The Medicis and the Jews
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. 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.
In Florence we will explore the preserved Renaissance palaces, visit a museum housed in a former convent, meander through the small lanes, walk along the River Arno and marvel at its beauty, while exploring the Jewish presence in the city intimately. The core of Jewish life in Florence established itself on the south bank of the river in the area called via dei Giudei (Street of the Jews). There were no social or economic restrictions on Jewish life, and business flourished in the city. 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. 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 spectacular turquoise copper dome of the Temple of Florence shines over the bright clear sky of this city. This beautiful 19th century synagogue built in the then most fashionable Moorish style, hosts a Jewish Museum and is the current seat of the local Jewish Community. One of the most famous pieces of Jewish-themed art dominates the city – 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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