Croatia is an amazing place to visit. It’s a paradise of beautiful blue waters, shocking old cities, and history, but did you know it’s also great for Jewish heritage tours? And that there are many Jewish attractions in Croatia?
The Jewish community in Croatia has a history that goes all the way back to the 3rd century, and more writings and evidence of the community became commonplace in the 10th century.
As you now see Jewish history in Croatia goes back centuries which means there are abounds of Jewish attractions in Croatia. The country is rich with museums, ruins, and synagogues that demonstrate the long history of the Jewish community in Croatia.
Today, most of the Jews in Croatia live in Zagreb, but before World War II, the Jewish community was spread across Croatia in both the sections under Austro-Hungarian rule and the Dalmatia region.
That means that on Jewish trips to Croatia, there’s Jewish history and attractions all over the country, from the Split synagogue to the Dubrovnik synagogue, and while you’re exploring the fascinating history of Croatia and swimming in its magical waters, you’ll also have the opportunity to get to know a unique Jewish history you might not have known about before.
3 Reasons To Visit Croatia
- The water is spectacular in the most beautiful color – blue. Excursions on kayaks, boats, and more are the perfect way to enjoy this natural wonder.
- The Jewish heritage and the history of Jews in Croatia is unbelievable. The Synagogue in Zudioska Ulica is the second oldest synagogue still in use in Europe and dates back to around 1300.
- The well-preserved old city of Dubrovnik is a feast for the eyes. It truly feels like stepping back in time, and its unique architecture and location next to the Adriatic Sea make it a unique old town even in Europe and many Jewish attractions to visit in it.
Let’s get into to main Jewish attractions Croatia has to offer:
Bjelovar: Step into History at Dom Kulture
Bjelovar is a city in Croatia that was once a fortress town under the Habsburgs. There are plenty of cafes, restaurants, and bars, and the city is known for a famous smoked cheese called Bjelovarski Kvargl.
Located at Ivana Mazuranica 6, the synagogue in Bjelovar functions currently as a cultural centre. They host concerts, theatre, workshops, film screenings, communal events, and more.
Built between 1912 and 1914, this architectural gem showcases a stripped-back Secessionist style designed by Otto Goldscheider.
The synagogue’s transformation into Dom Kulture Bjelovar has preserved its historical significance. Visit the well-maintained municipal cemetery, established in 1876, which features around 200 tombstones and a Ceremonial Hall in the Jewish section. Inscriptions in Hebrew, German, Hungarian, Croatian, and other languages reflect the multicultural heritage of the area.
Almost all of the Jews in Bjelovar were killed during the Holocaust, and the synagogue was robbed. It was turned into a theatre in 1951 and the religious symbols were removed. One star of David was left on the upper floor.
Dubrovnik: Visit the oldest Sephardic synagogue in the world
Dubrovnik is one of the most beautiful cities in Croatia. The surrounding waters are perfect for kayaking or sailing trips, and the old city is breathtaking. You can walk along the Dubrovnik mediaeval wall for a view of the city, or visit nearby Lokrum Island for a beach day. Along the way, you can learn about Jews in Croatia.
During the 16th century, Dubrovnik served as a prominent centre of Jewish life. Many Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal during the Inquisition made their home in Dubrovnik during the Inquisition, and many other Jews from Italy also joined the community.
You can see that centre by visiting the Jewish ghetto. The historical enclave comprised 11 houses and a synagogue, forming a steep, narrow alley known as Zudioska Ulica.
The Dubrovnik Synagogue, believed to be the second oldest in Europe and the oldest Sephardic synagogue in the world, still occupies the upper floor of a stone house dating back to around 1300. The carpet inside is said to have been a gift from Queen Isabella of Spain to a Jewish doctor. The ceiling is painted sky blue with golden stars, giving the whole space a dreamy atmosphere.
Despite enduring major earthquakes and wartime destruction, the synagogue has been restored and showcases its rich heritage through valuable Torah scrolls and other ritual objects. You can visit, but make sure to contact them first to make sure someone is there to show you the space.
The nearby cemetery offers insights into Dubrovnik’s Jewish past, with epitaphs in Hebrew, Ladino, and Croatian. There is also a Jewish Fountain in the Jewish quarter.
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Koprivnica: A neo-Moorish synagogue turned into a culture centre
Koprovnica is the capital of its region, and is a wonderful place to explore local art scenes and galleries.
In Koprivnica, the synagogue, designed in a neo-Moorish style by Julius Deutsch and Slavko Lowy in the mid-1870s, has undergone partial restoration and now serves as the Krešimir Švarc Culture Center.
The synagogue was used as a prison and warehouse during World War II, but the synagogue’s interior has been conserved and features new flooring.
The organ and other items from the synagogue have been preserved and you can see them at the synagogue.
It’s quite small, but there is still a Jewish community in Koprivnica.
There is a Jewish cemetery in Koprivnica that has 250 tombs and five mausoleums. Older tombstones are written in Hebrew and later ones in German, Croatian, and Hungarian. Many of the tombstones bear bullet scars from the conflict in the 1990s.
Osijek: Traces of Jewish Life in Slavonia
Osijek, the largest city in eastern Croatia, boasts a rich Jewish history.
The community was started by 50 families in 1847, and they quickly built a school and synagogue. Before World War II, Osijek was home to the second-largest Jewish community in Croatia after Zagreb.
There is still a community centre in the city, where a museum holds objects that were rescued from the main synagogue. There is a monument to victims of the Shoah in the main square of the city, as well as a Jewish cemetery in both the Lower Town and Upper Town.
The movies Sophie’s Choice and Gladiator were both produced by a Jewish director and producer from the Osijek named Branko Lustig. Lustig was a survivor of the Holocaust was deported to Auschwitz during the war, and he co-produced Schindler’s List with Steven Spielberg.
While the original synagogue in the lower town now functions as a Pentecostal church, its neo-Romanesque and neo-Moorish architectural elements remain intact.
The synagogue features tablets displaying the Ten Commandments alongside a cross, reflecting its multi-faith history.
Although the synagogue in the upper town was destroyed in the 1940s, its former grandeur is still remembered.
Osijek is an excellent stop for gastronomy, boutique hotels, and more. It is a central location for many European bike routes and a great place to visit for a more active vacation.
Rijeka: A Coastal Gem of Jewish Heritage
Rijeka is home to the beautiful Trsat castle and is the third-largest city in Croatia. The Jewish community of Rijeka dates all the way back to the 16th century, and was composed primarily of Jews from Germany, Bohemia, and Italy.
It’s home to a few sites that are perfect for the Jewish traveller.
Visit the modernist-style orthodox synagogue designed by Gyozo Angyal and Pietro Fabbro in the 1930s. The Sephardic synagogue, built in 1928, is still in use by the Jewish community of around a hundred people.
The Jewish cemetery within the Kozala municipal cemetery stands as a historical monument.
Croatia is a perfect destination for those interested in exploring Jewish heritage. The country’s Jewish community has a long and significant history, with evidence of their presence dating back centuries. From the well-preserved synagogues to the poignant cemeteries and cultural centres, Croatia’s Jewish attractions provide a glimpse into the rich tapestry of Jewish life in the country.
Whether you’re visiting Bjelovar, where the synagogue has been transformed into the Dom Kulture, hosting various cultural events, or you’re starting at the famous city of Dubrovnik, Dubrovnik, with its ancient Jewish ghetto and synagogue, Croatia gives the Jewish traveller a unique opportunity to delve into the rich heritage of a once strong community.
Overall, Croatia’s top Jewish attractions offer a unique and immersive experience for travellers interested in exploring Jewish history and culture. These sites provide a profound connection to the past, honouring the contributions of the Jewish community in Croatia. Whether visiting synagogues, cemeteries, or cultural centres, travellers are sure to be captivated by the rich tapestry of Jewish heritage that Croatia has to offer.
Interested in Jewish trips to Croatia? Check out our Jewish travel agency here.