Did you know there is a “Little Jerusalem” in Italy? As a matter of fact, Pitigliano’s jewish heritage is surprisingly rich, the evidence that this little gem hidden in the heart of Tuscany represented for centuries not only a refuge for the Jews, but a home they could thrive in, until the point the city earned its well-deserved nickname.
Pitigliano, with its impressive skyline composed by stone houses carved in tuff (volcanic rock), is so ancient that the fascinating history of its Jewish community is just one of the archeological layers you’ll dive in with our Jewish Pitigliano Tour.
The particularities that differentiate this area and this small town from its surroundings are numerous, starting from the remains of the Bronze Age, the Neolithic Age and even the Copper Age, many of which are now preserved in local museums. Then there are the ruins of the necropolises and the remains of a temple that testify the existence of an Etruscan community in the 6th century. The “Vie Cave”, mysterious and fascinating open-air routes, carved in tuff by the Etruscans up to 25 meters in depth, are a must-see.
The old town, surrounded by Etruscan and medieval walls, has survived the centuries relatively unscathed, and has the cozy narrow well-preserved medieval streets to show for it. Here we will encounter Palazzo Orsini, a palace-fortress that now works as a museum which hosts a collection of sacred art from the region, and the Chiesa di San Rocco, with its marvelous frescos from the XVII century, just a few minutes’ walk from the Jewish Quarter with its Old Synagogue, built in 1598, and the Jewish Museum.
Beginning in 1500, Jews started to move into the city due to political pressures in Rome and other major nearby cities, and they soon became a major piece of the social fabric. Synagogues, Jewish cemeteries, and community organizations began to appear.
This friendly coexistence was challenged with the Medici Family’s rise to power, and Pitigliano’s Jews were forced into Ghettos. Despite this adversity, the community remained strong and continued to have close, friendly ties with their Catholic neighbors.
During WW2, this flourishing Jewish community was forced into hiding. Many Jews fled, and many others were hidden by non-Jewish farmers in the surrounding region who still held their Jewish neighbors in high regard.
Today, though the Jewish population is miniscule, signs of their influence on daily life in Pitigliano remain everywhere, and represent one of the main touristic attraction, and the highlight of our Pitignano Jewish Heritage Tour.
Last but not least, there are Pitigliano’s culinary delights! According to a legend, the curved biscuits called “Sfratti" actually have a Jewish (and quite ironic) origin: their form apparently emulates the curved sticks used by the police to knock on the doors of the Jewish citizens and force them into the ghetto. The best place to taste these delicious biscuits made of nuts, honey, nutmeg and orange peel is the “Forno del Ghetto”, near the synagogue. To drink? A glass of Bianco di Pitigliano of course, a distinguished white wine unique to the region.
Our Milk & Honey guides look forward to helping you make the most of your time in Pitigliano!