At first glance you might think this building was a mosque, but it is actually a synagogue.
When the Jewish community of Besançon commissioned the building from the local architect Pierre Marnotte (1797-1882), they specifically requested him to design a synagogue de style mauresque (in the Moorish style). It is not known why they wanted this particular style, but it is known that they were dissatisfied with the original proposal, from a different architect, for a neo-classical building, like many other synagogues built in France in the nineteenth century.
In any case, this is said to be the only neo-Moorish synagogue in France or probably anywhere in Europe. Construction began in 1869 and was completed in 1870.
During the Second World War, while the German army occupied Besançon, around forty Jews from the city were deported and presumably killed in concentration camps. Their names, along with the names of other victims from the surrounding region, are listed on a plaque inside the synagogue.
The building itself was not damaged during the war, because the local German army commander declared it to be German property and under his personal protection. The Germans used the building as a warehouse, but after the war it was returned unharmed to the Jewish community.
The Torah scrolls and furniture of the synagogue also escaped destruction because they were kept hidden by the Catholic Archbishop of Besançon for the duration of the war.
The synagogue is normally not open to the public except during the European Heritage Days each year on the third weekend of September.
My photos in this post are from 2014. I revised the text in 2019.