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Exploring Jewish Florence

A walk around the highlights of Jewish Florence

Visiting somewhere is not only about crossing off a list of landmarks. Getting to know a destination is also about getting to know the people who live there, finding out about the local lifestyle and spending time with residents. It’s also about delving deeper into the myriad peoples and communities who have shaped a city over the course of history, even if they only lived there for a short period of time. Florence is the perfect place to spend a day discovering the countless traces of Jewish culture.

Contents
  • 1.
    Extraordinary architecture: the synagogue
  • 2.
    The museum
  • 3.
    The cemeteries
  • 4.
    Balagan Cafè: cultural immersion
  • 5.
    A kosher lunch at Ruth’s

Extraordinary architecture: the synagogue

Synagogue of Florence
Synagogue of Florence - Credit: Avital Pinnick

Florence’s Synagogue stands out on the city’s skyline with its green copper dome, as impactful as Giotto’s bell tower, rising above the roofs and the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio. This religious, social and cultural centre was one of the first buildings of its kind to be edified outside the ghetto, which is why it’s one of the synagogues of the emancipation. Arabesques and mosaics adorn the beautiful interior, while the gardens are a place of reflection stemming from a commemorative stone listing the names of Jewish Florentines who were persecuted and consequently disappeared.

The museum

Visit the synagogue museum to learn more about the intricacies of Jewish culture. Divided into sections, learn more about the Jewish relationship with the city of Florence, from settlement to the establishment of the ghetto and events linked to the Second World War. There’s a room focusing on the war to keep alive the memory of the Shoah. Equally interesting is the part of the exhibition that describes, through household religious items, the fundamental moments in Jewish life, from daily living to religious festivals.

The cemeteries

Florence has two Jewish cemeteries that can be visited on certain Sundays. The tombs here vaunt artistic and historic value. They are places of silence and reflection, leading to contemplation of the past and present. The oldest graveyard is along viale Ariosto, dating to 1777, while the cemetery in via Caciolle, home to about 5,000 tombs, was established between 1881 and 1884.

Balagan Cafè: cultural immersion

As travellers know, a culture is all about intangible heritage, which has neither opening times nor tickets. To learn more, listen to and savour distant stories, take part in Balagan Cafèa cultural series that brings the synagogue’s gardens to life with evening concerts, dancing, talks about a variety of topics, readings and food stands.

A kosher lunch at Ruth’s

Finish your immersion in Florence’s Jewish culture with a meal at Ruth’s. Food has always been an expression of a place, people and beliefs. Located near the Synagogue, this restaurant serves strictly kosher food, from traditional falafel and hummus to desserts like halva and blintzes.

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