In the center of the German city Cologne, right below the city hall, archaeologists are excavating 7,000 meters squared of history - much of it Jewish history.
In 321 CE, the Roman Emperor Constantine realized for the first time that a rich Jewish community existed in Cologne, a once-powerful city in western Germany. Until about 1424, when all Jews were displaced, it boasted one of the most significant Jewish communities on German soil. Now this same soil is being dug up, and by 2011 a museum of Jewish history will stand there.
The project was made possible thanks to a $15.87 billion donation by the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The sum covers most of the $22.21 billion price tag for the project, which is expected to become a major tourist attraction.
One part of the project - including a synagogue dating to at the 11th Century at most - will be underground, while above ground, a Jewish museum is planned. The museum is set to cost another $17.56 billion, and will be paid by a private organization with the rather cumbersome name of "The Association to fund a House and Museum of Jewish culture in North Rhine-Westphalia."
The Jewish history of the area is Jews and Christian lived amongst each other peacefully for centuries, but there had always been oppression and pogroms in many times. In 1096 the Jews had to suffer under the fanatic atmosphere of the crusades. In 1349 a "Jew Burning" took place, even before the pest befell Cologne, for which the Jews were blamed. The district was destroyed, and the Jews were killed. Not until 1372 were they allowed to resettle. Back in 1349 they have had two patrons: the archbishop and the council. Both of them did nothing to stop the pogrom, but after the catastrophe to their wards, they both fought about their inheritance.
This is only part of the history, to be shown in the Museum. In the preparatory work they found already over 6,000 exhibits in the Area. Among them Carolingian ceramic which indicates that a Carolingian Synagogue had been there already in times of Charlemagne (around 800). Probably in 881 the Synagogue had already been destroyed by the Nomads. The archaeologists working on the excavation are still analyzing how old the Synagogue really is. Foreman Sven Schütte made a commotion, by saying the bottom parts of the Synagogue would be from the fourth Century. A few of his colleagues denied that. Some of them also say, that there is no evidence that there had been a Jewish Community before 1075. Next to the Synagogue a Mikvah is already reconstructed. The shaft is going 17 meters down, until the groundwater. The earliest construction phase is dated around 800. In 1096 it was rebuilt to the way it looks until today. In former times it used to have an above ground entrance, so daylight would come into the shaft. Holes in the walls were used to store towels and candles. After the Jewish community was displaced in 1424, the Mikvah was used as a latrine, the above ground hall was used as a barn. The Synagogue was turned into a Christian Church and called "St. Maria in Jerusalem". After World War II neither the Synagogue nor the Chapel was rebuilt, just the foundation walls were outlined in the flagging. A glass-pyramid was built, so the public can look down the shaft of the Mikvah. Now everything together will be turned in a great Jewish monument within the "Archaelogical Zone".
In the end of 2007 the tender was given out to 26 international architects. The final plan for the "Archaeological Zone" and the Jewish Museum will be chosen this summer. Both are planned to be opened in 2011.
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