UNESCO World Heritage Erfurt

It's official! Following the decision of the World Heritage Committee in Riad on 17th September 2023, Erfurt's Jewish-Medieval heritage is now on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Erfurt is now officially part of the human heritage. This was decided by the members of the World Heritage Committee in Riad, the capital of Saudi Arabia. "Jewish-Medieval Heritage Erfurt", that is the Old Synagogue, the Mikveh and the "Stone House", which received the title "UNESCO World Heritage". This title is enormously valuable for Erfurt's tourism and will open new doors in international marketing. The title "UNESCO World Heritage" is only awarded to the most outstanding testimonies to human and natural history. With Erfurt, there are now 52 sites in Germany inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

In the largely intact historic old town of Erfurt, unique architectural evidence of the important Jewish community from the period between the end of the 11th and the middle of the 14th century has been preserved. These include the Old Synagogue, one of the oldest, largest and best-preserved medieval synagogues, the Medieval Mikveh, which was built in the 12th century, and a Jewish secular building from the 12th and 13th centuries, the so-called "Stone House". 


UNESCO, with its headquarters in Paris and currently 1942 members, is a specialized agency of the UN. It was founded on November 16, 1945. The declared aim of UNESCO was and is to encourage the peoples of the world to live together in peace by emphasizing commonalities and building greater understanding and tolerance. UNESCO's range of tasks includes the four main programs of education, science, culture and communication. One of its main tasks is the preservation of the world's cultural and natural heritage. 

Across Germany, 52 sites are represented on this list. The five World Heritage Sites located in Thuringia are the Jewish Medieval Heritage in Erfurt, Wartburg Castle near Eisenach, the Bauhaus monuments in Weimar, Classical Weimar and the Hainich National Park near Bad Langensalza.

Discover Erfurt’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites

The Old Synagogue

The Old Synagogue in the historic centre of Erfurt is one of the oldest, largest and best preserved medieval synagogues in Europe. It is one of the few surviving synagogue buildings of the European High Middle Ages with construction beginning in this early period. On the basis of the original building stock, various construction phases can be traced, from the time of origin around 1100, the extensive history of use after the devastating pogrom of 1349, to the most recent reconstruction measures in the 19th and 20th centuries. The building‘s history thus impressively reflects the history of a Jewish community in tension with its Christian environment, beginning with the origins around 1100, through rise and prosperity, but also riots and persecution, up to the complete extinction of the community during the pogrom of 21 March 1349.

Today, the Old Synagogue is an extraordinary museum and a place where the medieval material testimonies of Erfurt‘s Jewish community are accessible to the public. With the establishment of a museum, the synagogue has found an appropriate use again today.

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aditional views

The “Erfurt Treasure” in the cellar of the Old Synagogue

Although the "Erfurt Treasure" in the cellar of the Old Synagogue is not directly part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is one of the most important Jewish treasure ensembles in all of Europe, not least because of its scope and size. The "Erfurt Treasure" is a Gothic treasure find from the 13th/14th century that was recovered in 1998 in the immediate vicinity of the synagogue. It is unique in the world in terms of type and size with 3,141 silver coins, 14 silver bars, over 700 pieces of Gothic gold and silver work as well as the jewish wedding ring. In the former ballroom of the monument from the late 19th century, the Erfurt Hebrew manuscripts from the 12th - 14th centuries bear witness to the intellectual heyday of Erfurt's first Jewish community.

The Jewish community probably had a Mikveh directly on the banks of the Gera as early as the 12th century. Documentary evidence from the middle of the 13th century shows that the Jewish community paid taxes for the ritual bath and for the property. Along with the synagogue and cemetery, it is an important part of the Jewish community. It was used for ritual purification after coming in contact with the dead, blood or other impurities in a religious sense. It differs from the other surviving shaft or cellar Mikvehs in its special design, which was adapted to the local topographical conditions and for which there is no parallel.

The pogrom of 1349 left clear traces on the building. The Mikveh, like many buildings in the Jewish quarter, was massively damaged. Jews who settled in Erfurt from 1354 onwards continued to use the Mikveh, while the Old Synagogue had already been converted into a warehouse. The city council forced the Jews to leave Erfurt in 1453/54. By then at the latest, the Jewish use of the Mikveh came to an end. The basin was filled in, and the room above it was used as a cellar until the 20th century. In 2007, archaeologists discovered the medieval Mikveh. Since September 2011, it has been open to visitors and accessible on guided tours.

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Medieval Mikveh

aditional views

Stone House

In a multi-part building complex at Benediktsplatz 1 in Erfurt‘s Old Town is a medieval stone building, the so-called „Stone House“. This is an outstanding testimony of late medieval profane building culture, which can be assigned to Jewish owners at the latest since the end of the 13th century. As such, it complements the ritual buildings of the Old Synagogue and the Mikveh and is a further component of Erfurt‘s UNESCO World Heritage.

An exceptionally large number of essential structures from the time of construction around 1250 have been preserved, including the portals to the two main floors, the wooden beam ceiling, the west façade, the original stepped gable and the roof timbers. Unique in Europe is the preserved interior of the upper floor room with a pointed-arched lighting niche, barely altered exterior walls with recessed pointing, and a colored wood-beamed ceiling, the beams of which could be dated to 1247.

Today, the building complex at Benediktsplatz 1 houses offices and business premises of the city of Erfurt. As early as the 1990s, initial investigations began in parallel with the renovation work on the building complex. From 2015-2017, the entire complex was researched as part of a DFG-funded project. On the basis of the ongoing historical building research and the restorative investigations, further measures will be carried out and subsequently a utilization concept adapted to the valuable inventory will be created. Therefore, the „Stone House“ is currently not open to the public.

aditional views

Guided tours

Questions & answers

Why was the decision from the World Heritage Committee postponed?

The application and the management plan were submitted to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre in Paris on time at the beginning of 2021. In 2021, the evaluation took place with a detailed inspection in Erfurt and expert opinions on the submitted documents.

In the second half of June 2022, a decision on the Erfurt application was to be made at the meeting of the Unesco Commission in Kazan, Russia. This meeting was to be chaired by Russia. However, due to the Ukraine war, it was initially postponed at the end of April 2022.

In January 2023, the time between September 10th and 25th of 2023, was set for the 45th session of UNESCO.

How many UNESCO World Heritage sites are there in Germany/Thuringia/Europe/Worldwide?

Worldwide, 1,158 sites in 167 countries are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Europe is home to 492 of these sites. With 52 sites, Germany is the country with the 3rd most World Heritage sites in its boundaries. In terms of numbers, it is on a par with France and is only surpassed by Italy (59 sites) and China (57 sites). Thuringia is currently inscribed with 5 sites.
The UNESCO World Heritage title also attracts international guests, especially from the US and Asia.

Which sites are located in Thuringia?

The 5 sites in Thuringia that are currently inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List are Wartburg Castle, the Bauhaus sites in Weimar, Classical Weimar, the Hainich National Park and the Jewish-medieval heritage in Erfurt.

What are distinctive marks of an UNESCO World Heritage Site?

World Heritage Sites are places of special significance to the global community. They serve the goals of the Global Sustainability Agenda and UNESCO's mandate to promote peace. World Heritage Sites require protection and care. The extraordinary value and uniqueness of Erfurts Jewish-medieval heritage must be protected, preserved over the long term and communicated with the help of all stakeholders.

Do UNESCO World Heritage sites have to be preserved in a specific way?

With the award of the World Heritage title, states enter into an obligation to protect their World Heritage sites and preserve them for future generations. Even after the World Heritage title has been awarded, the work on and in the World Heritage site does not end: Numerous parties at the level of the states and municipalities as well as other institutions perform a wide range of tasks in order to protect, preserve and communicate the World Heritage sites in the long term and to ensure their sustainable use. The title is not associated with any concrete financial support from UNESCO. It is an honorary title associated with worldwide prestige, but above all with the obligation to preserve a site.

How can the three UNESCO World Heritage sites in Erfurt be visited?

The Old Synagogue can be visited independently during opening hours (video guides available in eng and french). You can also book a private guided tour. The Medieval Mikveh can be viewed at any time through a window in the ceiling of the shelter. The mikveh is only accessible as part of a guided tour. The “Stone House” can currently only be viewed from the outside.

Why is the Erfurt treasure not part of the UNESCO World Heritage in Erfurt?

The title "UNESCO World Heritage" is only awarded to buildings. Therefore, material evidence such as the Hebrew Scriptures, the gravestones or the Erfurt Treasure are not part of the application. However, as historical sources, they round off the knowledge about Ashkenazic, i.e. Central European Judaism in the Middle Ages and thus belong to Erfurt's Jewish medieval heritage as additional material testimonies.

What is the difference between UNESCO World Cultural Heritage and UNESCO World Natural Heritage?

World Cultural Heritage Sites are architectural monuments, urban ensembles and cultural landscapes, but also industrial monuments of special value to mankind. The World Natural Heritage includes, among others, natural landscapes and protected reserves for animal and plant species threatened with extinction and geological formations. The Jewish medieval heritage is included in the World Cultural Heritage.

How long will the UNESCO title remain?

The World Heritage title is an honorary title. It means commitment to the preservation of a site as the heritage of all mankind. The protection and care as well as the communication of the World Heritage idea are central tasks associated with the award of the title. As the World Heritage List continues to grow in numbers, UNESCO strives to protect the title "World Heritage" from arbitrariness. Therefore, all World Heritage sites are reviewed at regular intervals. ICOMOS or, in the case of natural sites, IUCN (World Conservation Union), act on behalf of UNESCO. The monitoring group of ICOMOS Germany is responsible for the German World Heritage Sites.

There have only been three deletions from the World Heritage List: In 2007, the Arabian Oryx Antelope Wildlife Sanctuary in Oman lost its World Heritage title after the reserve was reduced in size by 90 percent in order to extract oil. In 2009, the "Dresden Elbe Valley Cultural Landscape" lost the World Heritage title due to the construction of the Waldschlösschen Bridge, which was considered a serious encroachment on the cultural landscape. In 2021, the Committee decided to remove the "Maritime Trading City of Liverpool" from the World Heritage List. It considered the site's Outstanding Universal Value to have been permanently damaged by a large number of construction projects.