Jewish Heritage Route Italy – Syracuse

Syracuse was the first place in Sicily the Jews came after Palestine was conquered by Pompeo in 59 e.v.

For the next fifteen centuries, thousands of Jews from all over the Mediterranean were to settle on the island. Indeed Sicily boasted one of the largest concentrations of Jews in the Diaspora.

At that time no Sicilian city or town was without a Jewish family or group, whether for short or longer periods. There were fifty Jewish quarters – communities that could account for up the twenty or thirty percent of the population, each with synagogues, rabbis, physicians, schools, teachers, form of self-government, and notables. A long period of peaceful coexistence was brusquely interrupted in 1492, when Ferdinand II of Aragon, ‘the Catholic’, issued the expulsion order from his Spanish court.

The local Sicilian rulers attempted to block the edict. They managed to win some time, but nonetheless by the end of 1493, all the Sicilian Jews had to abandon the island. From Syracuse alone 1.000 to 3.000 left, out of total population of 12.000-14.000. The whole Jewish quarter of Ortigia emptied. The Jewish quarter on the island of Ortigia has to-day the same street layout as it did in the 15th century: there were low house (one or two stories), a hospice, a charity house, mikveh, a synagogue. The mikveh in Casa Bianca is the only surviving ritual bath of three originally on Ortigia. Now the quarter is a interesting touristic destination.

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