The Italian Almanac

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Rome synagogue

Italian News - November 22

Rome's Jewish community, the oldest in Europe, on Tuesday opened a museum to document its long and eventful history. The 600-square-metre exhibition space is under the city's synagogue, near the river Tiber and close to the heart of the area which was once the capital's Jewish ghetto.

It contains a collection of rare manuscripts, gold and silverware, old robes and fabrics, which illustrate in various ways the stages of the community's 2,200-year life. "If you really want to know Rome you have to have visited the Jewish Museum," said director Daniela Di Castro, adding that its contents touched on history, archaeology, art history, religion and folklore.

The first Jews settled in Rome in the second century BC and Roman Jews are mentioned in reports of the mourning after the death of the emperor Julius Caesar in 44 BC. According to some sources the community grew to some 40,000 in the first and second centuries. It was tolerated for many years even though Christianity - whose centre was only about a mile away - soon became the dominant religion.

In the 13th century the pope issued anti-Jewish legislation but this does not seem to have been properly enforced until the 16th century, when Jews were persecuted and forcibly segregated from the rest of the population. They remained oppressed until the late nineteenth century, when thanks to the birth of the Italian nation Jews were given the same rights as other Italians.