The Great Synagogue and the Jewish Museum

Since tonight marks the beginning of Hanukkah, it seems appropriate to write about my visit a few weeks ago to Rome’s Great Synagogue and the Jewish Museum.  I’ve walked (or driven) past the Great Synagogue so many times during my life, it was truly a pleasure to finally see the inside it and to visit the museum. The Great Synagogue is a beautiful building set along the Tiber and dates from 1904. What’s most striking from the exterior is its square dome — a dome that quietly but distinctly sets it apart from the hundreds of round church domes in the Eternal City.

Rome’s Great Synagogue, along the river

 

We happened to be there when it was decorated for a wedding and even we got a peek of the wedding party as it arrived right after we exited.  Of course, the little children charged with sprinkling flower petals stole the show!

 

Another glimpse of the exterior

When visiting, you are given a short but interesting (call it succinct) guided tour of the Great Synagogue.  The interior is lovely.

The interior of the Great Synagogue, all ready for a wedding

 

Interior shot

The stained glass is particularly stunning.

The stained glass

But it’s the dome that takes your breath away, done in rainbow colors that reminded me of feathers (see the close-up picture at the top of this post).

Looking up at the synagogue’s square dome

The museum is self-guided, and there’s a wealth of information on the history of Rome’s Jewish community, whose origin is given to be the 2nd century B.C.E.  The museum discusses the history of Roman Jewry, from ancient times to the present. There are numerous artifacts from Jewish life in Rome over the ages.

An ancient inscription, in Greek, with a menorah

 

The little flourishes on this inscription are so beautiful!

 

The ark wherein the Torah is kept, from a synagogue

 

The tiny “Spanish Synagogue,” in the museum

 

The metalwork and textiles, in particular, are incredibly beautiful.

The ornate silverware, including the ends of the Torah scrolls

 

One of the beautiful textiles

 

Another gorgeous textile

 

Look at this amazing embroidery!

The museum also covers the darker side of Jewish history in Rome. This map showing the Jewish Ghetto in Rome really surprised me.  Despite my having walked through the Ghetto area so many times, I had not realized how terribly small the area was: 4,700 people lived in the seven acres within the ghetto walls, starting in the 16th Century.

Map of the Jewish Ghetto indicated in pale orange, a little blip in the center, across from Tiber Island

And then there was this,

The clothes of a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust

After leaving the museum on a somber note, we walked through the old Ghetto, which is filled with bars, bakeries, restaurants, shops… people everywhere, and kids playing  — and you realize that this part of Rome is not just alive, but bursting with energy.

In the old Jewish Ghetto today

We were back to smiling when we met up with friends who were enjoying a drink al fresco, and then headed to a wonderful Sunday lunch at a classic restaurant… (to be continued)….

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