Florence & the Jews – A Jewish presence in Florence has been documented for a very long time, even before the Medici’s era.
However, the destiny of Tuscan Jews was inevitably to be connected to the favor and the fortune of the Medici family.
In the 1490s, when the intolerant Friar Girolamo Savonarola got the power in Florence, both the Medici and the Jews were exhiled.
When the Medici went back in 1512, the Jews where also readmitted, until the next ban of the Medici in 1527.
In 1537 Cosimo de’Medici reconquered absolute power and reorganized the State. As it happened also in Venice, Cosimo I welcomed the Spanish and Portuguese Jews expelled from the Iberian peninsula in the 1490s both in his capital city of Florence and in the port city of Pisa.
More or less in the same years, many less affluent Jews moved to Florence, following the final expulsion from Naples in 1540 and the establishment of ghettos of Rome and Ancona in 1555.
Cosimo I started to change is attitude in the late 1560’s and 1570’s as political relations with Spain and the Papal State intensified.
Finally, in 1571, a ghetto was established in the the most central part of Florence.
Today that area, Piazza della Repubblica, is one of the most elegant and famous places in Florence, but it was not in those days!
Indeed, the Ghetto was built where the Mercato Vecchio
– a crowded and dirty open air market – in the middle
of which was Florence’s main brothel…
The fact that the area was surrounded by a tall wall that had kept the brothel isolated from the rest of the city appeared as a perfect location for the establishment of a compulsory Jewish quarter!
The ghetto was consequently surrounded by a market, by the Duomo, by the Baptistery and by Santa Maria Novella Church.
The idea that Jews had to move to a place where prostitutes had previously lived is not unusual and witnesses an association that has often been made in Western Europe.
Cosimo’s son, Ferdinand I, invited Jewish businessmen to settle in the new port of Livorno, where they enjoyed great freedom and where there was no ghetto. The experiment proved to be very successful.
Our Jewish Florence tour will try to summon up the memories of those days, bringing back to life some of the most famous characters.
The ghetto was abolished in 1848 and, in the years of Italy’s unification it was decided to build a new great synagogue, before there two small ones in the old quarter, that had to be a visible symbol of emancipation from the dark centuries of spatial restriction.
The construction of a new monumental Synagogue did not start until 1874.
The architects were Marco Treves, Mariano Falcini and Vincenzo Micheli (only Treves was Jewish) and the temple was completed in 1882.
David Levi, a wealthy member of he community, took on himself the high costs for the construction, over one million liras of those days.
The exterior is covered with beautiful white and pink travertine stone from Colle Val d’Elsa.
The central dome and the two smaller cupolas are
sheathed in copper, and their bright green color is a very disinctive element of the city landscape.
The exotic, lavishly ornate interior was designed by Giovanni Panti, and like the exterior is conceived in a pleasantly cosmopolitan Neo Moorish style (like the Great Synagogue in Budapest)
On the second floor we’ll visit the museum, where the memories of times past we conjured up during our walk will materialize in precious objects and documents of a 700 years long history.
To complete our Jewish Florence immersion we will then head to the Academy and spend some time in owe in front of Michelangelo’s David.
Your guide will tell you all the political implications that made of this popular Old Testament hero the triumphant icon of the Florentine Republic, a totally positive symbol of civic renaissance after terrible years of obscurantism, during which even the beauty of art had been prohibited.
If you loved our Florence & the Jews tour and you’re also traveling to Venice and Rome you might be interested in our Jewish Heritage tours there.
If you want to learn more about Jewish Florence check the project of a 3D reconstruction of the demolished Ghetto here.
Cost of this tour
This tour lasts three hours and costs 240 euros up to six people (not per person), only private parties.
For larger parties send us an email!
Academy: 24 euro per person, closed on Monday
The Synagogue & the Jewish Museum are closed on Saturdays and duruing jewish Holidays
We can prebook admissions for you, but we need to know at least 15 days in advance