A small Jewish museum has opened in Lecce — a beautiful town famous for its Baroque architecture on the very tip of the heel of the Italian boot, where Jews flourished in the middle ages but were expelled half a millennium ago.
Called “Medieval Jewish Lecce,” the museum, whose permanent exhibition was curated by Fabrizio Lelli, an associate professor of Hebrew language and literature at the University of Salento in Lecce, is located in vaulted underground cellars of a building now known as Palazzo Taurino, on the site of the medieval synagogue and mikvah.
The museum focuses on the Jewish presence in Lecce from the 9th century to the end of the 15th century. Its displays include information panels as well as some artifacts as well as the inscriptions and architectural features of the space.
According to the web site
The main purpose of this project is to bring back the history of the Jewish community that lived in Lecce during the Late Middle Ages.The project started from the initiative of a group of friends with different skills, but who have always been interested in the history of their city, Lecce. They converted the cellars of Palazzo Personé into the cultural centre “PALAZZO TAURINO – Medieval Jewish Lecce” with a permanent exhibition:“SOTTO IL BAROCCO: MEETING THE PEOPLE IN MEDIEVAL LECCE“ .Palazzo Taurino is the symbol of the Medieval “giudecca” and it still preserves some remains of the Jewish quarter (mikvaot, mezuzah’s doorway, columns of the old synagogue).
“Most of our research is addressed to scholars…[and] this was a way for me to share my research activities with ordinary people,” Lelli told Tablet Magazine. He added that the museum was designed to be
a place where somebody who already knows about Judaism can understand more about the Jewish presence in Lecce, and someone who doesn’t know can figure out what Judaism in the Middle Ages in Southern Italy was.
The museum opened at the end of May with a ceremonial event that drew large crowds. The chief rabbi of Naples, Umberto Piperno, took part, telling the crowd that the opening of the museum represented the recreation of a bridge with Israel, at a time of growing Jewish and Israeli tourism to southern Italy.
The new museum is not the only Jewish museum in Puglia — the region on Italy’s heel. In the town of Trani, the Diocesan Museum has a Jewish section is housed in the heart of the Old Town in the medieval Scola Grande synagogue, which was transformed into St. Anna’s church. The web site has information on Trani’s original four synagogues and their history as well as other resources.