Many places once used as cemeteries have been identified. The first, across the Arno, at the Chiasso de’ Giudei, was replaced by a second near what is currently the Lungarno della Zecca; this in turn was supplanted by others, which were created in the Porta San Frediano area. Here in 1777 the plot was purchased on today’s Viale Ariosto, to house the new Jewish burial ground which still exists, although it is no longer in use. This was joined in 1884 by the Rifredi cemetery, designed by architect Marco Treves. When it will no longer be possible to use it, a new cemetery will be founded in the San Silvestro (Cercina) area, with its grounds designed by the architect Renzo Funaro.
“A corner of the city that’s hidden and unfamiliar even to most Florentines themselves”: such is the Jewish Monumental Cemetery, which opened in 1777 outside the gate of San Frediano and remained in use until 1870. A tall perimeter wall acts as a jealous guardian to protect, like a precious chest, a major cultural treasure. It is made up of funerary chapels and monuments, such as Cav. David Levi’s Egyptian pyramid-shaped tomb, which are timeworn yet worth visiting to discover this atmospheric place, which is emblematic of Jewish society. While there are none of the figurative works found in other Jewish cemeteries, some of the tombs are nothing short of sculptures, of considerable artistic value. Equally interesting are the funerary chapels in neo-Egyptian and neo-Renaissance style, such as that of the Franchetti family. The same styles are found in the oldest part of the Rifredi cemetery (13, Via di Caciolle), designed by Marco Treves (one of the three architects who designed the Tempio Monumentale) between 1881 and 1884. The recently-restored mortuary chapel takes the form of a central-plan temple in Renaissance style, with painted decorations on the inside. Jewish tradition does not allow for bodies to be exhumed, except in a few specific cases; generally more than one cemetery or “campaccio”, the term used to denote Jewish burial grounds, was found in each city. When the whole area had been covered by tombs, a new plot needed to be found, even though human and municipal circumstances often flouted this rule, requiring remains and tombstones to be moved elsewhere.
The Jewish Museum set up on two floors inside the Synagogue completes and enriches the visit to the monumental Synagogue. It’s an amazing collection of ancient objects of Jewish Ceremonial Art, examples of the high artistic value of the Jewish Italian culture in the field of applied arts. The museum tour retraces the history of the Jews of Florence from the first settlements to the post-war reconstruction with the help of photographic panels, videos and documentary sources.
On the first floor of the museum you will find an extraordinary exhibition from the 1981, “Friends of the Jewish Museum of Florence” which offers an historic overview of the Jewish community in Florence. Thanks to a photographic collection of documents, you will discover the history of the old ghetto and its relationship with the rest of the city.
The second-floor is dedicated to the objects and the furnishings related to the most significant events in the Jewish life, family rituals and religious festivities. One room is in memory of the Holocaust and equipped for film projections. The public can access a computer area which is linked up with the main Jewish museums and centres around the world. The second floor of the museum has limited wheelchair access: upon exiting the lift, there is a slightly sloped platform, and two flights of steps (5 and 8 steps respectively) which can be used with a chairlift (which must be operated by a companion).
The Synagogue of Florence is a great monumental building, a place of worship and integral part of the history of the city. The Synagogue was inaugurated in 1882, after the emancipation of Italian Jews and decentralized from the area of the old Jewish Ghetto which was demolished in the last decade of the 19th century. In the period in which Florence became the Capital City of the Kingdom of Italy, between 1865 and 1870, the Synagogue became a symbol of the acquired freedom characterized by its green copper dome and its façade. Inside you will feel a very impressive atmosphere typical of the oriental taste of the European monumental synagogues built in the late 19th century. Thanks to its monumental architecture, the Synagogue stands out and affirms the integration of the community within civil society, and the achievement of equal rights.
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
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.
A first exhibition space was created in 1960, and has been expanded and renewed several times since. A complete scientific overhaul ended in 2005 led to its current organisation, in the basement of the Tempio Maggiore.
The museum describes the history and nature of the Jewish presence in Rome, using testimonies and witnesses: liturgical furnishings, manuscripts, incunabula, historical documents and stone fragments. It focuses on the artistic quality and extent of the collection of ceremonial art passed down from the Cinque Scole, a collection built up over the centuries thanks to donations by families wishing to demonstrate their bond with the synagogue they belonged to.
The exhibition itinerary will take visitors through seven rooms, labelled according to their content and main themes: “La guardaroba dei tessuti” (“The fabric wardrobe”), “Da Judaei a Giudei: Roma e i suoi Ebrei” (“From the Judaei to Judeans: Rome and its Jews” – the settlement, from their origins to the establishment of the ghetto), “Feste dell’anno, feste della vita” (“Feasts of the year, feasts of life”), “I tesori delle Cinque Scole” (“The treasures of the Cinque Scole”), “Vita e Sinagoghe nel ghetto” (“Life and Synagogues in the Ghetto”), “Dall’Emancipazione a oggi” (“From Emancipation to the present day”), and “L’ebraismo libico” (“Libyan Jewry”). The outer space in front of the entrance houses the “Gallery of Antique Marbles”, with important stone artefacts dating from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, from the Cinque Scole and the Confraternities of the Ghetto.
The Museum has also an access for wheelchair users and includes a guided tour of the Tempio Maggiore and the Tempio Spagnolo.
There is a Bookshop selling books and souvenirs close to the ticket office.
A small Sephardic (Spanish) rite temple is in the basement of the Tempio Maggiore. This is a legacy of the ghetto’s Scole, where versions of this rite were observed. Originally located elsewhere, it was transferred here in 1932. The furnishings of the Cinque Scole restored and brought here In 1948.
The hall has an elongated rectangular shape and the bi-focal layout of the Ghetto Scole: the Aron and tevah face each other at the centre of opposite walls – in this case along the longer sides -, while the pews are arranged to face them.
The Aron in polychrome marble comes from Scola Nova; the original tympanum had to be removed because of the height of the ceiling, and at its sides the seats belonging to the tripartite structure of the Aron from Scola Catalana made between 1622 and 1628. The tevah comes from the Scola Castigliana: it was donated in 1851, and is the last, large marble item purposely made for the Cinque Scole.
The imposing building of Tempio Maggiore (The Great Synagogue of Rome) stands on one of the four large blocks put up after the ghetto had been demolished.
Its monumental proportions symbolize the new-found freedom and citizenship rights granted to the Roman Jewish community that had been living in the city for twenty-two centuries.
The building was designed by Vincenzo Costa and Osvaldo Armanni, and inaugurated in 1904. Their choices in style led to an eclectic architecture, with Greek-inspired elements that were felt to be in keeping with the shape of the main local monuments, a style influenced by Assyrian-Babylonian motifs .
The building has a Greek cross plan with a segmented dome above, clearly visible in every panoramic view of the city.
Inside, long rows of pews face the polygonal apse at the end of the hall where a ceremonial raised space enclosed by a balustrade connects the tevah to the Aron. The Aron stands out against a splendid polychrome background with its imposing aedicule structure, with white Assyrian-style columns, friezes and gilded arabesques, and the high tympanum culminating with the Tables of the Law.
The women’s galleries overlook three sides of the hall, and are supported by rows of columns and framed by four large central pillars holding the dome up.
Fine marble furnishings from Cinque Scole (demolished in 1908) are at the top-end of the side aisle in the Temple. The pieces date from the 16th -17th centuries.
In 1555 Pope Paul IV established the ghetto, with the papal bull “Cum nimis absurdum” (“It is truly absurd”). Nearly two thousand Jews were segregated in the unhealthy area roughly between what is now Via del Portico d’Ottavia, Piazza delle Cinque Scole and the River Tiber, which meant the ghetto was often flooded by the river. Their numbers would grow to five thousand by the 19th century.
Not much remains of the district’s original crowded and multi-tiered lay-out. When it was finally opened up in 1870, a regeneration plan for the capital city led to it being completely gutted and rebuilt into four large, modern blocks.
As far back as the 13th century, numerous groups of Jews had settled in the Sant’Angelo District, attracted by the large number of merchants and crafts in the area.
The ghetto area was enlarged in several waves, so that by the 18th century it had five entry gates. Piazza Giudea was roughly between what are now Via del Portico d’Ottavia and Piazza delle Cinque Scole; this is where the main allowed business – money lending and second hand trade, especially cloth – took place.
On Piazza delle Cinque Scole, approximately where number 37 is today, the building of the Cinque Scole once stood; it was demolished between 1908 and 1910.
The building of the Cinque Scole stood on the square by the same name, approximately where number 37 is today. It was demolished between 1908 and 1910.
According to the Papal Edicts, all the synagogues of the various Jewish congregations living in Rome had to be housed together which meant five synagogues from different traditions were brought under one roof.
The ghetto was demolished between 1886 and 1904 under the 1873 development plan of Roma Capitale. The area where it stood for three centuries is still today the heart of Jewish life in Rome.