This page includes the definitions of the various architectural elements within the Altneuschul, with extended descriptions of the features noted in the story-map. For academic references see the bibliography at the end of the page.

Twin Nave Plan

Definitions: Nave: central part of a building, word originates from the Latin term for a vessel. Twin Nave: two naves in a singular space. This design comes from Worms Synagogue, built-in 1034.1

Some scholars believe this design was implemented to avoid looking too much like a Christian space.2 With liturgical performances in the center of the naves, this plan has been noted to hinder one’s ability to view the ark but allows for equal listening across the space.3

See architectural references (below) for prototypes of this plan.


Definition: Single unit of architecture that is repeated. A bay is a reflection of the vaulting on a ceiling.

The Altneuschul has a total of six bays, three on each side of the two naves.


Definition: a vertical support system which aids the arches, known as the arcade.
The piers at the Altneuschul are octagonal and support the three arches seen on either side of the nave.

The appearance of piers are similar to pillars, with piers offering more structural support than pillars. It was common amongst the Synagogues built during this time in central and Eastern Europe to include this feature as a reference to Boaz and Jachin, the biblical pillars from the Temple of Solomon.4


Definition: decorative features on a ceiling which supports the weight of the ceiling.
The Altneuschul’s vaulting is ribbed, identified through the pointed arches. The intersection of the ribs are decorated by a boss.

There are five separate ribs (slide 2 for reference), known as quincunx vaulting. Traditionally, Gothic buildings use either four (quadripartite) or six (sexpartite) ribs. The addition of the fifth rib may have been a stylistic choice or intentional to avoid the ceiling appearing as a cruciform.

Architectural References

The Temple of Solomon (slide 1) serves an architectural prototype for both Jewish and Christian spaces. Emulations of the Temple may include following the measurements listed in the bible or having a similar architectural plan.

The Altneuschul (slide 2), like the Temple, had a rectangular format and holds the holy texts towards the east. The two pillars between the Bimah are symbolic of the two pillars described in the biblical text.5 Though the pillars in the bible were made of bronze, it was popular in the Middle Ages for features of a space to allude to a holy text without being an exact replica.6


The Altneuschul is most similar to the architectural style of Worms, built-in 1034 (slide 1), and Regensburg, built-in 1227 and destroyed in 1519 (slide 2). All three structures were designed using a twin nave plan. The interior of each space looks vastly different from each other, but all used similar decorative elements to embellish the inside spaces. 

Timeline of Construction

The Altneuschul was built during the last quarter of the 13th century. The space began to be used in 1270. Several additions were made to the building over the course of several centuries.

  • 13th century: the western vestibule (original structure) is built
  • 14th century: prayer hall is completed
  • 15th century: addition of the second vestibule
  • 18th century: the women’s section is added at the northern part of the structure

A great resource for definitions of medieval architecture terms is:


  1. Ena G. Heller, “Western Ashkenazi Synagogues in Medieval and Early Modern Europe,” in Jewish Religious Architecture: From Biblical Israel to Modern Judaism, ed. Steven Fine (Liden;Boston: Brill, 2020), 169.
  2. Arno Parík et al. Prazske synagogy: Prague Synagogues: Prager Synagogen. Prague: Zidovske Muzeum, 2000.
  3. Vivian B. Mann, “Towards an ‘Iconography’ of Medieval Diaspora Synagogues,” in The Jews of Europe in the Middle Ages (Tenth to Fifteenth Centuries), ed. Christoph Cluse (Turnhout: Brepols, 2004) 344-345.
  4. Sarit Shalev-Eyni, “Visual Constructs of Jerusalem: Reconstructing Jerusalem in the Jewish Liturgical Realm: The Worms Synagogue and Its Legacy,” in Visual Constructs of Jerusalem, (Turnhout: Brepols, 2014), 164.
  5. 1 Kings 13-22 and 2 Kings 23:3
  6. Robert Ousterhout, “New Temples and New Solomons, The Rhetoric of Byzantine Architecture,” in The Old Testament in Byzantium, ed. Paul Magdalino and Robert S. Nelson (Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Symposia and Colloquia. Washington, D.C: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection: Distributed by Harvard University Press, 2010) 223–53.

Image Credits:

Twin Nave Plan:
Masak, Al, “Grundriß der Synagoge,” print, 1922, Prague, in Die Altneusynagoge in Prag by Zdenka Munzer, Nr. 1, Prague: n.p., 1932.
Bay and Pier:
Masak, Al, “Längeschnitt,” Print, 1922, Prague, in Die Altneusynagoge in Prag by Zdenka Munzer, Nr. 4, Prague: n.p., 1932.
Architectural References:
Krautheimer, Richard. Worms, Rekonstruktion. 1927.In Mittelalterliche Synagogen, 151. Berlin: Frankfurter Verlags-Anstalt, 1927.
Krautheimer, Richard. Regensburg, Rekonstruktion. 1927.In Mittelalterliche Synagogen, 177. Berlin: Frankfurter Verlags-Anstalt, 1927.

Masak, Al, “Grundriß der Synagoge,” print, 1922, Prague, in Die Altneusynagoge in Prag by Zdenka Munzer, Nr. 1, Prague: n.p., 1932.
Wilkinson, John. Ezekiel’s whole plan of the Temple. 2002. In From Synagogue to Church: The Traditional Design: Its Beginning, Its Definition, Its End, 32. London: Routledge, 2002.
Timeline of Construction