Italy / Emilia-Romagna


Bologna’s ghetto second door © Wikimedia Commons (GFreihalter)

The first Jewish presence in Bologna is attested in an Epistle by Ambrose, Bishop of Milan towards the end of the fourth century. The former Jewish quarter of Bologna lies near the famous Due Torri, in the area marked today by Via Zamboni and Via Oberdan. It consists of a warren of small streets whose eloquent names such as Via del Giudei or Via dell’Inferno evoke the neighborhood’s Jewish past. The ghetto was established in May 1556, just after that of Rome, with the edict of Pope Paul IV, and as in the Eternal City, the Jews were forced to wear a distinguishing mark so they could be easily identified and shut up in the ghetto at night. As authorized by the papal edict, only one synagogue was permitted to remain in operation; this synagogue was probably located at number 16 on Via dell’Inferno. Before this time, especially in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the flourishing community boasted eleven synagogues, and Bologna possessed a renowned, rabbinical academy. The Jewish printing houses of the city were famous. Examples include those of the Montero family and Abraham ben Haim of the Tintori family, whose presses produced in 1482 the first printed version of the Pentateuch with commentaries by Rashi. The first expulsion of Jews from the city took place in 1569, several years after the establishment of the ghetto. They returned, in 1586, only to be banished again in 1593. There was no real Jewish presence in the city again until after the emancipation.

Ghetto entrance © Wikimedia Commons (Zorro2212)

The ghetto

The ghetto included two large arteries: Strada San Donato (today’s Via Zamboni) and Via Cavaliera (today’s Via Oberdan), which provided four large doors that served as access points. The first door was at the beginning of Via dei Giudei (“from San Marco to Porta Ravegnana”): the second, at the point in which Via del Carro leads into Strada San Donato (Via Zamboni), “at the Manzoli’s home”, and a third, in what is currently Piazzetta San Simone that opens onto Via Cavaliera (Via Oberdan), “at the Bevilacqua’s home”. Today one can still walk these streets and get a sense of the area that made up the ghetto, but the only access point that is still visible is the second one: a door under the large vaulted roof built in the early 1700s, which connects the Manzoli-Malvasia building with the little  church of San Donato.

The Jewish cemetery and the tombstones of Via Orfeo

The Jewish cemetery is part of the city’s “Certosa” and is accessed through the church in  Via della Certosa. This burial ground dates back to the second half of the 1800s.

The Medieval Civic Museum preserves four headstones in its collection that bear witness to the existence of the old cemetery in Via Orfeo. The headstones are large, finely decorated and engraved in the renaissance style. The oldest is dated 1508 and displays the name of Avraham Yaghel da Fano. The back of the final headstone carries a funeral inscription in memory of Rinaldo dei Duglioli who died in 1571.

Palazzo Bocchi

Palazzo Bocchi takes the name of a renowned literary scholar from the Bolognese University Achille Bocchi (1488 – 1562).  The building was built between 1545 and 1565 by Jacopo Barozzi and Sebastiano Serlio and is a typical example of the Renaissance architecture. Bocchi was the founder of the literary academy “Ermatema” and Palazzo Bocchi was used as its headquarters.
Bocchi had two inscriptions affixed to the outside of the building, one in Hebrew from Psalm 120 and the other from the epistle by Horatio (Epi. 1.1.61). The text in Hebrew on the left side of the building means “O Lord, deliver my soul from the wicked lips and deceitful toungue”. The text in Latin on the right means “You shall be king, they say, if you act righteously”.
Those two sentences were meant to illustrate the philosophical principles of the academy.
Somebody lateron carved Greek crosses on the epigraphs over the Hebrew writing of the name of God and over the word “King” in the latin text. People believe that it was done by the Inquisition as a warning to the academy for its interest in Judaism.

The synagogue

A small oratory was founded by Angelo Carpi in his house in 1829. In 1868, the expanding community rented a room in a building on Gombruti street. Between 1874 and 1877, a bigger prayer house was put in place in the same building, on Finzi’s street side. It opened officially as a  synagogue in 1928. It was destroyed in an air raid in 1943 and rebuilt in 1953. In January 2017, a new synagogue and a  community center opened in the same building.

Shoah memorial © Simone Bossi

The Jewish Museum 

The Jewish Museum is housed in the Palazzo Pannolini, named after the family of wool producers and textile merchants that lived here in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. This modern museum, opened in 1999, permits the visitor to experience the history of the Jewish people since their origins by following an indicated route through numerous multimedia and video presentations. Several rooms are dedicated to life of the Jewish community in Emilia-Romagna, traces of which have been uncovered in twenty-six urban centers of the region. The other rooms are centered on the history of Bolognese Jews. Worship centers are still active in five cities of Emilia-Romagna, including Bologna, Ferrara, Modena, Parma, and Soragna.

The Shoah memorial

Built in less than 2 months and inaugurated on January 27th, 2016,  Bologna’s Shoah memorial can be found at the corner of Via dé Carracci and Ponte Matteotti. Two steel rectangles are facing one another. Between them, a path which starts with a width of 160 cm, and narrows down to 80 cm, to create a feeling of oppression. The inside of the monuments reminds of the Auschwitz’s dormitories. The ground is in ballast, the types of rocks made by Auschwitz’s prisoners. The choice of steel, which alters and changes with time is deliberated.

Source : Bologna’s Jewish Community