Archives for October 2012

The three great domes of Florence: how the synagogue survived

When we lived in our old flat in Borgo La Croce in the centre of Florence we could see from our upper roof terrace the three great domes of Florence: Brunelleschi’s magnificent cupola of the cathedral and beyond it, much smaller, the dome of the Cappella dei Principi, part of the complex of the church of San Lorenzo, the Medici’s own parish church. But much nearer to us was the large green dome of the Great Synagogue of Florence or Tempio Maggiore. I tried to find a picture of all three domes, but most people cut off the synagogue from their photos and concentrate on the cathedral, like this:

That’s the cathedral dome to the right and, just to the left of Giotto’s bell-tower and the the right of the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio, the dome of San Lorenzo. What you can’t see, to the right of the cathedral cupola, is the dome of the synagogue. Here it is:

During the Second World War Fascist forces used the building as a garage and, as the Allies advanced up the peninsula in 1944, retreating German troops and their Italian Fascist allies determined to destroy the synagogue, just as they had tried to exterminate the Jewish race. Explosives were placed in the building, waiting to be detonated.  Italian resistance fighters managed to find and defuse most of them and in the end only a limited amount of damage was done. The synagogue was restored after the war – and again after being damaged in the disastrous Florence flood of 1966.

How wonderful that all three domes survive, including that of the newest of the three, that of the synagogue, built in the late 19th century.

When you come to Florence (perhaps as part of the Watermill’s Florence Add-on package: please click here for details) it is well worthwhile, when you’ve seen the cathedral and marvelled at Michelangelo’s masterpieces in San Lorenzo, to have a look at the synagogue, too. Its design integrates both Italian and Middle Eastern architectural traditions and with wonderful Moorish-type patterned designs all over the interior.

And you might also try the great vegetarian Jewish restaurant, Ruth’s, close by, where you’ll be sure of a warm welcome and tasty, interesting Jewish food . Click here for more. It’s about time the Breckons wen’t back for more: we particularly like the falafel!