Brenda Lee Bohen

The Fall Of The Roman Ghetto 

Preparatory drawing for the engraving depicting “The Bersaglieri Charge at Porta Pia” (1890-1893) on current display at the
Jewish Museum of Rome

A new exiting on-site exhibition consisting of paintings, sculptures, documents, photographs, video and music allows international visitors to understand how Jewish Soldiers and Officers became a symbolic representation of the end of the temporal power of the Pope.

” 1849-1871. The Jews of Rome between Segregation and Emancipation ” curated by Giorgia Calò and Francesco Leone will be on view from November 10, 2021 to may 27, 2022 at the Jewish Museum of Rome.

Room Two displays the new exhibition ” The Jews of Rome between Segregation and Emancipation ” curated by Giorgia Calo and Francesco Leone

The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 and the lockdowns of early 2021 resulted in the postponement of an exhibition dedicated to Celebration of the 150th year anniversary of the breach of Porta Pia, the prelude to the birth of Rome as the capital of Italy.

The exhibition is a testimony on how, although segregated in a ghetto, the Jewish Community of Rome also coexisted with a strong desire for emancipation and the willingness to contribute to the formation of the new Italian nation, states Ruth Dureghello, the first woman president in history of the Jewish community of Rome.

Assembled in Room two, the focus of this new exhibition is dedicated to Jewish soldier-painters. It was during the period of emancipation that Jewish artists joined the cultural and artistic avant-garde of the new Italy represented by the Macchialioli, the great Tuscan movement connected to the ideas of the Risorgimento, says co-curator Georgia Calò.

The new display space feels contemplative, as international visitors learn about the complexities of Rome’s Jewish history and the process of intergration. In fact, what is less known is that more than 200 Jewish soldiers under the command of two Jewish Officers, Captain Giacomo Segre and Lt, Riccardo Mortara, opened the breach in the ancient walls of the eternal city near Porta Pia at dawn on September 20, 1870, says co-author Francesco Leone.

This fascinating new temporary exhibition, along with its detailed and beautifully illustrated catalog in both Italian and English, demonstrates (instead of confirms) how the Jews not only became a significant part of, but also assisted in co-founding the Italian nation!

Museum educator Patrick giving a tour in the Great Synagogue


After a hot summer, no air conditioning and the challenge of wearing masks, explanations of the Great Synagogue of Rome were temporarily suspended during the month of August.

In this new year 5782, the museum educators have returned, providing a free guided tour designed to last approximately 15 minutes. The tour provides visitors a general overview and shares insights into the history of the Jews of Rome and the Great Synagogue’s eclectic twentieth century architectural design and construction .

Visitors can also download a free museum guide on their android or iPhone to walk them through the different rooms and learn about Jewish life in Rome from its earliest settlements in the second century before the Common Era.

A large part of the collections on display dates to the ghetto period from 1555 to 1870. Private and group tours are provided by the museum educators that explore in depth the history of the museum, its two synagogues and the Jewish Quarter.

Museum educator Yoram S. giving a private tour in the Spanish synagogue


The Spanish temple, much of its collection dating back to the time of the Cinque Scole of the ghetto, is located in the basement of the Great Synagogue and it is only open for private guided tours with museum educators.

The Scola was the primary structure of the community, the central nucleus around which the Jews gathered: it was not only a place of prayer and study, at the same time a meetinghouse, a religious, cultural and administrative center, able to meet the needs of the community.

It began with  Paul IV Carafa in 1555 and the papal bull “Cum nimis absurdum” which allowed the Jews to use only one building as a synagogue, within what was called “the menagerie of the Jews”.

In reality this was not possible, since the Jews came from very different places and cultures: In addition to the local Jews, there were also those who over the centuries had been ordered to move to the city from the different centers of the Papal state or from other realms.

In addition, there were other Jews who immigrated from afar, such as from Spain, Portugal and Sicily after the expulsion in 1492. Thus, next to the Scole frequented by Jews who followed the Roman rite, the synagogues of the Sephardic (Spanish) or Ashkenazi (German) rite were located in the Sant’Angelo district.

To adhere to the papal provision contained in the “Bull” five different synagogues were placed in a single building, connected to each other by stairs and corridors. In each Scola it was possible to follow a different rite, their name indicated the geographical origin of the Jews who frequented it. These were: Tempio (for the Jews of Rome), Nova (for those coming from the Papal State), Catalana (for Jews from Catalonia), Castigliana (Jews from Castile) and Siciliana (for those who had been expelled from the Kingdom of the 2 Sicilies).

Museum of educator Yoram P. giving a guided tour of the Jewish Quarter


Another program returning to the museum is their Jewish Area Walking Tours in English and Tour del QuartiereEbraico in Italiano. This tour is approximately 45 minutes with a minimum number of three or more participants. Although the original area has disappeared, there is still visible evidence and verbal testimonies of its history.

The museum educator staff guide visitors through the picturesque side streets and squares. They share specific cultural, religious, and personal insights throughout the Jewish neighborhood (former Ghetto) that extends forover an area of four city blocks.

In addition, all museum and synagogue visits are conducted by members of the Roman Jewish community to give an authentic educational experience.

Further Information

Jewish Museum of Rome

About the Author
Brenda Lee Bohen is a collaborator with the Jewish Museum of Rome. She has earned a Bachelor’s degree in the History of Art and Architecture from DePaul University, and a Master of Science in Historic Preservation from the Art Institute of Chicago. She earned her certification in Jewish Leadership at the Spertus Institute in partnership with Northwestern University and continues higher education at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership in Chicago. She is also a licensed and accredited tour in the Vatican Museums. As such, she passionately advocates for ongoing productive scholarship concerning the history of the Jews of Rome. In her volunteer efforts and contributions to articles and blogs, she strives to enlighten others about Roman Jewish history by interviewing prominent Jewish scholars from around the world, as well as her fellow tour guides from the community who are familiar with references to her areas of interest in the texts of the Torah, Talmud and Zohar. These texts, along with insights from other sources – including new discoveries gained from modern scholarship – contribute to an appreciation of the scope of Jewish contributions to the city of Rome, a treasured fact often ignored and omitted from history books and even guided tours of the Eternal City. She is a Hispanic woman of converso heritage, holds dual American and Italian citizenship, and is a proud veteran of the United States Army Reserves.
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