The Medicis and the Jews
Today, Florence is synonymous with the beauty and majesty of Italy. Known as “The Athens of the Middle Ages,” the story of Florence is synonymous with the story of the Medicis. Though most have never heard of the connection, Jewish history is intertwined with this powerful and famous Italian family. A Jewish community has existed in Florence since as early as the 13th century, and today the congregation is 1,000 strong. The community is the third largest in Italy after those of Rome and Milan.
The Jewish community in Florence first established itself on the south bank of the river in the area called via dei Giudei (Street of the Jews). The Medici ruler and humanist Lorenzo the Magnificent invited Sephardic Jews to settle in Florence in the 15th century with hopes of developing international trade and banking in the city-state. There were no social or economic restrictions on Jewish life, and business flourished in the city. Although the Jews of Florence lived relatively well compared to other places in Italy and Europe at large, they were still separated in a ghetto. We will visit the former ghetto, established in the 16th century.
The skyline is accented by the unmistakable, spectacular turquoise copper dome of the Temple of Florence. This beautiful 19th century synagogue was built in the most fashionable Moorish style of the time, hosts a Jewish Museum and is the current seat of the local Jewish Community. Possibly the most famous piece of art contained in the city has a Jewish theme – Michelangelo’s David. Another Jewish-themed masterpiece can be found on the gilded doors of the Baptistery where ten panels tell the stories of the Tanakh -- the Hebrew Bible. On our tour we will focus on the Jewish Heritage of Florence, but will not miss out on the larger picture – the impact of Florence on the world’s cultural and artistic legacy.
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