A new working group has been formed aimed at enhancing the ancient Jewish quarter of Trani, a seaside town in southern Italy’s Puglia region, from the cultural, tourist, and architectonic points of view. The group will focus on three main areas: physical documentation, academic research, and the creation of a digital itinerary within the medieval Jewish quarter.
It aims to promote an awareness of Jewish Trani as what the Italian Jewish news site Moked described as “collective heritage.”
Trani was home to a substantial Jewish community from Roman times, but the community largely disappeared due to forced conversions and other persecution at the end of the 13th and beginning of the 14th centuries.
The medieval traveller Benjamin of Tudela visited Trani in the 12th century and described it as “a great and beautiful city” that was home to around 200 Jews. It was a city, he wrote, “where all the pilgrims gather to go to Jerusalem; for the port is a convenient one. ”
Jews were finally expelled in 1541 when, in line with the expulsion edict of the Inquisition, southern Italy’s Spanish rulers banished all Jews from their territory.
During medieval times, the town had four synagogues, all of which were turned into churches at the end of the 14th century. Only two remain intact today: the so-called Scolanova synagogue and the former Scola Grande, both originally built in the 1240s.
The city owns the Scolanova synagogue, which was returned for use as a synagogue in 2005, under an agreement between the municipality and the Italian Jewish community. It functions as a synagogue, mainly only on holidays and special occasions, as no Jews live in Trani and only a very small number live in Puglia.
As the VisitJewishItaly.it web site (a project of the Foundation for Jewish Cultural Heritage in Italy) writes:
The building has retained its original structure over the centuries: a rectangular hall raised above the ground level, entered via an external staircase built against the south wall. Inside, on the east wall, is the stone aedicule that housed the aron. Here, the floor is raised by three steps, and this is where the Christian altar was placed after the synagogue was turned into a church. A large hole was found in the floor of the basement, possibly a remnant of a ritual bath.
The former Scola Grande, which had been converted into the Church of St. Anna, now houses the Jewish section of Trani’s Diocesan Museum.
The new working group was presented to the public in February in the context of the renewal of the agreement between the municipality and the Naples Jewish community, which manages the Scolanova synagogue and is responsible for Jewish life in southern Italy on behalf of the umbrella Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI).
The agreement foresees the free loan of the building to the Jewish community until 2027, the opening of the synagogue to the public, and the development of a working group. The agreement can be extended for another four years after the current arrangement expires.
Members of the new working group include Lydia Schapirer, president of the Naples Jewish community; architect Renzo Funaro, vice president of the Foundation for Jewish Cultural Heritage in Italy; Nicola Napolitano, director of the diocesan cultural heritage office; Giorgio Gramegna, museologist at the Jewish section of the Diocesan Museum, and the historian Giancarlo Lacerenza, professor at the Università Orientale in Naples. The group will be coordinated by the local municipal councilor Irene Cornacchia.
As reported by the Italian Jewish news site Moked.it, the first aim of the working group is to create a series of detailed informational panels to be installed at the three main entrances of the medieval Jewish quarter, as well as in other locations in the neighborhood.
Texts of the panels will draw on the work of the extensive research carried out by the German historian Benjamin Scheller, of the University of Duisburg-Essen. (Some basic signage has already been in place for a number of years.)
Other goals include the development of study and academic research about local Jewish history, led by Prof. Lacerenza, and the creation of a digital guided tour, which will include a series of stories about the quarter.
“We will also try to give particular emphasis to the continuity of the Jewish presence in Trani, through the assimilation and conversion, not always successful, of the neophytes [converted Jews],” Lacerenza told JHE.