In 1633 the Ghetto Novissimo was added to the existing two ghettos, mainly for the purpose of accommodating Ponentine Jews. Situated at the confluence between the San Girolamo and Ghetto Novo canals, it is the smallest of the three. The area was formed of three blocks of houses, with fine buildings (such as the Treves and Vivante palaces), but did not contain shops or scole. At the end of Calle del Portòn was the gate, which was kept closed.
The Jewish Museum of Venice is not simply an expository space, but a widespread museum, i.e. an urban, architectonic and museum complex unique of its kind for its own specificity, which includes a permanent exhibition, the synagogues and some temporary exhibitions. The objects on display testify to the lively tradition and the long history of the Venetian community; among them you can find ancient books and manuscripts and objects used in the most important moments of the cycle of Jewish life. From the interior of the Museum it is possible to visit by guided tour two of the 5 Venetian synagogues. All guided tours to 3 or 4 of the five venetian synagogues start from the museum.
The Ghetto Novo is the area of the city to which, in 1516, the Jewish population of Venice was forced to move. The first ghetto in Europe, it stands on an island demarcated by the canals of San Girolamo, Ghetto Novo and Battello. It was originally only connected to the city by two gates. Initially, seven hundred Jews of Italian and Central European descent lived there. However, the population expanded rapidly following later waves of migration. The central square (“campo”) is where daily life was played out, with synagogues, workshops, pawnbrokers (note the sign of the Banco Rosso at number 2912) and wells for the water supply. As it could not expand beyond its borders, in order to increase its capacity for accommodation construction in the ghetto began first to become fragmented and then to take a vertical direction, so that some houses were extended up to as many as eight storeys (which was exceptional considering the instability of Venice’s sandy foundations). During the 19th century some buildings were demolished and rebuilt. This is the case of the current seat of the Rest Home, (n° 2874), where inside is preserved the aron of the Scola Mesullamim, which was demolished in the 19th century. On the wall of house number 2874 is the Holocaust Monument (1980). It consists of seven bronze bas-relief plaques depicting scenes from the Holocaust, by sculptor Arbit Blatas. Not far from here, another memorial by the same artist, from 1993, presents on planks of wood the names of the 246 Jews deported from Venice. Of them, only seven would return; a bronze panel depicts them boarding the train carriages. The main square of the Ghetto Novo leads to the first three synagogues and the Jewish museum. Visits: a guided tour of the area is available, visiting three of the five synagogues. This is run by the Jewish Museum of Venice.
The MEIS has been open for several years, staging exhibitions, conferences and festivals. For the events calendar see http://www.meisweb.it/. Further development is underway in the permanent building. The Museum was established as a Foundation by an Act of Parliament with the aim of illustrating the culture and history of Jews in Italy, dating back more than two millennia: a contemporary museum, a cultural arena, with no permanent collection, a space designed as a “ever-changing possibilities”. The Italian Parliament selected Ferrara as the seat of the National Museum for a number of reasons, including the glorious history of the local Jewry, once one of the largest and most active communities in Italy, which was further popularized in the 20th century through Giorgio Bassani’s stories, set in the city. When it came to choosing the site, the Via Piangipane former prison - built in 1912 and closed in 1992 - was selected. The museum design is based upon the building’s complete change of identity: from confinement and marginalisation, to openness and relationships. Only two of the original prison’s blocks, built as a T, have been preserved – those that best represent its original function: the panoptic block – with a view over all the compound –, and the one on Via Piangipane, the original façade facing the city. The entry selected in the international competition has five new glass and concrete buildings, on the site of the demolished blocks, for the five books of the Torah, and a garden. The buildings include the museum exhibition halls, educational rooms, an auditorium, a bookshop, kosher restaurant and coffee shop.
There is another Jewish cemetery not far from the one in Via delle Vigne, now used only for commemorations. The Levantine cemetery as it is known, in Via Arianuova, was purchased in 1570 by the community of the Sephardic Jews (aka the Portuguese Nation), and remained operational until 1879. Over the centuries the surface was cut and today it is but is a small rectangular plot with four 19th-century graves belonging to the Saralvos, a local family of Iberian descent.
This burial ground was granted to the Jewish community in 1626. It lies next to the Certosa cemetery, in the north-eastern section of the Addizione Erculea (the addition under Duke Ercole), in a large space that had been left as a lawn under Rossetti’s original project. At the end of Via delle Vigne, the entrance to the cemetery bears a large granite gateway designed in 1911 by the Jewish architect Ciro Contini. He also designed the burial chapel inside, in the same style as the gateway decorating it in a neo-Babylonian style. These developments gave the Jewish community of Ferrara the visibility it had sought for after Emancipation, which in other cities had led to the construction of new monumental synagogues. The vast cemetery has an irregular shape due to several consecutive developments: each section has imposing constructions, most of which against the perimeter walls, mixed in with simple old and recent headstones and tombstones. Even to date the plain lawns bear witness to the ban on tombstones imposed by the ecclesiastical authorities in the 18th century. In the same period the cemetery was raised by the Inquisitors and 16th- and 17th-century tombstones were demolished in 1718 and reused to build Duke Borso’s column.
There are four plaques along the low moat wall surrounding the Este’s Castle placed in memory of the massacre that took place on November the 15th, 1943. Eleven people selected among Jews and political opponents held in the jail via Piangipane were brutally murdered in retaliation for the assassination of the Fascist Federal, a member of the party re-established after the of 8th of September armistice. Eight of them were slaughtered near the Castle and two on the San Tommaso Bastion, where a memorial stone commemorates them. An eleventh victim, probably a witness trying to flee, was murdered in Via Boldini not far from the Castle. Their bodies were left there till the following morning as a warning. After the war, the street was renamed Corso Martiri della Libertà when the plaques were put in place. In his short story "Una notte del '43" (A Night in 1943), the writer Giorgio Bassani wrote about the Corso Roma massacre through the eyes of a pharmacist living opposite.
The column of Borso d’Este dates back to 1452: a squat bi-chrome marble column built as the base for a statue of the duke on his throne. Along with the monument to Marquis Niccolò III, it marks the entrance to what was historically the ducal court, through the “Volto del Cavallo” (the Horse’s Vault) archway. It was damaged by a fire and restored in 1718 using marble taken from the tombstones in the Jewish cemeteries. The circumstances surrounding the event have never been fully understood: there are records of a sort of payment made to the Jewish community for the material, there is no mention of the fact that tombs were violated to build one of the city’s hallmarks. It was reinforced in 1960 during which time it was possible to photograph and study the inscriptions, before the monument was reassembled.
The house in Via Vignatagliata 33 was home to Isacco Lampronti (1679-1756), a Rabbi, medical doctor and philosopher who lived there. Lampronti was a preeminent figure in Ferrara’s Jewish history, he was a teacher and president of the Rabbinical Academy, and practiced the medical profession alongside his other intellectual pursuits. His name is associated with the Paḥad Yiṣḥaq (‘the Fear of Isaac’), an encyclopaedia of Talmudic laws and the subsequent responsa (answers), many of which were his or by his teachers, pupils and colleagues. The author continued to work on the book throughout his life, and had it published as an old man. The whole twenty volume collection was printed at the end of the 19th century, almost 130 years after the author’s death. We do not know which grave is Lampronti’s because for years there was Church ban on placing tombstones, and the Ferrara’s Jewish cemetery was also looted at the time. In 1872 a plaque was placed at his home in Via Vignatagliata, and in 1957, the town council added a second commemorative plaque to his house to mark the bicentenary of his death, as well as naming the small square connecting Via Vittoria and Via Vignatagliata after him. The Jewish community also placed a plaque in his memory in the main hall of the former Italian Synagogue.
A collection of ceremonial artefacts and many other items witnessing Ferrara’s Jewish history.
The Synagogue was originally built in 1603 as German rite and is currently used as the main temple for well attended ceremonies. In 1532, the Ashkenazi community had obtained permission from the Roman Catholic Apostolic Delegate to open its own place of worship. Initially it was just a room in what is now Via Vittoria but subsequently, the ecclesiastical authority ruled that it had to be within the premises of the Italian one. Thirty years previously (1573) the two had already merged. Over time, the hall repeatedly underwent renovation, as can be seen in the 1760, 1827, 1859 and 1905 plaques. Architect Ippolito Guidetti carried out the most significant refurbishment in the late 19th century when he had also begun restoration on the Italian Tempio Maggiore. Both synagogues were renovated according to a floor plan informed by the Roman Catholic liturgical space, with the tevah in front of the Aron and the public seating in rows of parallel benches. Opposite the five large windows there are square stucco panels depicting furnishing and objects of the Tabernacle. The current layout is the result of the post-war reconstruction, that took place after the Nazi-Fascist destruction. The original 17th century carved wooden Aron was saved, while the marble balustrade that enclosed the tevah was in such a state it could not be repaired, so a similar one was made rescuing parts from the Italian Temple. In addition, chairs and benches were brought from Lugo’s synagogue, closed since the 1930s.
A small Italian rite synagogue probably built between the 17th and 18th centuries, for everyday use in addition to the main synagogue. We know that it was still in use until 1943 for commemorations for the deceased, and for weekday services during the winter months. It now acts as a ‘small temple’ and is in use all year round. Along with the other halls in the community’s main building, it was ransacked and destroyed during the Second World War. Once rites resumed, the hall was renovated using 19th century furnishings from the town of Cento’s synagogue, not in use since the 1930s. The seating, tevah and the wooden portal all come from there. However, the marble inlaid Aron (1729) was already in the Fanese synagogue, arranged in a common tripartite layout, two chairs flanking the central compartment which holds the Scrolls of the Law.
The place is associated with the years under Nazi occupation, and commemorates the massacre by the SS as retaliation for the Partisan attack in Via Rasella when thirty-two German soldiers were killed. On the evening of March the 24th, 1944, three hundred and thirty-five people were rounded up from the city’s prisons – among them, seventy-five Jews – and taken to Via Ardeatina, where they were slaughtered. The underground passages were then blown up to conceal traces of the massacre and the bodies were retrieved only after the war. In the large area at the centre of the quarry stands the sculpture I Martiri (“The Martyrs”) by Francesco Coccia, made to commemorate the victims, represented by the figures of an artisan, an intellectual and a teenager, bound by the wrists (1950). An opening in the quarry wall leads to the route around the tunnels, and then to the Memorial built in 1949: it is a large tombstone, a vast cement slab held up by six pillars which covers the graves, all identical and in rows. Image attribution: antmoose, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons; Sailko, CC BY 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
The ruins of the Ostia synagogue, discovered in 1961, are a crucial piece of evidence, telling us as much about the Jewish presence in the region as they do about the most ancient Jewish diaspora organisation. The primitive section dates from the 1st century, when the port built by Emperor Claudius turned the city into a multi-ethnic trading centre. The building had many rooms, and was later renovated and enlarged, particularly in the 3rd and 4th centuries. The sanctuary was accessed through a vestibule with three entrances and an intermediate passageway with tall Corinthian columns. The tevah is thought to have been on the slightly curved wall at the back of the room; on the opposite side you can still see the 4th century apse which made up the Aron, framed by an aedicule originally with trabeated columns. Decorative bas-reliefs with traditional subjects are at the top of the projecting ledges are: the menorah, the shofar, and lulav. Additional rooms in the space near the vestibule date from later transformations, including a kitchen with an oven and sunken compartments for provisions, and a large room with benches along the walls, perhaps used as guest quarters.
The Vigna Randanini catacomb on the Via Appia is the only site currently open to visitors. The underground or hypogeal area is now accessed via a passageway which dates to the period between the 1st century B.C. and the 1st century A.D. The arcosolia (chambers with lowered vaulted ceilings) are thought to date from a later period, as is the black and white mosaic flooring. Inside the catacomb loculi or tombs arranged along the walls, and kokhim, tombs that are perpendicular to the walls of the gallery, dug just beneath the floor, typical of the Middle East. Those at Vigna Randanini are the only example of such tombs in the Roman Jewish catacombs. Along the various galleries, other burial spaces are organized into cubicula (chambers for multiple burials). Richly frescoed, only some of them show symbols from the Hebrew tradition; indeed, some of them, decorated with motifs commonly found in other Roman catacombs, originate from a period prior to their use by the Jewish community (3rd – 4th centuries), and are thought to have been incorporated after they were no longer in use.
The majestic triumphal arch is dedicated to the Emperor Titus and was constructed in the years following his death in 81 CE. The monument celebrates his victory over Jerusalem in 70 CE. and the annexation of Judaea to the Roman Empire. A depiction of the divinization of the emperor, shown flying upon an eagle can be seen at the centre of the coffered soffit. On either side of the archway are reliefs with scenes of his triumph. On one side they show the entrance of Titus, and his coronation, surrounded by allegorical figures; on the other, the procession going through the triumphal arch, carrying the spoils looted from the destroyed Temple: among them the menorah, the large seven-branched candlestick stands out. Roman Jews would always refuse to walk under this archway. It was only after the birth of the State of Israel that they crossed it, but this time in the opposite direction to that of the triumphal procession.