On this itinerary, we accompany visitors to sites linked to the culture and memory of the Jewish people in Romagna.
Ancient quarters, ghettoes, cemeteries and synagogues bear witness to the long history of a Jewish presence in Romagna. They remind us of a past that is both ancient and also more recent.
There is evidence of the presence of a Jewish population in our territory from as early as the 13th century. Jews experienced long periods of peaceful coexistence and tolerance, prospering in trade and commerce, whilst maintaining their religious traditions.
When Pope Paul IV imposed the establishment of closed quarters for Jews in 1555, the era of the ghettos began. The end of discrimination and ghetto life came about prior to the Napoleonic era and then finally ended in 1860, when Jews were reintegrated into civil and religious law.
Ferrara is an unmissable destination for all lovers of art, culture, nature and good food. Unsurprisingly, it is one of the cities in Emilia-Romagna that has been afforded UNESCO World Heritage status.
There are many places to visit in this fascinating city, which was once governed by the Este family. However, our itinerary focuses on the Jewish community, which has ancient origins here. The city retains many traces of its past history – from the period of greatest prosperity under the Este family, to the period of segregation in the ghetto quarter during Papal rule and the Fascist era.
This period in history is recalled and reflected in the former synagogue (which now houses the Jewish Museum) and the cemetery, with its large lawned garden; still in use today, it is the oldest in Emilia-Romagna.
Evidence of the presence of a Jewish community in Ferrara can also be found in the mediaeval quarter, where the ghetto where the community was segregated from 1627 until the Unification of Italy can be found. Its main road was Via Mazzini, where the historical shops and old buildings have maintained their original structure.
Finally, we must conclude the first stop on our itinerary at MEIS, the National Museum of Italian Judaism and the Shoah. Not far from the former ghetto, it is housed in a complex that was once the city’s prison.
The aim MEIS has set itself is not only to bear witness to some of the most painful events experienced by Italian Jewish communities, but above all, to narrate the history, thoughts and culture of Italian Judaism.
In the museum, the itinerary in the Garden of Questions is particularly interesting. It is an environmentally-friendly itinerary that helps visitors learn more about biblical plants and understand the rules of Kashrut - in other words, the Jewish dietary laws - with particular focus on the use of meat, milk, fish and eggs.
The garden thus helps the public to appreciate Jewish culture through its smells and flavours. It also answers certain, fairly common questions – for example, the reasons Jews do not eat pork – and forces visitors to reflect on the differences, as well as the many similarities, with other traditions.
Cento, the city of porticoes, stands on the border of 3 provinces: it is a place where the traditions of Ferrara, Bologna and Modena blend harmoniously.
The Jewish presence in the town dates back to the late 14th century, but it was under the Este family that it flourished. However, from the 17th century the local community began to decline gradually, leading it to merge with the Jewish community in Ferrara in the early 20th century.
What remains to bear witness to this significant presence are the ghetto and the cemetery.
To this day, the area of the ancient ghetto is clearly marked out, following the laws issued in the 17th century to govern the presence of Jews in the town.
Now completely restored, it is a small group of houses overlooking three connected courtyards – the central one adorned with small and pretty 18th-century balconies.
These dwellings had intercommunicating passageways that not only linked them to each other, but also to the synagogue which, until the 1930s, was still functioning and had many illustrious rabbis over the years.
The presence of a Jewish cemetery is documented from as early as the late 17th century and this was followed by construction of the present one in 1818. Visitors to this site are encouraged to discover more about the age-old history of this important “minority” that for centuries enjoyed a climate of dialogue and peaceful tolerance with the community of Cento.
Although Cento has not had an organised Jewish community for many years, the local community became extinct due to “natural” causes, not due to any form of intolerance or violence.
After many years, the descendants of the “Jews of Cento”, still had a close and affectionate bond with the town, as testified by Jews from Cento taking part in the Risorgimento movement or the empathetic actions of the people of Cento and local Jews to help and protect each other on the long night in 1943 that marked the arrival of Fascists.
From the Province of Ferrara, we make our way to the Province of Ravenna and the town of Lugo, home until the Second World War of a significant Jewish community.
One of the reasons the small town boasted a large concentration of Jews was also because it regularly held important markets and trade fairs, which meant large flows of money were circulating.
Material evidence of this presence is confirmed by a plaque dated 1285 and situated in the local Jewish cemetery, considered the oldest in our region.
Between 1635 and 1638, Jews living in Lugo were confined to the final stretch of Via Sant’Agostino (now Corso Matteotti). As was common in all ghettoes, the two entrances to the quarter had large gates that closed when the Ave Maria was rung in the evening and did not open until it was rung again in the morning. During the night, these entrances were monitored by Christian guards.
A short distance from the old town, in Via di Giù, is the Jewish cemetery, which bears witness to a large local Jewish community present here from the 16th to the 20th century.
The current cemetery was founded in 1877 after an initial burial site was dismantled. Situated close to the gates to the ghetto, it narrates almost 5 centuries of history.
The distinctive feature to note here is the lapidarium; originally from the first cemetery, it boasts 34 stone sepulchral pillars and 3 memorial stones, which do not correspond to burials, and is situated close to the boundary walls.
This delightful mediaeval village stands on a hill that affords magnificent panoramic views of the sea and the plains of Romagna. For this reason, the village has earned itself the name of “the Balcony of Romagna”, although it is also known as the “City of Wine” and the “City of Hospitality”.
Details of a Jewish community settling in Bertinoro date from the end of the 14th century. Today, traces of its existence and history remain in the Jewish quarter, known as “Giudecca” or “Ghetto”.
In the old town centre stands the house that is the symbol of the quarter. In the early 15th century, it was home to the Portuguese Jewish poet, physician and philosopher Leo the Hebrew.
This stone building bears a plaque that indicates the parts of the town Jews were allowed to live in and several terracotta tiles that reproduce a Ner Tamid lamp (eternal light) and a cornucopia (horn of plenty).