The synagogue is the centre of a Jewish community and a place of communal prayer and study. Synagogue architecture obeyed certain religious dictates, called the halahot, and state building regulations, but was also influenced by architectural traditions in the local community. There are two main types of synagogue in Greece, the Romaniote and the Sephardic, and they differ in the way certain basic features are arranged.
Both synagogues of Ioannina, the Old Synagogue Kahal Kadosh Yashan and the New Synagogue Kahal Kadosh Hadash that was built by Jews from Italy and Sicily who settled in Ioannina in the 16th century, were reconstructed in accordance with the Romaniote type, but with visible Byzantine and Romanesque influence.
As the centuries went by, the Old Synagogue Kahal Kadosh Yashan in the Jewish quarter within the castle walls has passed through several building phases. However, the most extensive construction work was carried out in 1829, which gave the synagogue its present form. There is a fountain in the courtyard and a permanent structure for the sukkah, the Sukkot hut for the feast of booths (tabernacles). The entrance to the spacious ground floor, intended exclusively for men, is on the west. Women reach the mehitzah, a screened off balcony for women, via a flight of outdoor steps on the north wall. Four pillars joined to one another by arches delineate the square space in the centre of the main hall. The two most fundamental features in any synagogue are the ehal, a niche or cabinet in the east wall where the sacred books of the Torah are kept (in this synagogue it is integrated into a marble superstruction) and on the west wall the raised bima (pulpit) from where the Torah was read on Saturdays, feast days and during religious ceremonies. There is also a floor-level tevah, or book stand directly opposite the ehal.
The synagogues of Ioannina also had a special feature in the form of a small building, known as the minyan, next to the main synagogue and used as auxiliary space. Services were held here on weekdays when the minimum number of attendants required was present.
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