Area of historical interest, Bologna
Like in many other cities of Italy and Europe, until the emission of the papal bull Cum nimis absurdum in 1566, the Jewish communities where welcomed and perfectly integrated among citizens in any city, often occupying specific areas because of tradition and culture, but not forced to lived enclosed in them.
However, the papal bull forced the Jewish communities to live within certain and well-defined areas of the city, which were called “the Jewish enclosure”, also called ghettos, and follow limiting laws like always wearing a symbol which clearly identified them or join a Catholic mass once a month, in order to “convert them to the real religion”.
Bologna was no difference. The tolerance it had shown towards the Jewish community ended in 1560, just a few decades after the arrival of the Papal State in 1506 with Julius II.
The area where Bologna’s Jewish ghetto was founded was right inside the medieval heart of the city, but completely cut-off and isolated from the rest of the city by walls and gates that were closed after the sunset and opened at dawn, allowing the Jews to move in and out of the ghetto for work. It must not be forgotten that many Jews worked in banks or as merchants and therefore where an important economic asset for the city.
The entrance to the ghetto is still visible nowadays and can be recognised by the arch that unites Via del Carro to Via Zamboni. As soon as one enters this area the streets become narrower and curvy: having so little space at their disposal, the Jewish community built everywhere using every single square metre they could. The core spine of the ghetto was Via dell'inferno, where the synagogue used to stand (it has since then disappeared due to the bombings in 1943).
The ghetto was actually used for a very little time as the whole community was expelled in 1593 by papal orders. It was then that many Jews left in search of shelter towards Northern Europe and nearby and friendlier cities such as Ferrara or Modena. The Jewish community started to gather again between 1700 and 1800, but Jews had to wait until the Unity of Italy to be considered equal to the rest of the citizens, regardless of their religion.
The Jewish Museum of Bologna is inside the former ghetto, and it holds the most ancient documents and testimonies of the Jewish community in the city as it helps to keep their memory alive. The museum, in via Valdonica, is set up inside Palazzo Pannolini and divided in 3 different areas: one dedicated to education, one to the Jewish identity and one to the history of the local Jewish community.
Nothing like a ghetto was built during World War II. Part of the community was deported though, and 85 Jews, among them the former Rabbi, never came back.
Nowadays Bologna has a new synagogue in Via de’ Gombruti, slowly built by the Jewish community during the end of the 1700’s. Damaged during World War II, it has been restored and is now the heart of the Jewish community in Bologna. A gravestone inside the building remembers the name of all of the Jews missing after World War II.