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.
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!
When visiting, you are given a short but interesting (call it succinct) guided tour of the Great Synagogue. The interior is lovely.
The stained glass is particularly stunning.
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).
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.
The metalwork and textiles, in particular, are incredibly beautiful.
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.
And then there was this,
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.
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)….