This is a colour photograph of the Great Synagogue in Rome, designed by Vincenzo Costa and Osvaldo Amanni. The large synagogue has two levels of columns in the front and is topped by an unusual square dome. It is the only square dome in the city, thus making the building easily identifiable. The synagogue is located on the banks of the Tiber River and overlooks the ghetto, although neither are visible in this photograph. Built in 1904, the building’s large size and grand architecture reflect the hope and optimism that the community felt after the Jewish ghetto was dismantled and Jews were granted full citizenship in 1870.
In more recent history, the Great Synagogue has been the site of both tragic and historic events. On October 9, 1982, Palestinian terrorists attacked worshippers as they were leaving the synagogue after Shabbat services. A two-year-old boy was killed and 34 people injured. In 1986, Pope John Paul II visited the Great Synagogue. This was the first known visit by a pope to a synagogue since the early history of the Catholic Church and was seen by many as an attempt to improve relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people and as a softening of the Church’s traditionally critical view of Judaism. The synagogue was also visited by Pope Francis in 2016. Along with serving as Rome’s largest synagogue, the Great Synagogue also houses the office of the chief rabbi of Rome and the Jewish Museum of Rome.
Would You Like to Know More?
The Jews of Italy - The Italian Jewish community has ancient roots that can be traced back to the Roman era in the second century BCE. In ancient Rome the community was highly organized with several synagogues. With the introduction of Christianity to Italy the situation of Italian Jews generally declined, and anti-Jewish laws were passed. Similar to other European countries, the Middle Ages brought persecution and expulsions. However, this was also a flourishing period for Bible commentary, Talmud, Hebrew grammar, and halacha (Jewish law). Jews were also known as skilled medical practitioners, some serving as physicians to the kings, nobles, and clergy. The fifteenth century was a time of migration: many Spanish Jews arrived in Italy following the Spanish expulsion of 1492, and a few years later, more arrived from France. In the sixteenth century, when many Italian areas fell under Spanish rule, Jews fled the inquisition and moved to southern Italy and other European countries. This was also the period when the first Jewish ghetto was established in Venice and other prohibitions were issued against the Jews including a yellow badge, ghettos in additional cities, forced labour, and expulsions. This continued into the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Influenced by liberal thought, French rule in Italy, and the decline of the Papal influence, the Jews slowly gained emancipation during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. By 1910, a Jew was prime minister of Italy, one of the first in the world. Another Jew served as mayor of Rome from 1907 to 1913, and Jews also served as senators. Italian Jews fought in World War I, half of them as officers. The 1930s brought Mussolini, fascism, and, ultimately, anti-Semitism to Italy, influenced by Nazism and the racial ideologies of the time. Despite the fascist regime’s alliance with Germany, the Italians did not initially cooperate with the deportation of Jews to the camps. The deportation of Italian Jews only began in September 1943, when the Allies captured southern Italy. While many Jews were saved by local Italians and the Church, approximately 7,500 Jews were murdered. The Jewish community has declined since World War II due to immigration to Israel and other countries, assimilation, and low birth rates. It is estimated that 45,000 Jews live in Italy today.