Jewish Heritage Europe

Major exhibition on Jewish inscriptions in southern Italy


A major exhibition on Jewish inscriptions in Basilicata and in Puglia, displayed in several venues, has opened in southern Italy.

Called “Ketav, Sefer, Miktav: Jewish Written Culture in Basilicata and Puglia,” the exhibition is mounted in honor of the late scholar Cesare Colafemmina, who spent his professional career researching and writing about Jewish heritage in southern Italy. (See our report on a program dedicated to Colafemmina on Jewish heritage and life in southern Italy that will be held in New York March 31.)

There are two main exhibition sites: One, at the Castello Svevo (Swabian Castle) in Bari, opened March 19 and will run until April 27. The other, at the National Archeological Museum in Venosa, opened March 20 and runs until September 20. In addition, there are related exhibitions in Trani (at the Jewish section of the Diocesan Museum) and at the Aldo Moro University in Bari.

According to the web site:

This is the first exhibition that offers a course through Jewish inscriptions partly preserved in the holdings of museums. Among the aims of the exhibition is to focus attention on the cultural heritage of the Jewish presence on the territory, so as to encourage the opening of new sections devoted to Judaism in museums.

The exhibits were curated by  Mariapina Mascolo, under the supervision of  Mauro Perani, and were organized by the Center for Research and Documentation of Judaism in the Mediterranean (CeRDEM), along with others including the Puglia region.

Coinciding with the exhibition, a catalogue of the Jewish epigraphs in the region has been prepared, along with new photographs. And the medieval Jewish gravestone that is on permanent display in the Castello Svevo in Bari has undergone restoration.

Descriptions and details of the exhibitions from the CeRDEM web site:

The project, concerning an exhibit divided into several exhibition venues organized between Basilicata (Venosa) and Puglia  (Bari, Trani and Taranto) on the testimonies to the Jewish presence (inscriptions and manuscripts), was conceived and proposed to the Regional Directorate of Puglia and Basilicata by the CeRDEM—Centro di Ricerca e Documentazione sull’Ebraismo nel Mediterraneo “Cesare Colafemmina” (Centre for Research and Documentation on Judaism in the Mediterranean) —which has scientifically supervised the project— together with all the Superintendences of Basilicata and Puglia, with the objective of cooperating with those Institutions which favour the preservation and the enhancement of the cultural heritage and the research organizations of the territory.

It is the first project concerning an interregional Exhibit between Puglia and Basilicata on the Jewish presence, a component which deeply contributed to the growth of the cultural identity of the territories considered in the context of the Mediterranean and in relation with the European area.

In the project Jewish written culture the synergy among the Superintendences, endowed with human resources specialized in the preservation and enhancement of the cultural heritage, allows the introduction of a series of actions aiming at the recovery of inscriptions and manuscripts and other testimonies in danger of dispersion (through restorations and digital reproductions).

The CeRDEM came into the inheritance of professor Cesare Colafemmina, who donated his private archive and the specialized library on October 30th and 31st 2012 to the centre. The MiBAC-Regional Directorate of the Cultural and Landscape Heritage of Puglia declared the cultural importance of the Archive with the Decree of August 6th  2012, protocol 8170.

The CeRDEM – Centro di Ricerca e Documentazione sull’Ebraismo nel Mediterraneo “Cesare Colafemmina” (Centre for Research and Documentation on Judaism in the Mediterranean) has offices in Basilicata, in the Castle of del Balzo of Venosa (in a room of the municipal Library thanks to a concession granted by the Municipality), and in Bari, where it cooperates with the Archival Superintendence of Puglia for the recovery of the testimonies to the Jewish presence in the region.
In particular in Venosa, together with the Superintendency for the Archaeological Heritage of Basilicata and with the Municipality, documental and exhibition itineraries are being planned. Moreover, sections of a documentary exhibit, concerning the twentieth century, have also been organized in Palazzo ex Poste (former post office building) of the University of Bari. Whereas the itinerary concerning Puglia has been organized in the Swabian Castle in Bari.

Within the context of an increasing interest in the studies on the cultural identity of the Mediterranean and with the view to continue professor Cesare Colafemmina’s studies on the testimonies concerning the Jewish presence in the South, the CeRDEM intends to carry out — as a statutory activity — a systematic identification of the testimonies relating to the Jewish presence and to the relations with the local communities yielding unpublished research and expanding on the knowledge of little investigated fields of the cultural heritage of southern Italy.

This identification process is being carried out with the cooperation of the Superintendance for the BSAE (Historical, artistic and ethno-anthropological heritage) of Puglia as well, engaged in the photographic campaign for the catalogue, carried out by the Photographic Laboratory/Photographic Library of the Superintendances of Puglia.

The results will be published and disseminated through museum itineraries, a catalogue and the multi-media itineraries (available through the institutional websites of the MiBAC and of the CeRDEM) through testimonies and documents on the Jewish presence in the territory.

Experimenting with new technologies, applied to the heterogeneous cultural heritage (architectures, epigraphs, manuscripts, book holdings), itineraries on the territory, publications via the web for a better exploitation of the cultural heritage of Jewish and multicultural interest of the places considered will be proposed.

  1. The exhibitions
    The exhibition includes different exhibition venues in Basilicata (in Venosa: The ducal Castle of Del Balzo) and Puglia (in Bari: the Swabian Castle, and also in Bari: … the University of Bari “Aldo Moro” for the section dedicated to the twentieth century and in Trani with the Jewish section of the Diocesan Museum- former Scola Grande Synagogue) apart from other decentralized venues (Taranto, National Archaeological museum of Taranto – MARTA).
    In Venosa, with the Superintendance for the Archaeological heritage of Basilicata, the Exhibit is associated with the project of the first basis for a permanent Jewish Section in the Archaeological Museum located in the Ducal Castle of Pirro del Balzo supervised by the Superintendance for the Archaeological heritage of Basilicata.
    In Bari, the main itinerary will be organized in the Swabian Castle, where an exceptional unique piece of Jewish archaeology is preserved, which will be exposed in the exhibit: the tomb in early Medieval travertine dated eighth-ninth century bearing the symbol of the menorah, the Jewish calendar, found in Bari in the district of Saint Lawrence, on the road for Carbonara.
    The main objective of the exhibit is to bring to the fore and enhance the importance and the specificity of the rich Jewish documentation present in the Lucanian area, through the exhibition of artefacts (manuscripts, inscriptions, documents) along with explanatory boards on the importance of the bimillenary history of the Jewish presence in the territory. 
    The historical context of reference has been outlined not only  for Antiquity and the Middle Ages but also for the Modern Age and the Contemporary era. The section “Documentation” goes up to the second half of the twentieth century and includes documental testimonies concerning the purge of Jewish professors from the University of Bari due to the promulgation of racial Laws and the forced imprisonment of Italian and Foreign Jews in numerous Lucanian centres in the 1930s and 1940s.
    The group of scholars coordinated by the CeRDEM intends to operate with flexibility cooperating with the human resources  involved by the Regional Directorates of Basilicata and Puglia of the MiBAC with the aim of creating a project of great dissemination and scientificity, conceived also in view of the sustainability of the results.
  2. Connection to the territory
    The exhibit, organized in different exhibition venues (Venosa, Bari, Trani, Taranto) intends to be part of the interregional reality, including venues in Basilicata and Puglia and spreading over the entire territories of the two regions, with guided itineraries to Jewish sites (with the various ghettos and the Jewish catacombs).
    Despite the importance of the topic and the documentation, an Exhibit on the Jewish presence in the two territories has never been organized so far, also because a research structure, such as the CeRDEM, with multidisciplinary competences, able to carry out a systematic work on the topic was lacking. So far the task has only been carried out by professor Cesare Colafemmina – who recently passed away, and to whom the exhibit is dedicated. He was the first to rediscover the Jewish cultural heritage of southern Italy in all its different aspects: from historiography to documentary sources, from epigraphy to archaeology, to the architectural and historical and artistic heritage, to the exegesis and literature. In this sense, the testimonies existing on the territory and little known if not to the experts will be enhanced with positive consequences for the image and the multicultural history of the region. Testimonies of great international importance, considering above all the role of Puglia and of the neighbouring regions between the ninth and eleventh century, decisive for the development of the diaspora itself in the following centuries will be enhanced as well.


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