The structure defiled by the pagan Greeks in the rabbinic story of the miracle of Hanukkah was a replacement building for the First (Solomon’s) Temple, destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E. The replacement was itself replaced by the magnificent Second Temple, completed by King Herod around 20 B.C.E. and in turn destroyed by the Romans 90 years later. By then, the centralized model of Temple worship with its sacrifices had already begun to be supplanted by prayer worship in small synagogues both inside and outside the Holy Land.
Although the precise architecture of Solomon’s Temple can only be guessed at, reconstructions of the Second Temple, both fanciful and scholarly, abound. The classicist Simon Goldhill describes at length the appearance of the Temple complex and its resonating significance in the imagination of the world, while a new and sumptuously illustrated volume delves deeply into the sources, the history, and the archaeology of the Temple and the Mount on which it stood.
Much scholarly attention has focused on the significance of the momentous transition from Temple to synagogue in Jewish religious consciousness. Lee I. Levine explores some of the early aspects.
In the Diaspora, medieval synagogue architecture from Kaifeng in China to Toledo in Spain followed prevailing local custom; the same is true of early-modern and modern synagogues everywhere. Among the earliest still-functioning European synagogues, Prague's Altneuschul (1275) and London's Bevis Marks Synagogue (1702) represent two very different types serving the common purpose of divine worship.
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