The twin cities of Gorizia, Italy and Nova Gorica, Slovenia are vying to jointly become the European Capital of Culture (ECC) in 2025, based on the unique transnational nature of the two cities, which lie next to each other on either side of the Italy-Slovenia border. Their shared Jewish heritage is an important part of this cross-border mix: the 18th century synagogue and former Jewish ghetto stand in Gorizia, and the historic Jewish cemetery lies a few hundred meters away on the Slovenian side.
JHE contributor Michele Migliori reports:
Both Italy and Slovenia are in the Schengen area of the EU, and the border is pretty much invisible.
Every year the European Union grants the title European Capital of Culture to two cities, in two EU member states. The aim is to protect the diversity of European cultures, promote the cultural values of the European nations, and to “foster the contribution of culture to the development of cities”.
In 2025, Germany and Slovenia will co-host the initiative, and Nova Gorica (along with Gorizia) are among several cities that have sent in their bids to the respective national boards, which will announce the winning city in the second half of 2020.
In the case of Nova Gorica and Gorizia, their shared Jewish heritage will play a fundamental role, and different stakeholders, both institutional and private, are preparing transnational itineraries and initiatives. Recently, for example, in order to develop “heritage tourism” in the city, the municipality of Gorizia placed information panels with QR codes in a number of historical locations around the city, including Jewish sites.
Until WWII, Gorizia was home to a vibrant Jewish community, which almost vanished during the Holocaust. In 1947, when the new border between Italy and then-Yugoslavia was established, the city’s Jewish cemetery became part of Yugoslavia, in a new suburb of Nova Gorica called Rozna Dolina (Valdirose, in Italian).
The Jewish cemetery is thus a symbol of the history shared by the two cities, as well as an example of a transnational monument. A planned Jewish itinerary will link the Jewish sites in the two towns. Plans call for the cemetery’s recently restored ceremonial hall to serve as an information and exhibition center for the Gorizia-Nova Gorica Jewish heritage route.
The cemetery itself is now at the center of a full-scale restoration project led by the Foundation for Jewish Heritage in Italy, with the support of both Italian and Slovenian municipalities. Plans include major clean-up and restoration of the cemetery’s 900 gravestones, but work has not yet started due to lack of funding.
The Ceremonial Hall has been owned by the Nova Gorica municipality since 1977. For decades it was rented out as a casino and bar, but in 2017 it was restored by the Rozna Dolina local council, which also manages the site, for use as a culture venue.
The renovated space was inaugurated with an exhibition about the history of the prominent Jewish Morpurgo family, many of whose members are buried in the Jewish cemetery. Many show the Morpurgo family emblem — Jonah in the mouth of a whale. The exhibition was put together by Andrea Morpurgo, the architect in charge of the cemetery’s restoration.
Across the border in Gorizia, the main Jewish site on the planned Jewish heritage route is the synagogue complex, located in the former ghetto of Gorizia. The complex hosts a museum, a library, an exhibition of paintings of the noted Gorizia-born Jewish philosopher and intellectual Carlo Michelstaedter, and a small meeting hall.
The main organization that fosters Jewish heritage in Gorizia is the Friends of Israel Association, which has been active since the 1980s.
The association manages the synagogue complex, which is owned by the Gorizia municipality. The city is also the main funder of Friends of Israel’s activities.
Recently, the association sponsored the renovation of an open air puppet theatre designed by the prominent Italian Jewish artist and film director Lele Luzzati, located in the synagogue’s garden.
The small theater was Luzzati’s last work and was donated to Gorizia in 2007. After 12 years of neglect, it was fully restored by the CTA Gorizia (Center of Theatre and Animation) and rededicated with a piece organized by the CTA last September.
Other sights on the planned Jewish heritage itinerary would be the Casa Ascoli, a few steps away from the synagogue (where the noted linguist Graziadio Isaia Ascoli was born); the Ghetto area, and sites related to the life of Carlo Michelstaedter, one of Gorizia’s most prominent historical figures.
Michaelstadter, born in 1887 committed suicide at the age of 23, right after finishing his university thesis: “Persuasion and Rhetoric” (1910).
In September this year, after three years of petitions and appeals to both public and private institutions, the restoration of the tiny loft in Gorizia where Michelstaedter wrote and painted most of his works was announced. The loft is situated in Palazzo Paternolli, a 200-year-old building in Vittoria square in the heart of the city, where it had been abandoned for more than two decades. Today, thanks in large part to the work of Chiara Pradella, a young philosophy and cultural consultant (who was also the first person to raise awareness about the loft), the renovation of both the loft and the building is ready to begin.
The €3 million project, funded by the holding Futura Grandi Lavori e Partecipazioni Immobiliari Ltd., aims to transform the building in a student residence, while the loft will host a cultural association. Pradella would like to see a specific “Michelstaedter route” that would include the place where he lived as well as Villa Elda, the last home of his sister Paula, which housed the SS command during the war. Also included could be the Fondo Michelstaedter a section of the Isontina Civic Library, founded in 1973, that includes 33 manuscripts, 200 letters, and a number of paintings that belonged to Carlo and were donated by his sister.