Building up Jewish Cultural Tourism in Italy
Dario Disegni, President of the Fondazione per i Beni Culturali Ebraici in Italia (Italian Jewish Heritage Foundation)
The Italian Jewish Heritage Foundation was created in 1986 by the Union of Italian Jewish Communities. Its mission is to provide the recovery, the conservation, the restoration and the promotion of the Italian Jewish historic and cultural heritage, and publicize the knowledge of the Jewish presence in Italy.
The Jewish community was already established in Italy 2200 years ago and, despite a consistency of few thousands of people during the centuries, we have now an extended artistic and cultural heritage of extraordinary interest.
That heritage is an integral part of the Italian artistic heritage, one of the richest and most interesting in the world.
There is no region in which there is no Jewish heritage, although only traces.
In Sicily, where Jews were expelled in 1492, there are memories spread throughout the island, and at present the Local Authorities show a great attention for them.
For instance, the Aron of Agira, near Enna, that according to experts would be made of stone around 1453, shortly before the expulsion of the tiny community. And Palermo, where Oratorio Santa Maria del Sabato, will resume soon Saturday’s religious services.
This extraordinary artistic heritage is composed by:
— Synagogues from the Emancipation age, monuments full of optimism of post-Risorgimento and pride of Emancipation: in 2012 the Foundation contributed to the restoration of the windows of Vercelli synagogue
— Synagogues from the Ghettos’ age, externally without any distinctive mark inside decorated with masterpieces of Baroque art
— Ghettos and Jewish quarters (FBCEI co-operated with the Venice Community for restoration works occurred on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the Ghetto, 2016)
— Medieval Jewish sites abandoned and transformed after the whole expulsion from southern Italy
— Archeological sites, like the synagogues of Ostia Antica and Bova Marina, or the Jewish catacombs in Venosa or Rome [in which the Foundation has often arranged special guided tours]
— More than 100 Jewish cemeteries. In addition to their artistic value, the information coming from tombstones, represent a key asset for the knowledge of the Jewish presence in Italy.
— Ceremonial objects (in 2015 FBCEI arranged an exhibition of silver artifacts);
— in 2009 it restored ancient textiles of the Jewish Community of Vercelli
— Ancient manuscripts and books (restored and exhibited in 2015 at the National Library of Turin and at the National Library of Florence)
— Ancient Sifreh Torah [the Foundation promoted the restoration of the world’s oldest kosher Sefer Torah (1250)]
— Jewish museums and permanent exhibitions: more than 20 institutions with different assets
Those are the structures that provide the main opportunities to enjoy Italian Jewish heritage. They depend in part directly from Jewish communities (21 throughout the national territory) as Rome, Venice, Florence. Or are independent institutions, like the Museum of Bologna, which is regional, or Trani, in Puglia, which is the Jewish section of the Museo Diocesano.
Some of these towns have regular opening hours with specialized guides (Rome and Venice, over 80,000 visitors per year; Florence more than 40,000; Pitigliano 30,000) or only openings by appointment and count a few thousand visitors per year.
Some of these locations refers to local territorial networks, in advertising or in sharing services (discounted tickets, events) and almost all of them have their own websites and guides; some are provided with an app (Venice, Casale Monferrato) in order to facilitate the organization of the visit.
The most important new presence is the National Museum of Italian Judaism and the Shoah, which will hold its opening exhibition in Ferrara on the first 1.000 years of Jewish presence in Italy in a few weeks, on December 13 next. It will be a Museum, but also a centre for research, conferences and seminars, that will become an essential part of the cultural scenario of Italy.
The interest on Jewish places is high: during the European day of Jewish culture, which takes place in September and reached the 18th edition, 80 locations were opened in just one day with more than 50,000 visitors.
An active contribution of the Foundation
The Foundation’s mission, among other things, is also to raise awareness of that heritage. It has recently developed a website specifically intended as a reference for touristic activities, which represents Italy among the European Routes of Jewish Heritage arranged by the AEPJ (European Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish Heritage and Culture, Luxembourg).
The Foundation has the aim of raising awareness of this heritage.
It has recently developed a website intended as a basis for touristic activities.
This website – currently available in the websites of FBCEI and AEPJ – is organized as an interactive map of the main attractions for the cultural tourism. It has been originally called “Luoghi Imperdibili” (must see places) because the legacy is so vastly rich that it is difficult to include every single site.
Each site is marked by a different icon placed on the correct geographical position. The map of course includes most of the cultural/touristic sights as synagogues, Jewish neighborhoods, museums and memorials, cemeteries, sections of Jewish interest among other museums. But it displays useful services too – those approved by UCEI to which the Foundation belongs – like kosher café and restaurants, hotels, libraries and info points.
Each icon gives access to a box with short explanation about the site, the information for the visit (directly provided by the responsible institutions) and links to each own website.
In locations visited by many tourists, with no material evidence preserved, a generic description was inserted: that is the case of Sicily, where a brief description is marked and mention traces in museums.
The “Luoghi Imperdibili” website is a new important tool to facilitate the enjoyment of this heritage. As mentioned, each site has a different owner, own rules and ways to be visited.
The Foundation’s aim is to develop knowledge and the awareness of them and their organization. It has not commercial purposes but still it provides an important tool for all kind of commercial operators.
The website “Luoghi Imperdibili” is relatively new but many tour operators have already used that for planning their touristic proposals.
Some localities can be “rediscovered” or can be seen in a different light.
An example can be found in the shabbaton arranged by the UCEI in the next November for the young Jewish public from all over the country, who will enjoy the old synagogue of Cuneo and some of the other 15 Piedmont synagogues.
[The website “Luoghi Imperdibili” has been created with few available resources. However, the future goal of the Foundation is to develop a new version, more easily accessible on the internet, more useful, with more contents and more options.