ITALY: EMILIA-ROMAGNA: FERRARA
The Synagogue ||
History of Synagogue Building ||
Origin of Ghetto & Synagogue ||
Jewish Ghetto & City Walls ||
Cemetery || Jewish Life
Along the River Po || Jewish Life in
Ferrara on the Net
SYNAGOGUE OF FERRARA
Mazzini 95, 44100 Ferrara
Tel: 0532.247-004, 0532-210228
Rabbi: Luciano Caro
1: History of the Synagogue Building
dates back to the year 1485 when it was built on a field
donated to the community by Samuel Melli and is therefore the
most ancient synagogue in Italy still working in the place of
origin. The house, before the Second World War was
undistinguishable from the others, except for its bigger size.
Today two epigraphs are set on the side of the door reminding
the victims during the years 1943-45. In the entrance-hall a
small staircase leads to the "Fanese School", a
small synagogue of the 19th century still in use, where there
are precious pieces of furniture like the "Arעn"
in polychrome marbles and wood dating back to the 18th
century. Particularly fine is also the elegant door, coming
from the synagogue of Cento.
From the courtyard, where there are the pillars used for the
celebration of "Succעt" (of the huts), starts the
main staircase, with plates reminding illustrious people of the
community. Upstairs there is the German School, still in use, that
in the past was the Aschenazite Synagogue. Inside there is a 17th
century altar decorated with a floral motif and stucco decorations
on the walls dating back to the 19th century. Above the entrance a
grating protects the Women's Gallery, no more in use, but visitable.
Another flight of stairs leads to the halls where there was the
Rabbinical Court and the great hall of the Italian School, no more
in use. All these rooms have memorial tablets and furniture saved
from the destructions of the nazifascists: some pieces of furniture
are original of this building, other come from places of worship
which don't exist any more. For instance the "Spanish
school", that was located in the nearby Vittoria street.
The building of the synagogues houses the Jewish Museum.
Commune of Ferrara
2: The Ghetto and the Synagogue
|The origins of the Jewish community
in Ferrara are very ancient and the city boasts a tradition of
religious diversity. Many groups of Jews, driven out of their native
countries - Spain (1492), Portugal (1498) and Germany (1530) - were
welcomed by the Este family. They settled in Ferrara and created a
strong and well-organised community. The ghetto was set up in 1627 by
the papal government which, after the devolution of 1598, ended the
previously liberal policy. The area set aside included the present Via
Mazzini, Via Vignatagliata and Via Vittoria.
At no. 95 on Via Mazzini the building of the Synagogues still stands,
donated to the Jewish community in 1485 by Ser Samuel Melli and
recognisable by the stones which recall the massacres of the Second
commune of Ferrara
3: A Stroll Through Ferrara's Jewish Ghetto and the City Walls
|by Marcello Parmeggiani, October 2001
centre of Ferrara, with its narrow winding streets is
perfect for a walk. Our tour today starts from Piazza Trento Trieste
and takes us along the side of the magnificent Cathedral towards the
Jewish ghetto, where the Jews lived in segregation from the rest of
the city from 1627 to 1859. Our first stop is in Via Mazzini, in
the heart of the ghetto and home of Ferrara's
Jewish Museum. You can visit the museum any morning between Sunday
and Thursday (guided tours only).
The inscriptions outside the museum pay tribute to those who died in
the Holocaust, a sharp contrast to the tolerance of the Estense
family who had welcomed the Jews with open arms some 500 years
The Jewish Cemetery: Leaving Via Mazzini (once Via dei
Sabbioni) behind we head for Via Vignatagliata and then on towards Via
delle Vigne and its atmospheric old graveyard "The Jewish
Garden" (Orto degli Ebrei). Ring the bell to visit, the
cemetery is open every day except Saturday.
we can walk along the city walls, built
at the end of the 1400s by Biagio Rossetti to defend Ferrara
against the Venetians. The walls run for almost 9 kms and make for a
most pleasant stroll or cycle.
Look out for Porta degli Angeli, the door through which the
last Duke of Ferrara passed before the city fell under papal rule.
You'll also notice four monumental ramparts between San Giorgio and
Porta Paola which, along with innumerable other treasures, helped
put Ferrara on UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1995.
Ghetto and the City Wall
THE JEWISH MUSEUM
Via Mazzini, 95 - 44100 Ferrara
Open: only guided tours from Sunday - Thursday at 10.00-11.00-12.00
Sunday also at 14.00-15.00-16:00
Admission: 7,000 lira Concession: 5,000 (students 3,000 lira)
For groups admission by
prior arrangement Group visits must be booked:
|The museum is part of a
tour including the visit to three synagogues. It is housed in four
halls and keeps silverware, fabrics, furniture, documents, and other
objects dating back to the 18th-century onwards. Eight showcases
exhibit a series of objects and pictures concerning the major Jewish
community's feast-days. Remarkable exhibits: The Scrolls of the Law,
and the great candlestick used in the Temple during the feasts of the
lights. Two rooms, recently opened, illustate the history of the
Jewish community of Ferrara through documents dating from the
15th-century up to the deportation during the Second World War. Of
particular interest are the "keys" of the Temple which were
used to close the doors of the Jewish ghetto and some 18th-century
publications by Isacco Lampronti.
|The Jewish Museum of
Ferrara is located on the last floor of the building of the
Synagogues. In the first room there are objects of different periods,
divided according to the different periods of the Jewish religious
life: particularly interesting a ceremonial silver plate used in
redeeming the first born ("Pidiעn"), and a set for
circumcision, with all the metallic objects and the small clothes for
the newborn. In a show-case there is one of the peculiar
"seals" which the Jewish in Ferrara used to mark the grave
to avoid the stealing of corpses for the University. On one side of
the room there is a reconstruction of a small temple, with precious
furniture like a form dating back to the 15th century and a polychrome
carved "Arעn" coming from Cento.
In the centre of the second room there are eight show-cases each one
representing one of the main Jewish festivities and containing objects
and images related to each specific solemnity; all around one can
admire metallic objects (most of them in silver) of exquisite
workmanship. The most numerous are those used to decorate the Scrolls
of the Law when they are laid in the Arעn: crowns ("Atarעth"),
decorations for the Torah scrolls ("Rimmonלm") and
plates ("Tas"). A Hanukkah lamp is still used in the Temple
during the celebrations of "Hannukkא" (Feast of
lights). On a wall there is the representation of the Easter Supper
("Sטder"), a work in mixed technique by Luzzato.
The two last rooms display objects related to the life of the Jewish
community of Ferrara, from the old past until nowadays. Not to be
missed: the keys of the Ghetto, once used to close the gates of the
Jewish quarter, the original 18th-century editions of the work of
Isacco Lampronti, great Ferrarese physician and talmudist, and,
finally, two books published by Abraham Usque, one of the main Jewish
typographers of the Renaissance in Ferrara. The guided tour of the
Museum includes the visit to the three "schools" or
synagogues and to the women's gallery of the German Temple.
Commune of Ferrara
Via della Vigna 22, Ferrara
4: Jewish Life Along the River Po
FERRARA, Italy - Between the
mountains of Northern Italy and the enchanting Tuscany region, the
River Po makes its way towards the Adriatic Sea, ending up in a
majestic delta south of Venice.
up along its meandering course are the "golden towns" of
the Po Valley: Cremona, resounding with the sweet sounds of the
Stradivarius violins; Parma, the favourite adopted home of Verdi;
Mantova, of Rigoletto and Virgil fame; Padova, the site of one of
Europe's oldest universities; and finally Ferrara, at one time
rivaling mighty Venice herself: a town of art, magnificent palaces,
shaded alleys and fair gardens, with a rich history and a bustling
husband, Robert, a travel photographer, and I arrived in Ferrara on
a bright spring day. We proceeded to visit the requisite tourist
sites, starting with the imposing 14th century Estense Castle, of
the Este family, its red walls dominating Ferrara's medieval city on
one side and its Renaissance counterpart on the other, and
surrounded by 500-year-old city walls and huge parks and golf
vibrant and attractive town of about 133,000 people, Ferrara is also
the site of one of Italy's most important medieval Jewish
communities. As we made our way through the cobblestoned streets, we
noticed signs of the town's Jewish past. The elegant 12th century
Romanesque Gothic cathedral dedicated to St. George had two discreet
Magen Davids on its facade, so discreet, in fact, that even our
local tour guide was surprised by my noticing them. Perhaps, we
thought, a Jewish artisan had left his secret imprint upon this very
Catholic structure. (I have seen similar "signatures" in
Spanish cathedrals, left there by converso artisans, most notably in
across from the cathedral, we faced the statue of the Duke Borso
d'Este, whose column had been built from the tombstones of the two
Jewish cemeteries; images of the original Hebrew inscriptions are
kept in the archives of the Jewish Museum of Ferrara.
through the Piazza delle Erbe - the medieval herb market - we
stepped right into the old Jewish ghetto, within the triangle formed
by the current Via Mazzini, Via San Romano and Via Vittoria, a maze
of narrow alleys and medieval houses.
about 1100 CE, the story of Ferrara was closely intertwined with
that of its Jewish community. First settling next to the fortified
walls, the ever-growing community soon moved into the heart of the
centuries, Ferrara was at the confluence of three Jewish immigration
currents: from Rome, from Germany and from Spain; in 1492, Ercole I
d'Este invited the Sephardi Jews expelled from Spain, thus acquiring
for his city the advantages of the Sephardi culture.
Jews fared much better in Italy than in the rest of Europe and,
accordingly, Jews in the Ferrara community were represented in a
wide range of occupations, including such famous individuals as
Abramo Usque, who produced the Ferrara Bible, and Isacco Lampronti
di Ferrara, who wrote the famous talmudic encyclopedia Pahad Izchak.
1627 and 1859, the Ferrara Jews were restricted to the ghetto, a
self-sufficient small town within the larger one. With a population
of about 1,800, the ghetto had its synagogues, schools and old age
1848, King Carlo Alberto proclaimed the emancipation of the Italian
Jews, granting them equal rights. The gates of the ghettos were
opened - Rome being the last one in 1871 - and the Jews assumed
their "rightful place" in society. Within the next
century, the Ferrara community produced its own luminaries, such as
Joseph Bassani who lived in, and wrote about, Ferrara.
the old ghetto area, with its small attractive stores and
refurbished colourful houses, is an essential part of the itinerary
of all guided tours.
had the honour of receiving a personal guided tour of the Ferrara
synagogue - an unassuming three story building with green shutters
and an arched doorway flanked by two large commemorative plaques -
from the leader of the Jewish community, Rabbi Luciano Caro. Though
we had arrived just as the rabbi was leaving, he invited us in and
shared with us - in the common language of Hebrew - its and the
synagogue building, which was donated to the community in 1485,
included three congregations: Italian, Ashkenazi and Sephardi. The
Italian synagogue was destroyed in 1944 by the fascists; once a Beit
Knesset Hagadol, it is now used for festivities and special
building, or rather the complex of buildings, includes the Jewish
Museum, which offers general community information as well as guided
tours of the synagogue and the ghetto.
the war, the building was not deemed worthy of restoring as the
community had shrunk considerably. People had left over the years,
looking for work elsewhere, and after the Holocaust took its heavy
toll, few people returned. Currently, there are about 100 Jews in
Ferrara, mostly older people.
Caro led us to the building's second floor, where a small synagogue
is open for regular services, and also serves as a school for the
five or six Jewish children in the town.
then led us up and down a few flights of stairs to the former
Ashkenazi synagogue. Beautifully kept, with polished wooden benches
and gleaming brass candelabra, the synagogue is used only for the
High Holy Days. An old plaque on the wall, dated 1652, states that
the community had to pay the church a certain amount of monies each
year, otherwise they would be chased away.
was a famous and large community," Rabbi Caro said. A "travelling"
rabbi, he is in Ferrara three days a week, from Friday to Sunday,
providing religious services on Shabbat, as well as instruction for
the young people, and whatever else the community needs. He also
conducts services in Parma and Mantova.
we said our goodbyes to Rabbi Caro and had a last look at the
synagogue, I thought of the two Magen Davids gracing the cathedral.
Yes, the Jewish community of Ferrara must have been truly a notable
information on Ferrara: Comune di Ferrara, Corso Giovecca 23,
Ferrara, Italy, phone: 37-0532-209370, fax: 37-0532-212266.
Jewish News - August 2, 2001
5: Jewish life in Ferrara
1485 the building in Via Mazzini has been the centre of
Jewish life in Ferrara.
At that time the Jews had no permanent place of worship.
Such a place was provided by (Mes) ser Mele (Melli), from
Rome, son of Salomone, who had moved from Mantua to the
Estensi court in Ferrara as a financier.
Having no children, this benefactor dicided to spend his
entire wealth (1,000 ducats) to purchase the building in via
Mazzini (once called via Sabbioni).
Upon his death the building was willed "forever for the
common use of the Jews".
then the building, with in three synagogues - the Scola
Tedesca and the Scola Fanese which are still operative and
the Scola Italiana - has beeb the focal point for the Jews'
life in Ferrara.
stone plaque recalls Samuel (Mes) ser Mele (Melli) from
in 1485, he willed the building to the Jews of Ferrara
today houses the three synagogues and the museum.
Tedesca (German School)
The Women's Gallery
is the most important synagogue in the building and is still
used for all the most important holidays. The stucco
decorations on the walls were probably the work of Gaetano
Davia, the author of the decorations in the Municipal
Theatre in Ferrara. The Seventeeth Century altar is
decorated with a floral motif.
הוקם בה בית
לשאת את אות
שונים. בשנת 1997
FERRARA ON THE NET: