Ahead of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, Siena’s synagogue has announced an ambitious restoration effort to undo earthquake damage that destabilized its vault.
A series of moderate-magnitude earthquakes struck the Palio city and surrounding areas back in early February of this year. Siena’s medieval center was only one kilometer from the epicenter.
The walls supporting the vault of the synagogue faced the most damage, and the prayer hall was forced to close for safety reasons. In recent months, religious services have been temporarily taking place in a small area of the women’s gallery.
Basic stabilization work is now underway with some initial funding from the David Berg Foundation through the World Monuments Fund, as well as from the Società Israelitica della Misericordia di Siena and the Fondazione Beni Culturali Ebraici in Italia. The more elaborate second phase of restoration, however, will involve seismic retrofitting, replacement of the current roof, and preservation work on the vault’s Neoclassical decorations, which date back to 1786.
The Opera del Tempio Ebraico di Firenze — the organization that oversees many heritage sites of the Jewish community in wider Tuscany — estimates that the costs of restoring and fully reopening the synagogue will total over €320,000.
To expedite restoration efforts, the Opera del Tempio Ebraico di Firenze has launched a fundraising campaign with help from two sponsors, the Cantina Terra di Seta, an organic and kosher winery in the region, and Opera Laboratori, a cultural heritage organization that manages many important sites in Siena, Florence and around Italy.
The first 30 donors who pledge €1,500 or more will have a chance to explore Jewish Siena in depth with a private guided visit to the synagogue led by a historian from the community. Top donors will also receive a tour and wine tasting hosted by Cantina Terra di Seta.
Those who want to help preserve one of the jewels of Jewish-Italian heritage can donate any amount directly on the Opera del Tempio Ebraico di Firenze’s website.
About the Synagogue of Siena
Located near Piazza del Campo, the synagogue was inaugurated in 1786, though Jews have been living in the city since the 12th century. The façade was left unadorned due to the community’s fears of being targeted — which were more than justified: In June 1799, in fact, 13 Jews were publicly burned in Piazza del Campo by members of the Viva Maria movement. The tragic episode is commemorated today on a plaque outside the building.
The richly decorated interior stands in stark contrast to the simple façade, and is one of the relatively rare examples of the Rococo and Neoclassical styles in Tuscany.
Read more about the synagogue and the history of the Jewish community in Siena here.