Located on the westernmost edge of Tuscany, with its harbor opening onto the Ligurian Sea, the Italian city of Livorno - also known as Leghorn - was one
of the main trading centers in Europe. Becoming a
major port during the rule of the Medici
family in the 16th century, Livorno received the status of a free port in 1675 and was an important connecting point
between the Mediterranean, North Sea ports and the Near East. For hundreds of years, the Jewish community of Livorno was one of the city's most distinguished and distinctive and though the numbers have dwindled since World War II, there remains a deep Jewish culture within the city.
- Jewish Traders
- Printing Press
- Religiou Life & Institutions
- World War II-Present
- Tourist Sites
In the middle of the 16th century, when Livorno was a miserable, malaria-infested village, its rulers, the Medici family, decided to turn it into an important port and attract foreigners to settle. In 1548, Cosimo I issued an invitation to foreigners, including fugitive Marranos, to come to the new port. His project, however, met with little success.
Years later, in
1587, the Grand Duke invited merchants of all nations to come to settle in
Livorno and Pisa. A further invitation was issued by Ferdinand I on June 10, 1593, offering asylum to all Levantines, Spanish,
Portugese, Germans and Italians. The majority of Ferdinand's invitation articles were directed to the Jews who had lived as Christians in Spain and Portugal. The charter – referred to as "Livornina" – guaranteed full religious liberty, amnesty for crimes previously committed, the opportunity for "Marranos" to return to Judaism unmolested, a large exemption from taxation, and commercial freedom.
Jews and other nationalities were given many rights
and privileges. Ferdinand Is charter offered the Jews religious
freedom, amnesty from previous crimes, full Tuscan citizenship and
special courts with civil and criminal jurisdictions. Safe passage of
goods and persons was guaranteed to all Jews who moved to Livorno.
Jews could own houses, inherit property, carry arms at any hour, open
shops in all parts of the city, have Christian servants and
nursemaids, study at the university, work as doctors and did not have
to wear the Jewish badge. Finally, unlike many other cities in
Tuscany, Jews did not have to live in a ghetto.
These conditions proved attractive to Marranos and
Levantines and the Jewish population grew from 114, in 1601 to 3,000
by 1689. Jews came to be the most important nation living in Livorno.
Spanish and Portugese became the official language of Jewish merchants
in Livorno and remained so until the late 18th century.
S.A. Hart, Festa della Legge [in Livorno's
Antica Sinagoga], 1850
were involved in a variety of industries, besides moneylending. One of
the specialized industries was the coral industry; Jews exported
products to Russia and India and used coral to make ritual objects.
The soap, paper, sugar-refining and wine distillation industries were
also run by Jews. In 1632, the Jews imported the first coffee into
Italy and opened coffeehouses in Livorno. Besides manufacturing, Jews
were also involved in the slave trade, providing ransom money for
Christians imprisoned in North Africa and handling the return of
One well-known Jewish merchant, Maggino di Gabriele
left Pisa to set up a textile and
glass manufacturing industry in Livorno. Jewish merchants had contacts
throughout the Mediterranean and many Jewish families sent relatives
to Tripoli, Tunis and Smyrna. These trade networks existed throughout
the 18th and 19th centuries. In 1765, more than
one-third of Livornos 150 commercial houses were owned by Jews. The
Jews fame and fortune were well-known throughout Europe and
inspired an offer by Louis XIV, King of France, to resettle the whole
community in Marseilles.
The sovereignty of Tuscany changed to the house of
Lorraine in 1737, however, conditions for the Jews remained the same.
Leopold I (1745-1790) offered more privileges to the Jews, including
the right to representation on the Municipal Council. By the end of
the 18th century, nearly 5,000 Jews lived in Livorno in an
Napoleon invaded Livorno in 1796, the situation deteriorated for the
Jews. Many Jews supported the French occupation and paid for French
military costs. Special privileges given to Jews over the past couple
centuries were taken away. Livorno declined in importance when Tuscany
was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy in 1859 and met with stiff
competition from other port cities. By the end of the 19th century the Jewish population had decreased to 2,500.
Livorno also became a center of Hebrew printing in Italy. Jedidiah Gabbai setup the first Hebrew press in 1659 and published a midrash on the Torah.
years later, Abraham ben Raphael Medola and his son opened another
active Hebrew press. Between 1763 and 1870, sixteen other
Hebrew printing presses were active in Livorno. The printing press of
Soloman Belforte (established in 1838) was also significant. Livornos
printing press supplied liturgical books throughout North Africa and
to the other Jewish communities in the Ottoman
Empire until the outbreak of World War II.
From 1600 to 1899, almost 1,300 Hebrew books were printed in the typographies of Livorno, which was second in Italy only to Venice.
Religious Life and
Antica Sinagoga,1603 [destroyed]
Livorno served as a center for Jewish study and
mysticism led by Rabbi Joseh ben Emanuel Ergas (1685-1732) and other Kabbalists.
A special talmudic court opened and the elders of the community (Massari)
presided over the cases. Because of the existence of the Talmud Torah
school in Livorno, illiteracy among Jewish males was unknown from the
17th century on.
Livornos first synagogue was located in the room of one of the Jewish residents living in the
Fortress of Livorno in the period before the patented letters sent by
the Medici family in 1548. Another synagogue, documented in 1593, was
located in the house of Maggino di Gabriele, a mediator between the
Jews and the Medici grand dukes. This synagogue was used until 1607
when it was rgue located in between the
Duomo and Royal Moat. The larger synagogue, constructed in the late 16th century, was enlarged and embellished numerous times until 1789. It
was admired throughout Italy and was visited by grand Dukes of Tuscany
and foreign leaders. In 1927, the synagogue housed Italys first
Museum of Hebrew Art. Bombings during World War II damaged the
synagogue was damaged by a bomb and the community decided to build a
new synagogue after the war, rather than restore it.
One of the important Jewish scholars in Livorno was
Elia Benamozegh (1823-1900). Benamozegh wrote in Italian, Hebrew and
French and called upon Jews to take an active part in Italian life. He
promoted dialogue between Jews and Christians. Benamozegh wrote
analyses of the Kabbalah and
the Zohar, as well as commentaries on the Psalms.
Distinct customs, dress and language were found
among the Jews of Livorno. The dialect, Baggito, developed from
Spanish, Hebrew and a Livornese dialect. Bagitto did not become a
literary language. One famous Jewish writer from Livorno, Guido
Bedarida (1900-1962), wrote in the Livornese dialect.
Due to the large number of immigrant communities in
Livorno, a special type of cuisine developed. Many Jewish recipes are
currently part of mainstream Livornese dishes, including a special
doughnut, roschette, made with flour, water and olive oil.
World War II to the Present
Prior to World War II, Livornos Jewish
population numbered approximately 2,235. It is estimated that 60 to 90 percent of
Livorno was destroyed in World War II, since its port was subject to
attack from both sides. Livornos famous synagogue was bombed by the Allies and
partially destroyed during the war.
During the Holocaust, at least 119 Jews were sent to Auschwitz and other death camps from Livorno; only 11 survived. Others were killed in the surrounding mountains, where the German army was very active. At the end of the war, 1,000 Jews ld of the war, 1,000 Jews lived in Livorno.
Owing to emigration and rapid demographic decline, the Jewish population was reduced to about 600 out of a total of 170,000 inhabitants in 1965. In 1962, a new synagogue was dedicated, financed by the Italian state; it was erected in the same place as the old one but in modern style, thus symbolizing continuity and hope for the future. In 1967, following the
Israeli Six-Day War
, a few hundred Jews from Libya and other Arab countries arrived in Livorno, partly attracted by the presence of a number of Jews from Tripoli. The community had an elementary Hebrew school until 1983.
Currently, Livornos Jewish community numbers around 700, however very few are of Portuguese or Spanish descent. The community has a chief rabbi - Yair Didi, cantor, kindergarten and
an elementary Hebrew school. Religious services are held regularly
Livornos Jewish community also sponsors concerts, lectures,
exhibits and conferences.
Located on the site of the former synagogue,
in the plaza named after Elijah Benamozegh, the synagogue opened in
1962 and became well known for its architecture. The synagogue houses
the Jewish archives and the offices of various Jewish organizations.
The building of the former
Rabbinical college and Istituto delle pie scuole israelitche, set up
in 1825, can be found near the Livorno synagogue.
Immediately following the post-war period,
this building, owned by the Marini family until 1867, was used as a
synagogue. Currently it houses the Jewish communitys kindergarten
and museum. The museum has an ark from the old synagogue, which was
said to be brought to Livorno by refugees from the Iberian peninsula.
The museum also has a roll of Lyons fabric embroidered by Livornese
Jews and an 18th century Ketubah.
There are three Jewish cemeteries in Livorno. The
first Jews of Livorno buried their dead at the Milinacci beach. In
1648 Jews were given permission to use an open field near Via Pompilia,
known as campaccio, for a cemetery. A second cemetery was
opened in 1738 at Via Corallo. These two cemeteries were expropriated
in 1939 and the gravestones were moved to the new cemetery in the
Stagno area, which was opened in 1837. This third cemetery is still in
use and contains plaques commemorating those who died in World War I
and those who perished in the Holocaust.
City Archives in the Palazzo della Prefettura
The city archives contain a lot of information about the Jewish
community of Livorno.
Named after the prominent
Jewish family, this piazza is located on the area where the Attias
mansion spanned. The Attias tomb is located in Livornos third
Jewish cemetery. Located near the piazza is a gray building with green
shutters, which contains a plaque commemorating Amedeo Modigliani, a
famous 19th century Jewish, Livornese painter.
Monumento dei Quattro Morri
Located on the
waterfront, this statue commemorates Ferdinand who invited Jewish
refugees to Livorno in 1590.
Sources: Funke, Phyllis Ellen. "Livorno and Pisa." Hadassah
Magazine - The Jewish Traveler.
Heller, Marvin J. "Hebrew
printing in Livorno."
"The Jews and the Medici." Medici
Judaica. CD-ROM Edition. 1995
Jewish Itineraries: Place, History and Art. Edited by Dora
liscia Bemporad and Anna Marcela Tedeschi Falco.Marsilio Publisher
Zeldis, Leon. "Some Sephardic Jews in Freemasonry." Freemasonry
Elin Schoen Brockman, "Livorno," Hadassah Magazine (June/July 2013).
Photo credits: Antica Synagogue photos Copyright © Jewish
Italy, map Copyright © Traveleurope
Italy, Modern synagogue interior and exterior Copyright © Jews
and Synagogues. EdizioniStorti Venezia. 1999, photos of the city
of Livorno Copyright © Associazione