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Records show that the first Jewish prayer oratory in Bologna to be founded after the expulsion of the Jews from the Papal States, dates back to 1839.

Its founder was Angelo Carpi from Cento and is located on the west side of the city center in the area that is nowadays close to Piazza Malpighi. This new Jewish settlement was separated from the old ghetto not only by time but also due to its location. In fact, the old ghetto is on the east side of the city in front of Porta Ravegnana near the Asinelli and Garisenda Towers. Services took place only on Saturdays in one of the rooms of Angelo Carpi’s house.

Those years, from 1859 onwards, were characterized by the Unification of Italy and the re-established Jewish community was very active and had a great desire to re-establish itself. Through its own resources and thanks to financial aid from the municipality, the community finally managed to build a synagogue and a cemetery.

In 1868 Marco Momigliano had already been the rabbi of Bologna for two years. In his memoirs he recalls how Lazzaro Carpi, Angelo’s son and owner of the building where he lived, “dismissed” him from the household since he no longer wanted Momigliano to hold services in his building.

After that, services temporarily took place in a room that was rented on the third floor of the building annexed to the rabbi’s home at no. 17 in via de’ Gombruti, which is currently no. 7. Nevertheless, that room soon ended up being “not only indecent, but also not sufficient enough to hold the growing number of fellow worshippers during the solemnities.”

This is the reason why, when the whole building at no. 19 was put up for auction, funds were raised among the richest Jewish families to buy the above-mentioned building. As a matter of fact, as Guidicini recalls in his work “Cose notabili della città di Bologna” (Remarkable Episodes in the History of Bologna), the purchase concerned the building complex that nowadays has its entrance at no. 9 in via de’ Gombruti and the ground floor at no.7, where Casa de’ Gombruti is located. This building and the street were named after the ancient Bolognese family, which died out in 1650. At that time access to the estate was mainly through no. 9, which led to the hall and to the stairwell, or through no. 7, which led to the inner courtyard on the side of a large building that was not used as a house and belonged to the owners of the property at no. 9. The second and third floor of the building at no. 7 still belonged to their original owner. Engineer Guido Lisi from Bologna was given the task of designing the synagogue, and in 1874 work commenced with the renovation of the inner building.

The Holy Temple was dedicated on the evening before vigil of Shavu’ot in 1877. The magazine Vessiilo Israelitico (Jewish Banner) reported the news that the temple, which “had been under construction for several years, was finally completed.” The new Oratory was erected in the inner part of the complex, and more precisely, it was the result of widening the original building and making use of a portion of land that stood on vicolo Tintinaga, which is presently called via Mario Finzi. Its rectangular hall is 13.5 meters high and has a barrel-vaulted ceiling with rounded edges. As the Vessillo Israelitico described it: “Light comes through two large arch-shaped windows on both sides of the Aron HaKodesh and through a transom directly over it, as well as through the crystal panes of a lantern that opens through the middle of the ceiling.”

A service gangway is located on the ground floor which runs all along the south side of the hall, at the end of which was a door that led to the synagogue, and above which, on the upper floor the women’s gallery was located.

Running around the parapet is a series of closed railings topped by small columns that mark off five fields. Each field is in turn enclosed by wooden lattices. The inner part of the structure consists of a single large room, just like most other Italian Jewish temples of the same period. This concept of having one single center was innovative and replaced the previous two-centered temple halls that characterize the synagogues of Venice, Ancona and Ferrara to this very day.

The hall had thirty-six “privileged” seats and sixty “ordinary” ones. They were no longer arranged along the two sides of the hall in two rows facing inwards towards each other, but instead all faced forward just as they do in Christian churches.

The Holy Ark is located along the eastern wall on a platform which extends three meters out. The stalls for the Parnasim, the synagogues elders, are placed in two niches on both sides of the Ark. The Bimah, the place where the celebrant speaks to the assembly, is situated a bit more forward in front of the Aron. Its overall look was to be simple, “modestly made though suggesting order and good taste” as the Jewish Banner mentioned in its pages.  

The Jewish temple designed by Attilio Muggia

At the turn of the century architect Attilio Muggia, who was a teacher at the Royal School of Engineering in Bologna, as well as a famous designer, was asked to reconstruct the existing synagogue. Muggia had been working out various proposals for the new temple hall for at least ten years. However, it was only in 1928, after World War I, that the new building was completed. One of his projects whose drawings are dated 1907, more or less resembles “intervention by reworking its decorative features,” where the inner spaces were redefined according to a new style.

The dimensions of the hall are similar to those of the previous one, yet he added a few new details: the shorter walls, e.g. the one that houses the Aron and the one opposite it, were decorated in the Art-Nouveau style: twin engaged columns and molding divide the wall surfaces into two panels; the longer wall was ordained with semi-pillars at the lower level, the space of the women’s gallery was conceived to be more elaborate through the use of thin columns, as if it were a theater gallery, and this corresponded to how the final project actually ended up being carried out. A second loggia for the organ was to be built above the Holy Ark. The ceiling still called for a cloister vault, although the central lantern was planned to be much larger, with a diameter of three meters, making the whole effect more magnificent.

Nevertheless, this first project was but a shy attempt to give more dignity to the whole structure of temple hall. This is probably the reason why Attilio Muggia worked out several plans during the following years, and all of gradually became more radical in the transformations they would require. A layout of the inside of the Jewish Temple, dated 1915, as well as the plan’s geometric drawings show the magnificent aspect that the synagogue had in 1928, when reconstruction was completed. Once finished, the hall was still the same size as the previous projects (14 x 10 meters), and the ceiling had a cloister vault with ribs decorated with friezes ending in a rectangle that surrounded an elliptical skylight. The wall that housed the Aron, as well as one opposite to it were decorated with engaged columns and panels that divide them into two orders, just like in the first project. This time, however, the side walls were replaced by a double order of columns with cantilever caps, in such a way as to make the hall seem much wider. Similarly, the women’s gallery truly evoked the idea of a theater loggia, due to the fact that its seats were arranged on high, wide risers. Semi-columns built into the wall and a lintel framed the Aron and the Tables of the Law crowned by the Atarah, were located directly on the wall above it. There were wooden stalls for the Parnassim on both sides.
Seven eternal candles, Ner Tamid, hung by a chain from the lintel above the Holy Ark. A gently curved balustrade ran around the platform where the Bimah was located. Two high

Menorahs (seven-branched candelabra) stood on the two sides of the balustrade that projected out towards the assembly.

Adapting the Temple

The introduction of the new temple hall into the already existing building known as Casa de’ Gombruti and the neighboring building at no. 9 was carried out in a well-balanced way, both concerning building material and plans.
The main entrance on vicolo Tintinaga, now known as via Mario Finzi, was magnificently decorated and characterized by its unique Art-Nouveau facade, reflecting the importance that the Jewish community of Bologna had at the time.
It is worth remembering that the Jewish community of Bologna was important for being the first in the country for the number of its members, as well as for having the highest number of outstanding university professors. Nowadays, if one would like to have a concrete idea of what the building might have looked like at that time, all one needs to do is take a good look at the buildings at the end of via Indipendenza and at the steps called “Pincio della Montagnola,” which were built in the same style and designed by the same architect.

Access to the building from via de’ Gombruti was through a corridor which led to a courtyard. This courtyard, which was usual for large houses in Bologna to have, was divided in two parts by a large wrought-iron gate.
The part of the courtyard before the gate, which probably consisted of a portico and porch, was closed in by floor to ceiling length windows which divided the whole area on the side of the corridor leading into the temple into a number rooms. During the period when Jewish students and teachers were expelled from public schools because of Italy’s adoption of anti-Semitic “Race Laws,” this area, according to what Ubaldo Lopes Pegna recalled in his unpublished memoirs, was used for classrooms for the Jewish junior high school and high school that were set up and run by the community. The over-all effect of this combination of old versus new was very well received, yet it was hard to note exactly which parts of it were old and which were new since all of them blended so easily together.

The destruction of the synagogue during II war

The events of World War II brought destruction to Bologna as well as to the rest of Italy. The synagogue was razed to the ground during a bombing raid in 1943. After the war, when the terrible persecutions of the Fascists and Nazis came to an end, the local Jewish community had to face the task of reconstructing its temple all over again. This time Muggia’s son, Guido was entrusted with doing so. His first project was more or less a reworking of the synagogue his father had built, but did incorporate various original ideas regarding the building’s overall structure. Nevertheless, financial problems prevented such a complex work from even being attempted. Therefore, Guido Muggia was forced to work out a project that was a modern interpretation of the pre-existing building. The whole structure of the building is the same as it previously had been: the hall has two side aisles running down it on the ground floor, whereas the women’s gallery is split on both sides of the upper floor. The ceiling is a cloister vault with decorative ribs. A large round window is located on its outside west wall and its panes make up the shape of the Star of David.

The Tables of the Law were set above the Aron on the opposite wall, where there also is a round-arch window. The interior is simple: the lower level has pilasters with square bases and architraves, whereas the upper level has round arches. Seen from the front the vault’s ribs close off a space that seems to stretch upwards. The rays of light that filter into the temple through the Mogen David, illuminate the empty space of the hall and render it breath-taking.

The reconstruction of the synagogue was completed in 1953. For the first time the facade of this house of prayer, even if only on a secondary street, was visible to the general public. It is located on Vicolo Tintinaga: the front part of the building is covered in stone and is divided into three parts. The middle part is higher than the other two and has a round window that is crowned with another in the shape of a round arch. Its two shorter sides project slightly outwards and give access to the aisles - one entrance on each side -
as well as the two circular windows which give light to the loggias of the women’s gallery.
For safety reasons, the entrance to the synagogue hall is through the Community Center at the back, and as a consequence of this, the synagogue apparently takes on a secondary role in city life, but one must remember that after enduring many centuries of hard times, it has finally attained both a respectable and privileged position.

Nevertheless, due to renewed and ever-increasing interest in Jewish life and culture, thousands of visitors (schools, religious groups of various nature, associations and cultural clubs) are given tours of the synagogue, or “House of the Synagogue,” throughout the year. As a result, its role in the life of the town was strengthened and the synagogue was registered among the city’s list of important historical landmarks, and its maintenance is provided by public organizations, as well as by private foundations.

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Font: "The Synagogue of Bologna, the past, present and future of a Jewish presence" by Lucio Pardo (ex President of the Jewish Community of Bologna)

of inside the Temple