There are many places on Bologna's Jewish itinerary where the community left its mark in extraordinary ways. Of these, the recently restored ghetto area is an important stop. One door is still visible in the historic center between the two towers: Torre degli Asinelli and Torre della Garsenda. Here you can find craft shops with Jewish prints and other hints of new life in the old Jewish neighborhood. It's a story of persistence for the Jewish people.
At 16, Via dell'Inferno one can still admire the façade of the only synagogue in the ghetto. Also of note for visitors on this historic tour is the 19th century synagogue at 9, via dei Gombruti with its Rose window of the Star of David. The prayer room is still in use today for the current 200 members of the community.
The Jewish cemetery dates back to the second half of the 19th century but original 16th century tombstones can be found in the city's Civic Medieval Museum. Bologna's Jewish museum was opened in 1999 at 1, Via Valdonica, and highlights the Jewish cultural revival in this area. The museum celebrates Jewish history including Jewish people, Italian Jews, and the Jewish history of the region. There is also a bookstore and kosher store.
Elements of the rich Jewish culture of Bologna are also preserved in the University library, the city library, and the Archiginnasio.
Jewish history in Bologna starts in the 14th century with the arrival of Jews who worked as merchants and cloth dealers and belonged to the "Guild of Drapers, cloth merchants, pitch-workers, titleless, and Jews." In 1504 the city passed to Papal rule, and by 1566 the church had set up the city's ghetto, forcing the Jewish population to live within its walls. In 1569, the first Expulsion Decree sent Jews out of the city. At that time the Jewish cemetery was expropriated and the tombstones destroyed. Jews returned to the city in 1584, but were expelled once again in 1593, this time for a long while. When Napoleon's army arrived in Bologna in 1797, Jews returned triumphantly to the city.
In 1858, the Pope ordered a 6-year old Jewish boy to be kidnapped from his home after rumors that the boy had been sick, and, on the verge of death, had been baptized Christian by his Christian nurse. This news was enough for the church authorities to agree that he should be raised Christian. His parents tried in vain to get the boy back but met him only much later when he had become an ordained priest. While this particular story shocked the community, it was not an isolated case, and highlighted a need for an organized community, and, in part at least, led to the formation of the Association of Jews in 1864. It was then that the community built a large synagogue in 1877 in the 17th century Palazzo Dei Gombruti where it remains today. In 1943 the Jews of Bologna were also impacted by the racial laws and 84 were deported. The community was rebuilt after Italy’s liberation and currently has 200 members.