HISTORICAL HINTS of JEWISH ROME
The Jewish community in Rome is known to be the oldest Jewish community in Europe and also one the oldest continuous Jewish settlements in the western world, dating back to the 2C BC.
The Roman Jewish community has been always present ever since in different political, social and economic context. Today, a community of 15,000 Jews lives in Rome.
JEWISH ROME: tourist sites for groups and schools
a) The ghetto. In 1555, Pope Paul IV decreed that all Jews must be segregated into their own quarters (ghettos), and they were forbidden to leave their home during the night, were banned from all but the most strenuous occupations and had to wear a distinctive badge - a yellow scarf.
The chosen area for the segregation of the Jews was a section of S. Angelo quarter, for several centuries inhabited by many members of the Jewish community.
In the area of the ghetto we find the Great Synagogue of Rome, which was built from 1901-1904 after the emancipation of the Italian Jews following Italy’s unification. It has a unique Persian and Babylonian architectural design that contrasts with the rest of the city. Inside the Synagogue, a Museum describes the history of the Roman Jews.
b) Medieval Synagogue in Trastevere. The synagogue is situated in Athlet Vicolo, in Trastevere quarter, where there was the largest concentration of Jews in Rome from the first arrivals (2C BC) until the 16C, when the whole community was obliged to move in the Ghetto.
It has been identified by many scholars as a synagogue founded by Nathan ben Jachiel (1035-1106), the famous lexicographer, a profound scholar of Talmud.
This medieval building is presently a private house and bears the street numbers 13-14. On the central supporting column of the arches of the faced sever Hebrew characters are still visible.
c) Synagogue of Ostia Antica. Among the places worth visiting is Ostia Antica, the ancient seaport near Rome.
At the peak of its story (between the 1C and the 4C), about 3.000 Jews used to live in town. During the 1C was founded the largest synagogue discovered in the western world and which is among the oldest in Europe.
The synagogue grows over an area of 850 sq.m., and consists of a prayer hall and other rooms furnished with a marble table, an oven for unleavened bread, a well and a bath, perhaps for ritual washing (mikvč) and a marble-topped table decorated with menorahs. Next to this room is one that includes benches that might have been used as beds by travelling merchants.
d) S. Pietro in Vincoli. The ancient basilica built by the empress Eudossia in the 4C to preserve the chains of St. Peter, shows superb works of art.
The most famous is the tomb of Pope Julius II, created by Michelangelo Buonarroti. The centre of the monument shows one of the masterpieces of the artist, the imposing statue of the prophet Moses, sided by the statues of Lia and Rachel. The monument was carried out in different moments of Michelangelo’s career, and is unanimously considered the highest point in the life of the master as a sculptor.
e) The Colosseum. The Flavius Amphitheatre was built by the emperor Vespasian between 72 and 80 AD. It has been used for over four centuries to display gladiator’s fights and hunts of wild beasts.
It could accommodate over 50.000 people, who attended the games divided according to their social level and protected by the shadow of the big moveable canvas awning.
According to the tradition, most part of the slaves used for the huge work, as the money spent for the construction came from the loot of the Jewish war, which ended few years before.
f) Roman Forum. The marsh between the Palatine and the Capitoline hills became soon, once drained, the political and economical centre of Rome. It was transformed in the monumental display of the imperial power and still shows the traces of the past splendour.
Remarkable are the arch of Septimius Severus, the Senate house, the temple of Antoninus and Faustina, the basilica of Massentius and the arch of Titus, this latter fundamental image of the Jewish history. The base relief depicts Jewish slaves carrying loot from the Temple - the Menorah, the Shulchan and silver Trumpets.
g) Mamertinum Prison and the Imperial Forums. In this ancient dungeon, also named Tullianum, and now surmounted by the church of St. Joseph of the Carpenters, the most important prisoners were detained before the execution.
Among them, the kings Vercingetoix and Iugurtha, the leaders of the Jewish revolt against the Romans and, according to the Christian tradition, the apostles Peter and Paul.
Along the Imperial Forums avenue we observe the remains of the monumental buildings erected by the emperors Vespasian, Nerva, Trajan (imposing is the column dedicated to him) Augustus and the dictator Julius Caesar.
Under the rule of the latter two, the roman Jews received special legal and religious privileges.
Many of the Christian churches offer magnificent artwork that contain biblical subjects and themes.
h) Historical Museum of Rome’s Liberation. It has been established in 1957 in the building of via Tasso, which has been used by the German SS headquarter.
Many members of the Resistance, also Jews, were detained there. From here where taken many persons killed at the Fosse Ardeatine.
i) Sistine Chapel. The court chapel of the Vatican palace was built by pope Sixtus IV (hence the name).
It was decorated on the walls by great artists (among the others Perugino, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, and Signorelli) with the stories of Moses and Jesus, and was inaugurated in 1483.
The imposing ceiling was painted by Michelangelo Buonarroti between 1508 and 1512 and stands possibly as the highest masterpiece of the Italian art history. Famous are the images of the Old Testament and the characters of the Prophets and the Sibyls.
Finally, Michelangelo returned 25 years after to paint on the altar’s side the awesome, huge description of the Last Judgement. The chapel is part of the Vatican Museum, one of the most important museums in the world.
ROMAN JEWISH SITES:
Jewish witnesses in the ancient Rome (3 hours):
Colosseum, Arch of Titus, Carcere Mamertino (plus Moses by Michelangelo in S.Peter in Chains).
Ostia and the old synagogue (4 hours): Excavation of Ostia.
Medieval and modern Jewish Rome (3 hours): Ghetto, Tiber Island, Trastevere.
Jewish catacombs (3 hours): Catacombs of Vigna Randanini, Catacombs of Villa Torlonia (Shabbath and Jewish holidays closed).
Biblical episodes in the Vatican (4 hours): Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter.
Christian Rome (3 hours): Via Appia Antica, Catacombs, Cecilia Metella’s tomb.
Underground Rome (3 hours): S. Clemente e Mitreo, Domus Aurea (reservation), S. Giovanni e Paolo al Celio.
The wonder of the Christian mosaics (3 hours): St. Mary the Major, St. Pudenziana, St. Prassede.
The city of the fountains (3 hours): Spanish step fountain, Trevi fountain, Pantheon fountain, Navona fountain.
Theatre settings of the Baroque art (3 hours): S. Ignace, S. Ivo alla Sapienza, S. Maria della Pace, Chiesa del Gesů.
Miracles of Caravaggio (3 hours): S. Louis of the French, S. Augustin, S. Maria del Popolo.