The great Synagogue of Florence


The skyline of Florence is very a distinctive one, easily recognized by anybody in the world. The huge Brunelleschi’s Dome stands out among the terracotta red roofs, along with by Giotto’s bell tower, the tower of Palazzo Vecchio and on the Arno river, Ponte Vecchio’s famous silhouette.
From the panoramic point of view of Piazzale Michelangelo it’s possible to see Florence in all its glory and take in all these famous monuments with one look. Among them, you will also notice a high church-like structure built in white stone and topped by a green dome, it sure catches the eye.
It is a very singular architecture for Florence, and it has nothing to do with either the Medieval or Renaissance structures for which the city is renewed.
It is the great Synagogue of Florence or “Tempio Maggiore Israelitico”, built between 1874 and 1882 after David Levi, President of the Hebrew University, had bequeathed his possessions for the building of a new synagogue in Florence, as a symbol of the new situation of freedom consequence of the so-called “Jewish Emancipation”.
The Jewish community in Florence has a long history which reaches back to the medieval era, a history that it’s possible to retrace from its origins in the Museum spread on two floors inside the synagogue. During World War II Nazis soldiers used the synagogue as a storehouse and almost destroyed it in 1944, setting a series of explosives inside it. Thanks to the intervention of Italian resistance fighters, who managed to defuse most of the explosives, the damage to the structure was limited.
We have indeed to thank those brave fighters, for we would regret immensely not to be able to admire such an example of oriental splendor in our city.
Characteristic of this architecture is the use of a clever mixture of different styles. White travertine and pink limestone, typical of the Moorish style merge with the Romanesque elements of the Florentine tradition, such as the partition and the chromatism of the facades and the central plan. Decorative and furnishing elements such as benches, bronze lamps, polychrome glass and wooden doors are a product of Florentine craftsmanship while Arabian and Byzantine influences are prominent in the decorations on the walls made with mosaics and polychrome geometric motifs.
Without a doubt a rare demonstration of eclecticism here in Florence, that nonetheless still respects the typological elements of the synagogue: the matroneo for the separation of the faithful according to sex, the Sacred Ark, facing east, containing the sacred scrolls of the Torah and the pulpit from which the Rabbi recites the prayers.
Enclosed by beautiful cast-iron railings and surrounded by a garden filled with exotic plants, it is a jewel set in the heart of Florence and one of the largest synagogues in South-central Europe.
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