No trip to Italy is complete without a visit to Italy's cultural source par excellence - Florence. Besides the well-noted familiar stops on a visit to this historic city, such as the Uffizi museum and the Duomo, our Jewish itinerary takes you off the traditional tourist's path to explore the lasting impact that the Jewish community left on this city.
There are numerous sites to visit here which document Jewish presence in the Florentine area from Roman times to the present. Some more notable include: the imposing Emancipation-era temple, the one-time Jewish ghetto, cemeteries, the spectacular Moorish style synagogue and the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenzian, among many other historic landmarks.
Although the Jewish sacred patrimony of Florence suffered serious losses due to Nazi occupation during WWII and the flood of 1966, Jewish cultural history remains a precious jewel for visitors to Florence to appreciate and complements the richness of a traditional Florentine tour. Jewish presence here can be witnessed first-hand in the two Jewish cemeteries, the Moorish-style synagogue, the streets marking the old ghetto, and the museums and libraries which showcase Jewish culture. Of these, don't miss the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenzian for its medieval renaissance manuscripts!
Jewish presence in Florence has been traced back to Roman times. In the 1430's, the Medici family officially invited Jews to the city to act as moneylenders. At that time, Jews lived opposite the city center, across the Arno River which divides the city. While life for the community of Florence was relatively easy under the Medici family, this all changed in 1570 when Cosimo de' Medici agreed to create ghettos in Florence and Siena in order to gain the title of Grand Duke from Pope Pius V. The establishment of the ghetto in Florence would mark a long period of confinement for Jewish Florentines which would continue even when the city passed under the House of Lorraine, and would only end in 1848 with emancipation.
Historically, the Golden age for the Jewish community of Florence was in the late 19th and early 20th century when the Jewish ghetto was razed after 300 years of segregation. In 1899 the community here numbered 2,700. The Rabbinical college in Florence attracted Jewish intellectuals from all over the peninsula. Over the years, it was responsible for several Jewish newspapers and magazines including the Rassegna Mensile d’Israele, which is still in publication, although its offices have now relocated to Padua.