The Great Synagogue of Vilna which once stood at the end of Jewish Street (I-2), Vilnius, Lithuania, was built between 1630-1633 after permission was granted to construct a synagogue from stone. Standing on the spot of an existing synagogue built in 1572, the site had first been used to house a Jewish house of prayer in 1440.
The synagogue was partly destroyed by the Soviets during World War II. The ruined synagogue and the whole “schulhof” complex which had grown around it were demolished by the Soviet authorities from 1955 to 1957 and were intentionally replaced by a basketball court and a kindergarten to effectively prevent any future initiatives to rebuild a cultural monument.
Three original pieces from the Great Synagogue of Vilna survived the destruction quite miraculously and are now on display at the Vilna Gaon Jewish Museum: a door of the Holy Ark, a reader’s desk, and a bas-relief with the Ten Commandments.
In 2011 Lithuanian PM Andrius Kubilius and Vilnius Mayor Artūras Zuokas announced plans to restore the synagogue, after successful archaeological exploration of synagogue ruins in the same year. The Vilnius Great Synagogue memorial is planned to be finished around 2018. In 2014 Israeli president Shimon Peres was invited to join the board, together with Lithuania’s former President Valdas Adamkus, Lithuanian PM Algirdas Butkevičius and the prominent architect Daniel Liebeskind for the restoration project. The original location of the Great Synagogue was pinpointed by ground-penetrating radar in June 2015 beneath the modern school building, with excavations set to begin in 2016.