Richard Pare, 1993/Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal

The Ben Ezra Synagogue, in Fostat (Old Cairo), receives its name from a legend that the prophet Ezra wrote a Torah scroll stored in the building. The present building was constructed in 1892 on the foundations of an 11th-century building where the Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides worshiped. The bema, or raised platform for Torah reading, stands in the center of the recently restored synagogue, with the Torah ark on the far (eastern) wall. The open upper story served as the women’s gallery.

The dark edge of the entrance to the genizah, the dust-filled storeroom where Schechter found a stash of medieval manuscripts, is visible inside the arch of the two full columns at upper left. Under Jewish law, worn out documents bearing God’s name must never be destroyed; often they are stored in a synagogue’s genizah until they can be buried. No one knows why the Cairo Genizah was never emptied.