Italy 24: Florence (Part 6)

The Great Synagogue of Florence

May 25, 2019

Image by Toksave, published under Creative Commons licence

The Great Synagogue (Tempio Maggiore) of Florence, built between 1874 and 1882, is a magnificent building located not far from the major museums of the city, which is appropriate as it houses an extensive museum on its upper floor. The style of the building is Italian and Moorish Revival but signage at the synagogue indicates that it is also known as “of the Emancipation” as it “was designed as an independent building and is not disguised as something else, as happened in the ghettoes.” The lovely pink and beige colours of the travertine and granite that dapple the building used to be darker – were, in fact, once red and beige.

The domes of the synagogue were familiar to Separdhic Jewry, of which the Florentine community primarily consisted, which had its origins in Berber Moorish Spain. The domes, finished in copper now oxidized to green, stand out against the skyline. (Note: I am grateful to the photographers whose photos are posted for public use on Wikipedia. They make it possible for me to show these two angles on the synagogue that we were not able to capture ourselves. If you click on the images you can see the source photos.)

These are the photos we did take of the exterior:

The interior of the synagogue is wonderfully ornate. (Click on images to see them better.) “During World War II, Nazi soldiers occupied the synagogue and they used that as a storehouse. In August 1944 retreating German troops worked with Italian Fascists to lay explosives to destroy the synagogue. However, Italian resistance fighters managed to defuse most of the explosives and only a limited amount of damage was done. What damage was done was restored after the war. The synagogue was restored yet again after damage from the flood of the River Arno in 1966.” (Wikipedia)

Wikipedia also tells us that “The Jewish community in Florence is composed of about 1,400 people. However, it has a long history which reaches back to the medieval era. In addition, there was a nearby Jewish community in the Oltrarno area, south of the Arno river , that dates to the Roman era. It is thought that the first synagogue was probably built in the 13th century.”

The Jewish Museum of Florence, opened in 1987, is located on the second floor of the synagogue. We were not allowed to take photos, but you can see some of the lovely pieces on the Museums of Florence website. We spent quite a bit of time admiring the “kiddush cups, prayer shawls, silver ornaments and embroidered vestments dating from the 16th to the twentieth century, with illustrative panels of the community’s history, together with a carved model of the old ghetto and along with a pictorial display which is occasionally changed.”

The names of 248 Florentine deportees are listed on this plaque.

It was as much a reminder of the history of the Jews as it was a sign of the times that the synagogue was guarded by soldiers with rifles, and the process for being admitted to the grounds was very strict and thorough –involving passports, metal gates, and lockers for bags and coats.

We were sorry to have already eaten lunch when we saw this inviting spot, just beyond the grounds of the synagogue. Next time. (Where have I heard that before?)

4 responses to “Italy 24: Florence (Part 6)

  1. Caterina Edwards

    Hi Mary,

    i tried to post a comment on your blog site. I filled in name/gmail/ and the URL of my website. But it kept saying to fill in the URL This has happened before on your site. Basically I can’t seem to post a comment.

    Anyway, I wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your blogs. I didn’t know about this synagogue in Florence. Seeing the pictures and hearing about the history was fascinating. Also I complained – as I have repeatedly – about not knowing when I will be able to go to Italy again. And how hard it has been not being able to go on the book tour of Italy that stretched from Bari to Torino. It was supposed to be this month and was to publicize the Italian edition of Finding Rosa.

    Caterina

    Caterina Edwards caterinaedwards@gmail.com http://www.caterinaedwards.com

    >

    • This post worked, but I am so sorry you’ve had difficulty. I will investigate. And I am soooo sorry about your book tour. So many wonderful events have been impacted, and who knows for how long? My thoughts are with you.

  2. Daniel K. Riskin

    Fun stuff. I hadn’t thought about Jews there.

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