The image of Florence is one of the most famous in the world: a breathtaking skyline, with the immense cathedral, the river that flows through the city, the old bridge, the surrounding hills.
But what is that little dome to the right of the Cathedral? The one that before, in the pictures, you had not noticed, but now catches your eye? That one with the beautiful blue-green color, like a piece of sky among the red roofs? It’s the Synagogue of Florence!
The presence of the Jewish community in Florence is reported since Roman times. This community lived in an area near the Ponte Vecchio, on the south side of the river, outside the city walls. In 1571 Cosimo I de’Medici, while encouraging the presence of the Jews in the city, asked the architect Bernardo Buontalenti to turn the area close to the old market (now Piazza della Repubblica) in a ghetto. The ghetto was opened only in 1848, but the community fulfilled a true emancipation only after the unification of Italy, in 1861.
After the abolition of the ghetto, the synagogues no longer played a role as community centres, but became just places of worship and it was finally possible to erect dedicated buildings. Though partially inspired by Christian churches, the architecture of the new temples had its own distinct features.
The synagogue of Florence was inaugurated in 1882 in the “Mattonaia” district (an area with parks and gardens, within the city walls, but still not completely developed at the time), and is one of Europe’s finest examples of a blend of the exotic Moorish style with Arabic and Byzantine elements, with the influence of both Christian churches and Old Spanish synagogues: a travertine and pink limestone façade, the copper-cladding on the central and lateral domes and the massive walnut doors, the blue dome (47 meters on the outside and 34 on the inside).
The style is also reflected in the interior decorations and furnishings. This synagogue is considered one of the most beautiful buildings erected in nineteenth century Italy and, being inspired by Italian and foreign models, is also a perfect example of European innovations in art and architecture of the time. The synagogue houses the Museum of the Jewish Community of Florence, a journey through the history of this community. The synagogue is not only a place for prayer, but it is also a community centre and it plays an important role in the cultural life of Florence.