After 15 years of work, photographs and other documentation of the 20 Jewish cemeteries in north-central Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region have been uploaded to a freely accessed online database, part of an online platform of overall digitized heritage material in the region.
The cataloguing and digitizing project, which started in 2005, was coordinated and supervised by the Bologna Jewish Museum and funded by the Emilia-Romagna region through its Cultural Heritage Office.
The project is described as a “census” of the Jewish cemeteries, which are located in: Bologna, Busseto, Carpi, Cento, Correggio, Cortemaggiore, Ferrara, Fidenza, Finale Emilia, Fiorenzuola d’Arda, Guastalla, Lugo, Modena, Monticelli d’Ongina, Novellara, Parma, Reggio Emilia, Scandiano, and Soragna.
Most are located in rural areas and are not in use anymore. On the platform, there is also information and photographs related to the medieval Jewish cemetery of Bologna, located in Orfeo street, which was destroyed by order of Pope Pius V in 1569, and rediscovered during excavations carried out in 2012-2014 and publicly announced in 2017.
The material dedicated to the region’s Jewish cemeteries was uploaded in an online platform called PatEr, which includes more than 25,000 pages related to digitized cultural heritage material in the Emilia-Romagna region.
On the website, every Jewish cemetery has its own page. The location for each is given, along with extensive information about its history. Some of the information is available in English, but most of the material is only in Italian.
For some cemeteries, the information includes opening hours, and the owner’s or caretaker’s contact details.
If digitized pictures of the matzevot have been uploaded, they can be found on the right side of the cemetery’s page, under the title “cosa puoi trovare” (“what can you find,” in Italian). There is a short description of each matzevah that has been photographed. This includes the material used for its construction and its measurements. When legible, the name of the person buried is listed, and, if possible, some information about them.
Transcriptions of epitaphs and inscriptions in Italian are posted, but not all of the Hebrew inscriptions are transcribed or translated. Tombstones can also be searched through the website’s search pane by looking for the name of the buried person (though if the name is only available in a Hebrew inscription it may not be found).
All the information related to Jewish cemeteries and matzevot was curated by the Jewish Museum of Bologna, which was founded in 1999 and is located in the city’s former ghetto area. The museum’s director, Vincenza Maugeri, supervised and coordinated the cataloguing work since the very first pilot project at the Ferrara Jewish cemetery in 2005.
“The pilot project took place in Ferrara in 2005 because the local university, on behalf of the Jewish community, had already studied the cemetery, and we could apply their operational methodology to the cataloguing exercise”, Maugeri told JHE.
“The whole work of cataloguing took us around 15 years, with a team of 2-3 people who worked in the cemeteries, and others from the office”, told Maugeri.
In some cases, the pictures we took in each Jewish cemetery represented the first source for local restorations, as happened in Correggio, Finale Emilia and Ferrara. Moreover, the pictures of the matzevot that we took at the beginning of the project, also show how these cemeteries are deteriorating over time, since some of the tombstones we photographed are not readable anymore.
The cataloguing and digitizing project of the Emilia-Romagna Jewish cemeteries is also particularly notable, since it was the first time in Italy where the official technical data sheet for cataloguing cultural heritage, issued by the Italian Culture Ministry, was applied to Jewish cemeteries, Maugeri said.
The Cultural Heritage Office of the Emilia-Romagna region presented the publication of the cataloguing and digitization of the region’s Jewish cemeteries with an online public event at the end of October that saw the participation of Mauro Felicori, Councilor for Culture of the Emilia-Romagna region, Cristina Ambrosini, Head of the Cultural Heritage Office of the Emilia-Romagna region, Andrea Morpurgo, Architectural Historian and Member of the Board of the Foundation for Jewish Cultural Heritage in Italy, as well as Maugeri.
Watch a recording of the online event, which also shows the cemeteries: