Monday, July 1, 2013

Florence’s Synagogue

High above the red roofs of Florence there is a large green dome that dominates the skyline to the East of the historic center. This is the city’s synagogue, built between 1874 and 1882 thanks to the large donation left by David Levi, president of the Hebrew University, to construct a place of worship for Florentine Jews, "worthy of the Renaissance city". The project and its realization were a tribute to Florence’s progressive nature at the time, with the joint effort of both Christian and Jewish architects resulting in an impressive example of eclectic architecture that reflected a variety of styles: Moorish, Byzantine, Arab, and Florentine – fused to create a unique and beautiful building.

The history of the Jewish community in Florence probably dates as far back as the Romans. Initially they lived in the area between the Ponte Vecchio and Piazza Passera. However, in 1571, Cosimo I commissioned the construction of a Jewish ghetto in the area near the old market (now Piazza della Repubblica). It was not until 1848 that the ghetto was opened, and only in 1870, with the unification of Italy, was it finally demolished. This event led the Jewish community to look for a place to build their synagogue and a plot of land was chosen in the Mattonaia quarter, a new area of the city between Piazza D’Azeglio and Piazza Sant’Ambrogio where expansion was in full force at the end of the 19th century.

Today, the synagogue remains an active religious and cultural center for the Florentine community. It represents one of the most beautiful Jewish temples in Europe and is very much worth a visit, both from an artistic and a historic point of view. There is also a museum where you can learn about the history of Florentine Jews and view religious artefacts dating back from the 1600s.


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