Tourist informations

Jewish path of Bologna


In Bologna, the designated area for the segregation of Jewish people (as the Bull "Cum nimis absurdum" required in 1555)  was the very central zone between Via Cavaliera (today, Via Oberdan) and Via San Donato (today, via Zamboni), not very far from where the Jewish people settled in Bologna, in the second half of the 14th century.

Since then and for the two following centuries, various documents attest the Jewish presence in the area between via S. Vitale and piazza S. Stefano, as well as in proximity  of Mercato di Mezzo (today, via Rizzoli), near the city's cathedral and  the University seat; they were all densely populated and high-traffic areas.

Within six months of receiving the Bull issued by Pope Paul IV Carafa, on July 14th 1555, the Governors of Bologna, called “i Quaranta” (the Forty), set the enforced residence area  for Jewish people in the city.

They decided to place the first gate to the restricted  area at the beginning of via Belvedere or Bell'andare, later called via dei Giudei;according to the Bull, this area should have just one entry and one exit.

The area chosen for segregation was in the very centre, but devoid of important buildings and meaningful places for city life and therefore, Bolognese citizens could be also deprived of it; but above all, it was easily got around through walls between houses,  located quite near each other.

The gate on piazza di porta Ravegnana was the first closure, the second one was a high wall at the entrance of the alley called Androne di San Marco (today closed),  leading to via San Donato.

The third one was designed in via Canonica to deny access to San Donato, but excluding the church of San Marco, in order to allow anyone in.

Another closure, the fourth, was to restrict access to Via del Carro from San Donato. A further wall had to exclude the church of Madonna dell'Aposa from the ghetto; it started from this church to the church of San Simone e Giuda, thus closing access in via Valdonica.

Another wall left out of the ghetto the Church of San Simone e Giuda, which was deconsecrated  in 1591.

In piazzetta San Simone,  the transition towards via Cavaliera was to be closed as well; that’s why  another wall was erased "in which a new gate should be done".

The penultimate closure was to prevent access to vicolo Tubertini and consequently to via Cavaliera, while the last wall, halfway through the actual vicolo San Giobbe, excluded the Hospital of San Giobbe (specializing in treating syphilis) from the ghetto.

This last wall joined Da Pisa’s house; so, one of the two gates  overlooked piazza di porta Ravegnana, which was out of the ghetto and the other one closed piazzetta di S. Simone and Giuda within the ghetto.

The second gate, located in the current Via Oberdan, was, like the first, near a stand, accessible to customers without entering the ghetto.

Segregation was intended to avoid unnecessary contact between Christians and Jews but not to prevent economic relations in the stands.

Barely a year after the Bull was issued, i.e. in 1556, walls and gates were erected and placed;anyway the ghetto was actually closed only 11 years later.

The papal Commissioner Angelo Amati dealt with its closure; he was sent to Rome just to get a strict separation between Christian and Jewish people.

Community life took place within the ghetto and in via dell’Inferno 16; Jewish people met together to pray in the synagogue house which maybe included more than one house. Because of narrow spaces, every ghetto (and so Bologna’s one as well) used to develop in height.

With the death of Paul IV, policy towards Jewish people was modified in their favor and their living conditions improved. The new Pope, Pius IV, made many concessions but didn’t abolish the ghetto. However, with the bull "Dudum to felicis" of February 27, 1562, he established a rent freeze in the ghetto and gave permission to own real estate up to a value of 1,500 gold coins. The intransigent policy of Pius IV’s successor, Pius V, changed again (but for the worst) the relationship, until it broke up. According to the bull "Hebraeorum Gens, issued on February 26, 1569, Jewish people were forced to leave all the territories directly governed by the Holy See, including Bologna.

Only two years after the actual closure of the ghetto, it was abandoned and the houses inhabited by Jewish people were recovered by their owners, who erased all evidence of Jewish presence in the neighborhood.

The walls were torn down and in July 1569 the gates were removed, to make sure that any sign indicating the use it was intended for (that  is "enclosure for Jews"), although for a short time, was deleted.

After their expulsion from Bologna, in 1593, until the early nineteenth century when a local Community started to set up,  the Jewish people didn’t live permanently in the city

Historic centre

Palazzo Bocchi

Achille Bocchi (1488/1562), born in Bologna, was Giulio’s and Costanza Zambeccari’s son, a distinguished humanist of the Studio Bolognese, Latin and Greek scholar, with knowledge of Judaism.

Between 1545 and 1565 he had a palace built in the old Via Monari (currently via Goito 16); it was designed by Jacopo Barozzi, called Vignola, and hosted also the Hermathena Academy, that Bocchi  founded  in 1546. The building, with its plastically energetic and mighty outline, is set on a sloping plinth, encased in sandstone blocks.

Bocchi ordered two big inscriptions to be affixed in the frieze encircling  the top of this base:one reproducing a verse from Psalm 120, 2. (119.2. of the Psalter) in Jewish characters:" Deliver me from the liars, God! They smile so sweetly but lie through their teeth."

Next to this, the other one is taken from the Epistle1 by Horace and is in Latin: “Do well, thou shalt be crowned”

These two citations, one invocative, the other hortatory, bear witness to the intersection of Latin and Jewish culture and their strong influence on the city's cultural life.

This inscription in Hebrew on a monumental building is a unique example in Italy and Europe.

 Tombstones of the Civic Museum of the Middle Ages

 The Civic Museum of the Middle Ages of Bologna, located in Via Manzoni 4, houses four Jewish sepulchral tombstones of the 16th century, coming from the ancient Jewish cemetery, in the Baraccano area in Bologna (more precisely, in Via Orfeo, near the crossroad with Via Borgolocchi and in front of the Convent of nuns of St. Peter Martyr).

In 1569 Jewish people were expelled from Bologna, their cemetery was given to the nuns of St. Peter and was completely destroyed, in order to erase their memory forever.


The four surviving monumental tombstones are dedicated to:
Sabbetay Elhanan di Rieti (1546)
Avraham Yagel da Fano (1508)
Menahem Ventura (1555)
Yoav da Rieti.


The rear part of the latter tombstone was reused as a marble stone for Rinaldo of Duglioli in 1571. These sepulchral marbles belonged to prominent personalities and Jewish families of suppliers who  established their business in Bologna.

Furthermore, these " documents of stone" provide important information not only about  funerary style, but also about Hebrew script at that time. The refined taste of Hebrew  jeweled letters, their proportions and harmony (connected with the Renaissance period) are rare to find outside Bologna.

Casa Sforno

The Sforno, Sephardic Jewish people from Barcelona, who moved to Bologna in the early XV century (from 1435 with Rubino di Samuele) until the middle of 1500, conducted credit activities in the same building where their family home and private oratorio lied, in Piazza S. Stefano 15 (today,on the corner of Via de 'Pepoli),

An important document enabling us to discover this family, is Abramo Sforno’s testament (recently discovered) who died in 1503; it provides valuable information on the activities of the bench, the Synagogue inside the house and also on their daughters’ trosseau and dowry.

The Sforno family was distinguished by the high cultural level of its members.

Among the family members Servadeo (Ovadyah) stands out: besides his successful medical activity, he was a famous rabbi and philosopher. Servadeo (born in 1475 in Cesena and died in 1550) studied at the University of Rome and in 1501 graduated in medicine from the University of Ferrara. He devoted himself to developing a printing business, he was responsible for a bilingual Hebrew grammar, which had been lost; it was conceived as an instrument of dialogue and mediation with the dominant culture and a way to enable humanist writers to get closer to Hebrew culture.

Cappello Rosso

Since their expulsion from Bologna in 1593, Jewish people hadn’t lived permanently in the city,until the beginning of the 19th century, when a local Community started to rebuild.

Between the XVII e XVIII century, they were only allowed to transit or at most to stay overnight  in Bologna, although not everywhere. According to some XVIII century edicts (reiterated over the years) Jewish people could only be accommodated in the hotel/osteria Cappello Rosso; otherwise they would incur corporal punishment and  large fines.

In place of the ancient “Cappello Rosso”, in Via dè Fusari 9, there’s still today a hotel with the same name. 

University library

In the University Library, located in via Zamboni  35, many interesting Hebrew manuscripts (about 38) are preserved.

Among the most valuable ones,  some examples of parchment Bibles  of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries stand out ; primarily  the most ancient existing Scroll of the Hebrew Pentateuch. The document, labelled as “Roll 2”, is of soft sheep leather (36 meters long and 64 cm high), comprises the full text of the Torah in Hebrew and had previously been catalogued a “probable” 17th–century scroll. Recently, it was determined that it was penned in a period between the end of the 12th and the early 13th century (1155-1225) and is therefore the most ancient complete Hebrew scroll of the Torah known today.

The Library also preserves the Canon of Medicine by Avicenna, the famous parchment codex of the fifteenth century, whose six large miniatures often appear in iconographic quotes of medical history.

The Library also possesses  a parchment scroll, the Scroll of Esther, dating between the seventeenth and the eighteenth century and containing a strange notation in Latin at the end of the text, in the section attached to the only wooden pin.

Civic Museum of the Risorgimento

The Civic Museum of the Risorgimento of Bologna (Piazza Carducci 5) collects objects and documents from 1796, when French Revolutionary Arms arrived in Bologna,  to 1918, the final year of the First World War . The extensive permanent exhibition is focused on  city events and  display documents, prints, paintings, weapons, uniforms, small items of daily or family use, photographs; we can find very rare uniforms of the Napoleonic period,  Joachim Murat’s arms, the Constitutions of the Bolognese Republic (1796), of Cispadane and  of Cisalpina; equipment belonging to Freemasonry and Carbonari, the first evidences of Giuseppe Mazzini’s work, the Albertine Statute,  memorabilia of Garibaldi, Ugo Bassi, of the battle of 8 August 1848, up to the years of unification.

The exhibition ends with examples of the  transformation  of the city into a modern metropolis of the late nineteenth century and the hall dedicated to the Great War.

The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions.

Ancient Synagogue (Great Synagogue)

Before the establishment of the ghetto in 1555, as a result of the bull Cum nimis absurdum issued by Pope Paul IV, the Jewish people of Bologna would gather in a synagogue located in Strada San Vitale (today, street number 18), which is often mentioned in 15th century documents; it’s said to be in a house in the parish of S.Bartolomeo of Porta Ravegnana.

Until 1567, the synagogue in Via San Vitale (Great Synagogue) remained active and  was a place of worship outside the ghetto.

In 1568, by order of Pope Pius V, the buildings in Via San Vitale were donated to the newly established Casa dei Catecumeni; on January 30, 1569 the Casa’s chiefs sold the synagogue to a private person and established the new seat of Casa dei Catecumeni in  some houses they bought  with the proceeds of  that sale,  in strada S.Stefano and in the parish S. Giuliano.


Both the current Synagogue (Bet ha-keneset) and the Jewish Community of Bologna have their seat in via dei Gombruti 9.  When Jewish people officially returned to the city, in 1829, Angelo Carpi from Cento founded the first small oratory; it was operative until 1928 when it was replaced by a larger temple. The latter, designed by Attilio Muggia, was an elegant square hall, with cross vaults ending with a skylight, with Art Nouveau drawings decorating the walls.

In 1943 a bomb fell on the community building; it hit and severely damaged the side facing the current Via Finzi,. Rebuilt in the same area in 1954 by Guido Muggia, son of the  architect, it was designed to preserve its ancient appearance, but restyled in a modern key.

In front of aron ha kodèsh (literally. "Ark") there is a modern pulpit, surrounded by a marble balustrade. The most interesting element of the hall is a range of polychrome glass windows portraying the main Jewish symbols: the Tables of the Law, a Star of David and a menorah. The synagogue overlooks Via Mario Finzi (old via Tintinaga): on the façade the Star of David stands out and, close to the door, there is a plaque commemorating the 84 deported citizens of Bologna in 1943.

Plaque commemorating the deportees of 1943

On the façade of the Synagogue of Bologna, exactly in Via Finzi 2, there is a plaque commemorating the 84 members of the Jewish Community of Bologna, who were deported to Nazi extermination camps from which they never came back.

In 1938, due to the racial laws promulgated by the Fascist government, Bolognese Jewish people, like their co-religionists, were subject to any kind of harassment, from the expulsion of teachers and students from public schools and University to the working and life restrictions. But the community did not give up and tried to manage as best they could.

Thanks to the Migrant Assistance Delegation (DELASEM, Delegazione Assistenza Emigrati), many Jewish people, coming from different countries,  could find protection.

Mario Finzi, a magistrate and musician, was a member of this organization; the street, where the synagogue is located, is named after him and his personal archive is held by the MEB. In one of these clandestine activities, he was captured, deported and killed.

Some managed to join the Resistance, like Franco Cesana (the youngest partisan in Italy) and the lawyer Mario Jacchia.

Others found refuge with Italian families, that hid and protected them, risking their lives; after the war, those who had helped and rescued Jewish, were recognized with the Righteous Among the Nations. In Bologna, many citizens got the honour: Alfonso Canova, Gina Marchesi Candini, Pio Candini, Edmondo Carlo Bizzi, Laura Montebello Bizzi, Bianca Bizzi Palmonari. About their lives and those of the other Righteous in Emilia-Romagna, the Museum designed an exhibition, which can be set up in museums or cultural centers.

After the raid of the Ghetto of Rome on October 16, 1943, in November of that year, also Bologna witnessed capture and deportation of the Jewish people living there.  Among them was Rabbi Alberto Orvieto, head of the Community for 44 years.

The Jewish who had been caught, were all scattered  to Auschwitz and to Bergen Belsen.



The actual Jewish cemetery, dating back to the 19th century, is part of the city cemetery and is located in via della Certosa 18.

Over the centuries, scholars have also mentioned other cemeteries; the most important was the sixteenth one in via Orfeo, near the junction with Via Borgolocchi.

Four monumental tombstones, now preserved in the Civic Museum of the Middle Ages of Bologna, are from this cemetery.

The earliest evidence of the establishment of a new burial site comes from Rabbi Marco Momigliano’s memoirs, holder of the rabbinical chair in Bologna from 1866 to 1896. At the beginning of his rabbinate, there were about 300 Jewish people in Bologna.

The community was in serious need of a burial site, as they were temporarily using the Protestant camp.

By 1869 the cemetery was already in use and Momigliano endeavoured to establish a Mercy association that would cover the transport costs of the indigent deceased.

The current Jewish camp, as can be seen, covers a large area of land and has two entrances, one directly connected to the inside of the Certosa, the other is independent through an iron gate and overlooks Via della Certosa.

It's a very broad field, which is currently divided into three sections, which have been extended during the years (the last of which in 1956).

In the oldest section, a one compartment mortuary was also built, where funeral services are conducted before burial.

Over the years, this section took on a historic-artistic monumental appearance; several  tombstones (many of which are no longer readable, because of deterioration over time) offer a glimpse of the history of the Jewish community of Bologna, since its reconstruction until the early decades of the twentieth century.


On January 27, 2016 the Shoah Memorial was inaugurated; it was built in the new square between Via Carracci and Matteotti bridge, close to the entrance to the high-speed train station. The Memorial was designed by Onorato di Manno, Andrea Tanci, Gianluca Sist, Lorenzo Catena and Chiara Cucina, the winners of the international competition promoted by Bologna’s Jewish Community. The jury examining the competing projects was chaired by Peter Eisenman, the author of the Holocaust memorial in Berlin.

Two steel blocks of 10x10m each, facing each other, converge to delimit an aperture barely wide enough for a person to pass.

On their sides, empty spaces overlook the path, inan obsessive repetition, in all directions. They represent the cells of the deportees; the void left by those who occupied them. But there is another façade of the Memorial: a smooth façade - where the cells’ perimeter can just be guessed through slight ledges - specifically designed to reflect sound, light and images.  The monument was conceived as a magnet: it’s meant to attract people, to lead them to reflect, debate, think about what happened in history: Shoah, the various names that extermination has been given in different languages and the cultures it tried to extinguish.  The cubic cavities morbidly following one another, converge on the visitor and  pass on the malaise it  represents.  Even the choice of material - cor-ten steel will naturally rust when exposed to open air – reminding us to the feeling of oppression of what it represents. In the blocks, however, the spatial depth takes on the role of time: on the inner façade what has happened, on the other one, the present.  The Memorial is not at all an end point, but a sparkle of a cultural and life process, capable of catalyzing interests, questions and a constant reflection in the city.

Jewish itinerary in Emilia-Romagna

The Jewish presence in the territory of what is now Emilia Romagna, began to manifest itself in a widespread manner from the thirteenth century onwards and there is evidence of it in at least thirty-seven different places. During the 15th and 16th centuries, the Jewish community that had settled in many small and large towns in Emilia and Romagna, spent long periods living in harmony and being well accepted by local authorities. Therefore they thrived in trade activities, in the printing press sector and in academic studies and they could follow their own traditions and religious rules. In 1555, Pope Paul IV ordered Jewish people to live only in enclosed districts, the ghettos, and subsequently expelled them from the territories of the Holy See.
Thus began the era of the ghettos, first in Bologna, and then, from 1598 onwards, also in Ferrara, in Lugo and in Cento, three towns which in that year became part of the Papal States. In the 17th century, giving way to the ecclesiastical pressures, the Dukes of Este had fences built in the ghettos of Modena and Reggio, where the Jewish population was more numerous, and finally in Carpi; the Farnese family did the same in the territory of the Dukedom of Parma and Piacenza.

The discrimination and the life in ghettos firstly ended in the Napoleonic period and then they were abolished in a permanent manner in 1860 by the Emancipation act, with which the civil and religious rights of the Jewish people were reinstated.

This historical presence is witnessed by a lot of remaining evidence:

  • twenty-six localities bearing traces of an ancient Jewish quarter
  • eleven ghettos, still viable today, in particular those of Ferrara and Bologna
  • twenty Jewish cemeteries, some of which are still in use
  • thirty-six ancient synagogues, four of which are still in use, and one in Bologna, which was rebuilt in the '50s
  • a vast collection of synagogue furniture and ritual objects
  • important collections of Jewish printed books kept in the libraries of the region Emilia Romagna.

Azioni sul documento

ultima modifica 2019-09-05T15:18:07+02:00
Questa pagina ti è stata utile?

Valuta il sito

Non hai trovato quello che cerchi ?

Piè di pagina