the fascinating history of the ancient synagogue of Tirat Carmel


The 1,500-year-old Em Habanim Synagogue in the northern city of Tirat Carmel was recently declared a heritage site by the Council for the Conservation of Heritage Sites in Israel.

The unique ancient structure has quite a fascinating history and holds extraordinary historical and architectural significance as it also once served as a church and a mosque.

Archaeological excavations in the surrounding area indicate continuous settlement in the area from the Bronze Age to the Byzantine period.

Other historical evidence suggests the existence of a Christian village in the area during the Crusader period, owned by the Order of St. John and known as the village of Tira, which is also mentioned as a place of pilgrimage . At the heart of the medieval settlement once stood an imposing building that served as an administrative center and included a fortress and a church.

During the Ottoman period, the Muslim village of al-Tira emerged and grew to become one of the largest Muslim settlements in the Haifa area during the 19th century. In the center of al-Tira stood a mosque that French explorer Victor Guerin documented during his trip to Palestine in 1870.

“I first examined a small mosque, which appears to have once been a Christian church,” he writes.

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המבנה מבחוץ, צילום ארכיון משנות ה-50

The exterior of the synagogue in the 1950s

(Photo: Em Habanim Foundation)

In 1906, Swiss explorer Eberhard Friedrich von Mulinen visited the site and spotted a well-preserved Arabic inscription emblazoned on the building’s northern entrance.

The engraving mentioned the year 1579 CE as the year the building was constructed and used as a mosque. The inscription read: “In the name of Allah the Merciful, this blessed place was built by Assaf, the sanjak-bey [an Ottoman honorary title] of al-Lajjun in 987” (which is 1579 CE, according to the Hijri calendar).

At the end of Israel’s War of Independence in 1949 and the establishment of the State of Israel, most Arab residents of al-Tira fled and incoming Jewish immigrants, mainly from Morocco, moved to settled in the abandoned village in their place and turned the building into the Main Synagogue of Tirat Carmel.

“I thank the Heritage Sites Conservation Council for this important recognition of Em Habanim Synagogue,” said Tirat Carmel Mayor Aryeh Tal.

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The Arabic inscription on the north entrance of the En Habanim Synagogue

(Photo: Em Habanim Foundation)

“It is a building of great importance for the historical development of the city, as it has become one of its major symbols in the 21st century.”

Deputy Mayor David Shachar noted that the synagogue is one of the oldest preserved buildings in the area and has continuously served as a place of worship, both Jewish and Muslim, for some 450 years.

“The architecture of the building is very impressive and includes classical ornaments from the Crusader and Roman period, around 1,500 years ago. These elements have survived all these centuries, mostly in good condition.”


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