In April, the magnificent synagogue of Casale Monferrato, a small town in Italy’s northwest Piedmont (Piemonte) region, celebrated 50 years since its reinauguration after a fullscale restoration. It marked the anniversary with a video documenting the dramatic restoration process half a century ago that brought the then-dilapidated sanctuary to its current glory.
As we have written earlier, the synagogue is one of the most opulent and ornate in Italy — by far the most magnificent of the 12 synagogues in Piemonte that remain preserved with their interior decor and fittings intact. Originally built in 1595 in the heart of the old Jewish ghetto, it was enlarged, redesigned and redecorated in a sumptuous rococo style over the next two centuries.
The opulent decor of the sanctuary — hidden behind a nondescript streetfront — boasts huge gilded chandeliers, and white, cobalt and gold-colored walls on which Hebrew inscriptions are framed by gilded stucco work. The Ark (whose current form dates from 1787) features fluted Corinthian columns and an elaborately carved decorated frieze and cornice. The bimah is placed directly in front of the Ark, with the entire area screened by an elaborate wrought iron grille.
In the 1960s, however, it was a different story. The sanctuary was dilapidated and in a state of striking degradation.
The (sometime grainy) video below recounts the dramatic, largely state-funded restoration process, begun in 1968 and directed by Giulio Bourbon, that brought it back to its original glory — and shows the rededication ceremony on April 13, 1969, attended by government VIPs and others, which also opened the Jewish museum housed in the synagogue complex.
The video concludes with views of the synagogue today.
One of the speakers at the 1969 dedication cemetery recounts how the restoration process took place “square centimeter by square centimeter” — and how the spectacular wall and ceiling paintings were obscured to such an extent by soot that the restorers were shocked to find what was there.