On the Great Synagogue in RomeAt the beginning of the 20th century, the Jews' status improved in Europe as they gained emancipation. This meant they were granted equal civil, social, and political rights. This was when one of the most important buildings for the Jews was inaugurated - the Great Synagogue of Rome, just opposite St. Angelo's Church.
The large and magnificent synagogue is also called "Izraelitiko". It can accommodate more than 1000 worshipers, which proves how great it is. Note its square aluminum roof, which makes it so unique, since there are only a few in Rome.
Today the synagogue serves as a prayer place, as well as a Jewish museum, where Jewish artifacts and archeology are displayed, as well as ancient gravestones, documents and books on Italian Jewry.
History of the SynagogueFor hundreds of years, due to a law forbidding the construction of new synagogues, the synagogue was divided into five different section, each pertained to a different community. When the Jews of Rome were concentrated in the ghetto, they dispersed in the synagogues in this area.
It was only after the original building burnt down that this new structure was built. It became a symbol of the new rights of Italian Jews in the early 20th century. A sign of the appreciation and excitement surrounding the synagogue's inauguration is a memorial plaque on the wall which reads: "From Igura Rama to Birka Amikta". In loose terms, this means rising from a low pit to a high peak.
The synagogue was built in 1904, on the ruins of the ghetto. It was designed by Christian architects, since at that time the Jews could not study liberal professions, such as architecture. A few weeks before his inauguration, by the way, the new synagogue was visited by the King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele III.
In 1986 there was a historic visit to the synagogue by Pope John Paul II. The Pope prayed with Rabbi Eliyahu Toaff, then Chief Rabbi of Rome. This was the first ever visit of a pope to a synagogue. Before the visit, all the Torah scrolls were removed from the synagogue. This is due to the practice of the Jews of Italy, who claim that a synagogue without Torah scrolls in the Temple is not a holy place.
The Synagogue's ArchitectureThe synagogue was built in a very impressive and massive building. It is a magnificent square structure that can be seen from a distance and certainly beyond the Tiber River, which flows in its south.
The style is known as "neo-classical". This means that it includes elements from the classical world, mainly Greek and Roman, but also motifs from Assyrian and Babylonian cultures. The large classical columns stand in front of it, giving it the appearance of a Roman temple. They are balanced in a square aluminum dome. This dome, of the Great Synagogue, can be seen from almost every point in Rome.
Inside the synagogue, the Holy Ark is also decorated as a small Greek temple. On either side of it, it is supported by two columns. Above the cover of the ark stand the statues of the Tablets of the Law, and above them a seven-branched menorah.
The main prayer hall rises to a height of 46 meters and topped by the square dome. A hexagonal arched niche contains a kind of Holy Ark in a classic white and gold style.
The hall is divided by huge columns, headed by Greek titles. The walls feature numerous sculptings of lamps and a variety of medallions. The walls of the synagogue are adorned with flower-like decorations and stars on the ceiling and a variety of decorations in different colors. One cannot help but be moved by the many tablets on the walls here, which have the names of the Jewish victims who were killed or murdered in the two world wars engraved on them.
The women's section is located behind pillars, in a gallery on the second floor. In the basement there is a synagogue for Sephardic prayers and at the separate entrance to the synagogue, on the river's side, are the offices of the Jewish community of Rome.
A small museum in the synagogue building contains about 1,000 parochettes and quite a few books and manuscripts. These documents document the lives of the Jews in Italy, at different periods in history.
The building was designed by Vincenzo Costa and Oswaldo Armani. The two are not Jewish, since Jews were not allowed to study architecture at the time.