Discovering Italy: Crossroads of Culture, Heritage and History Italy Day 2: Padua and Ferrara

We left Murano bright and early after a lovely stay in this charming island famous for glass.  We had an invigorating ride through the lagoon on our water taxis making our way to the bus depot to continue the next leg of our journey heading towards Padua.  

Padua is a very ancient city with roots that reach far back into antiquity.  It is home to a famous university that at one point was the only one to accept Jewish students. For many centuries Padua was under the protection of Venice.  But as demonstrated in each town of Italy during the late Renaissance the Jewish population was forced into a ghetto.  When we arrived in Padua we walked through the charming city streets in order to see that Jewish ghetto.  The markets were lively and full of delicious fruit and the city, vibrant and full of life.  But the ghetto area was made up of narrow streets that were shaded by the unusually tall buildings.  There was a different atmosphere and feel to the ghetto, as if cut off from the vibrancy.  While today it is just a part of the larger city during the late renaissance it was the location of the Jewish community.  The ghetto was a testimony to the forced isolation imposed on the Jews during episodes of papal authority in Italy.  We saw where the synagogue had been located and witnessed the sign that showed the Jews who were deported during the Holocaust.  We also saw stumbling stones on the pavement in front of a door. This a symbol of lives cut short. We were reminded that although the numbers are staggering in total it really was just one individual and an ordinary life like ours that was lost. Padua had been a thriving town of intellectual learning, art , and science.  Today there is a very small Jewish population.  

After Padua we journeyed to Ferrara. This community has had a Jewish presence since 1088.  This is a unique location because for much of its history there was a toleration and even a protection for the Jewish community.  In 1275 an edict was passed giving protection to the Jews because of their use to the community. After 1492 many Jews came to Ferrara from Spain and Portugal. The community also included Italian and German Jews. While Ferrara did demonstrate more tolerance towards the Jews there were also periods of segregation as well as persecution.  The ghetto originated there in the 16th century and had 5 gates and 3 streets. It was removed when the French took over the town under Napoleon. 

Under Italian unification the Jews of Ferrara enjoyed more freedoms than in other communities.  Even under fascism the community remained vibrant and some Jews were a part of the local fascist government. However after the racial laws emerged the community was forced out of professions and out of schools.  A tragic incident occurred in 1943 when a fascist party member was killed.  Someone blamed the Jews and a number of them were rounded up and shot on the ledge of the castle moat. Their bodies were to remain in the moat for 1.5 years.  To this day some older folks will not walk near that location.  About 200 of the 700 Ferrara Jews were deported during the Holocaust. 

Today there are about 120 Jews.  Ferrara is also home to the Italian National Museum of Jewish history. This building was completed in 2017 and is an excellent resource. It has exhibits on the history of Judaism in Italy and rotating exhibits on topics such as the ghettos. It was very educational and we made an excellent connection by meeting the museums director.  

The last leg of our journey brought us to Bologna where we all enjoyed a beautiful meal.  The food in Italy is superb, fresh, colorful, and delicious.  It was a day of journeying through the centuries as we learned about how different leaders could impact the freedoms and opportunities available to a community. And how the paradigm of forced separation or inclusive toleration could impact the way people view one another. 

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