewish cultural monuments in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Consistent with the material and social standing of the Jews in Sarajevo at that time, the synagogue was modest in size and of austere exterior aspect, although certain details and the basic spatial arrangement revealed similarities with Spaish synagogue architecture.  Its architectural form is harmonious, pure and somewhat rustic. Comparisons can also be made with Islamic architecture in Bosnia and Herzegovina, particularly following the renovations of 1821 when the roof was domed.  Surviving photographs show that the wall decoration was carried out in plastic in flat, geometric and stylized floral motifs as well as Hebrew inscriptions showing many features of oriental art.  However, the majority of old synagogues excavated in old Palestine were of similar type.  There is no information about the appearance of old synagogues in the sixteenth and seventeenth century nor of the architectural tradition the Sephardim brought from Spain and Portugal.

            The claims made by the prominent scholar Dr Rachel Wischnitzer in her book on European synagogues could also related to the old Jewish synagogue in Sarajevo; she refers, among others, to the fifteenth century synagogue in Tomar near Lisbon, facing south, the Romanesque exterior of which somewhat recalls Sarajevo's Il Kal Grandi. She also claims that the decoration of Spanish synagogues built immediately following the Christian reconquista have features of the Moorish style, but that the ground plans do not have the oriental openness or other features of oriental buildings – rather, they are enclosed and look more like churches (Wischnitzer, pp. 40 and 43).

            The old Jewish synagogue in Sarajevo is rectangular in ground plan and lies north-south.  The overall length of the building is 23.17 m. on the west side and 20.87 on the east.  The width of the building is 10.87 m on the south side and 11.62 m on the south side.  To the south and east of the building is a cobbled courtyard enclosed on all sides, partly by high dressed stone walls and partly by the walls of the synagogue itself, and forming an integral part of the building.  There are niches on the longer side of the wall.  The courtyard is entered from the west, north and south, and each of the doors is wide and double-winged, made of iron.

            The old synagogue has massive pillars on which the galleries rest, thick walls and wide galleries.  The weight and volume of the stone structure dominate.  The synagogue is built of dressed and semi-dressed stone, with walls 110 cm thick. The annex to the north, which was added in 1909, has brick walls, 40 to 48 cm thick.  The interior space is divided into three parts, separated by pillars. The narrower front area also resembles a nave, given that it is separated from the central area by pilasters and sizeable arches.  The central nave rises to the roof, while the aisles are divided horizontally, forming galleries intended for women visitors to the synagogue.  The synagogue is roofed with four larger domes over the main nave and four smaller ones over the side aisles.  The domes are beneath the roof of the building.  The rest of the synagogue is roofed with a barrel vault

            The total height of the building to the roof cornice is 9.78 m, or 12.17 m. to the roof ridge.

            Twentieth century photographs show the just completed conch on the south side of the synagogue, which was used as a repository for the ark that held the Torah and is a frequent feature of synagogue buildings.  «It was adopted, as some scholars say, from ecclesiastical architecture, but reduced in size and without major significance for the general impression conveyed by the exterior and interior of the synagogue». (Gotovac, 1987, p. 17).

            Consistent with the Spanish tradition, the altar with the ark for the Torah, together with the pulpit, are in the southern part of the building, on the southern facade.  Above the ark, on the facade, is a single window rosette, which has not been shown to date from the time the original building was erected.

           All the wall surfaces, both the walls of the courtyard and those of the synagogue itself, are treated in two ways, partly plastered and painted and partly left pointed but unplastered.   The walls of the building at ground floor level are plastered and painted.  This treatment also occurs on the upper floor only on the later addition of the annex.

            Within the building are two types of floor.  In the ground floor area, part is paved with stone slabs that have been machine cut and polished, and part with oak strip parquet.  The floors on the upper storeys and galleries are made of oak strip parquet.  The staircase in the annex to the north of the building is of oak.

            All the surrounding walls of the courtyard are topped with tiles, as are the eaves above the door in the south wall, which are made of deal faced with boards.

            The roof of the synagogue is made of sawn deal boards; the older part is gabled, while the later addition has a pent roof.  The roof cladding is galvanized iron, as is the guttering.  The synagogue has 26 windows and one portal.  All the woodwork is of wood.  Some of the windows are rectangular – those on the ground floor of the old building – whereas the others are arched.  The ground floor windows have bars made of round wrought iron.  The entrance door is wooden and of recent date.

            The facade of the old Jewish synagogue is partly of semi-dressed, pointed stone,  with the exception of the annex to the north of the building and parts of the north and south facades which are stuccoed with cement mortar and painted white.


3. Legal status to date

            By Ruling of the Institute for the Protection of the Cultural and Historical Heritage of Bosnia and Herzegovina, no. 429/50 of 17 April 1950, the building was placed under the protection of the state.

            By Ruling of the Institute for the Protection of the Cultural and Historical Heritage of Bosnia and Herzegovina no. 02-500-3 of 18 April 1962 the building was protected and registered as a cultural monument.

            The old Jewish synagogue in Sarajevo is on the Provisional List of Cultural Monuments of the Commission to Preserve National Monuments, under serial no. 507.

            In the regional plan for Bosnia and Herzegovina to 2002, the old Jewish synagogue in Sarajevo was registered as a category I religious monument – «the most typical example of its kind, of a high level of achievement, with national significance.»        


4. Research and conservation and restoration works

            Following the fire of 1788, when the roof and pillars collapsed, the renovation of the synagogue took from 1813 to 1821.  After eight years of building works, the synagogue acquired its present appearance.  The pillars were reinforced and another storey was added.  The synagogue was given four larger domes over the main nave and four smaller ones over the side aisles.  Early twentieth century photographs show the just-completed conch on the south side of the synagogue.

            In 1909 a major reconstruction of the old Jewish synagogue was completed.  The interior was repainted, electric light was fitted, a brick-built annex was added on the north of the building, the height of the building was increased somewhat, a new roof was installed and the facade was stuccoed.  A staircase was made in the annex leading to the first and second galleries.

            In 1924 minor repairs were carried out in the synagogue.

            In 1957 the building was reconstructed.  The Federal Institute for the Protection of Monuments is in possession of the design project documentation for the 1957 reconstruction of the synagogue.

            Following war damage during the 1992-1995 war, preventive repairs to the roof and windows were carried out.

            The most recent interventions to the synagogue were in the first half of 2003, when the stuccoed facade of the building was repainted and the eastern boundary wall was rebuilt.

            In July 2003 a project entitled «Old Jewish synagogue – reconnaissance project» was drawn up by the Cantonal Institute for the Protection of the Cultural, Historical and Natural Heritage of Sarajevo.


4. Current condition of the property

            In 1966 the synagogue was turned into the Jewish Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina, housing exhibits from the Museum of the City of Sarajevo.  Instead of museum exhibits, the building is currently temporarily serving as a store for the entire holdings of the Museum of Sarajevo and as business premises for the Museum.

            An on site inspection conducted in September 2003 ascertained that the building is in good structural condition.  It needs some minor works to the interior, such as painting the plastered walls, sanding and lacquering the parquet and wooden staircase, and sanding and cleaning the stone floor slabs.



            Applying the Criteria for the adoption of a decision on proclaiming an item of property a national monument, adopted at the fourth session of the Commission to Preserve National Monuments (3 to 9 September 2002), the Commission has enacted the Decision cited above.

            The Decision was based on the following criteria:

A.  Time frame

B.  Historical value

D. Clarity

            D.ii. evidence of historical change

            D. iv. evidence of a particular type, style or regional manner

            D. v. evidence of a typical way of life at a specific period

E. Symbolic value

            E.iii. traditional value

            E.v. significance for the identity of a group of people

F. Townscape/ Landscape value

            F.i.  Relation to other elements of the site

            F.ii. meaning in the townscape

            F.iii.  the building or group of buildings is part of group or site

H. Rarity and representativity

            H.i. unique or rare example of a certain type or style


            The following documents form an integral part of this Decision:

-         Copy of cadastral plan

-         Copy of land register entry and proof of title;

-         Photodocumentation;

-         Drawings



            During the procedure to designate the historic building of the old Jewish synagogue in Sarajevo as a national monument of Bosnia and Herzegovina the following works were consulted:


Četrdeset godina Muzeja grada Sarajeva (Forty years of the Museum of the City of Sarajevo), exhibition catalogue, Sarajevo, 1989


Gotovac, Vedrana, Sinagoge u Bosni i Hercegovini (Synagogues in BiH), exhibition catalogue, Sarajevo, 1987


Levy, Moritz, Sefardi u Bosni i Hercegovini (Sephardi in BiH), Bosanska biblioteka,  Sarajevo, 1966


Spomenica 400 godina od dolaska Jevreja u Bosnu i Hercegovinu (Commemoration of the quadricentenary of the arrival of the Jews  in BiH), NP «Oslobođenje», Sarajevo, 1966


Stari jevrejski hram-projekat rekognosticiranja (Old Jewish Synagogue, reconnaissance project), Cantonal Institute for the Protection of the Cultural, Historical and Natural Heritage of Sarajevo, 2003


Old Jewish synagogue in SarajevoOld Jewish synagogue, photo from 1996View at the north facade of the old Jewish synagogueView at the east facade and north entrance gate
West entrance gateWest entrance gate and south wall of the synagogue with konhaKonhaInterior of the synagogue - konha
Konha, an old photoInterior of the old Jewish synagogue  

BiH jezici 
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