Lifelong Learning Programme

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission.
This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

Select language

This section of the Pathway through Religions portal provides administrative information for the project contractual partners and for the European Commission and it is password protected.


Homepage > ReligiousSite Map > Map

An interactive didactical map interactive didactical map giving access to sites with a religious relevance.

Back to the Religious Sites List

Great Synagogue of Florence or Tempio Maggiore

Great Synagogue of Florence or Tempio Maggiore

Via Luigi Carlo Farini 4, Firenze, Italy



The synagogue of Florence was one of the most important synagogues built in Europe in the age of the emancipation, reached by the Jewish communities living in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany in 1848. The ancient synagogue was located in via de 'Ramaglianti, which was called "Via dei Giudei". It is believed that since the Roman era the oldest part of a Jewish community had been formed in Oltrarno, but the earliest records of the Jewish presence in Florence date back to the 13th century. The first concession for a loan bank occurred at the time of Cosimo de 'Medici in 1437, when lenders arrived from Pisa, from Rieti, from Tivoli. Until the last world war we could still glimpse in a local traces of the ancient synagogue with arches of the matroneo. What remained of that place of worship, probably existing since the fifteenth century, was completely destroyed in 1944 by German mines. The new synagogue was opened in 1882. It's Moorish motif and design was based on the Byzantine cathedral of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. In August 1944 German troops worked with Italian Fascists to destroy the synagogue, but the Italian resistance managed to defuse most of the explosives. Only a limited amount of damage was done. The synagogue was restored after the war. It was restored again after damage by massive flooding in 1966. Today, the synagogue is still open and regularly provides services to the Jewish community under the Sephardic rite of prayer. From 1882 until 1964 an Ashkenazi synagogue existed in the Benivieni palace, commemorated by an historic plaque on the facade of the building, now the Hotel Beninieni, #5 Via della Oche (close to the Duomo).
The Jewish Community thought about the building of a new Synagogue, as a symbol of the new situation of freedom. But only later, after the death of a President of the Jewish Community, David Levi, who died in 1870, it was possible to build it. In fact Levi had left his entire estate for building a new Synagogue which was worthy of the city of Florence, and so the 'Israelitic Temple' was built between 1874 and 1882. The architects were Mariano Falcini, Professor Vincente Micheli, and Marco Treves, who was Jewish. Their design integrated the architectural Italian tradition with the Moorish style used for the decoration. This style was once considered fit for a Synagogue because it was never used for churches and, in the case of the new Synagogue of Florence, because it was built in the Sefardic style. This was considered fit because it would remind Jews of the origins of Sefardic Jewry in Arab Spain. Layers of travertine and granite alternate in the masonry, creating a striped effect. Old photographs show bold red and beige stripes, but the bold colors of the stone have faded over time, leaving a more mottled effect. The overall plan of the synagogue is quadrangular. The central dome raised on pendentives is reminiscent of the Hagia Sophia and many mosques inspired by it. The corner towers are topped with horseshoe-arched towers themselves topped with onion domes in the Moorish Revival style. Three horseshoe arches form the main entrance, above which rise tiers of ajimez windows, with their paired horseshoe arches sharing a single column. The natural copper roof was oxidized to green so that it would stand out in the Florentine skyline. Inside the building "every square inch is covered with colored designs," in Moorish patterns. The interior mosaics and frescoes are by Giovanni Panti. Giacomo del Medico designed the great arch. During World War II Nazis soldiers occupied the synagogue and they used that as a storehouse. In August 1944 retreating German troops worked with Italian Fascists to lay explosives to destroy the synagogue. However, Italian resistance fighters managed to defuse most of the explosives and only a limited amount of damage was done. What damage was done was restored after the war. The synagogue was restored yet again after damage from the flood of the River Arno in 1966.
THE JEWISH COMMUNITY OF FLORENCE TODAY Has about 1000 members, most of them of Italian or western Sephardic origin. Others are from Israel, the United States, Eastern Europe and North Africa. Members of the Orthodox Conference of European Rabbis, with an Orthodox Rabbi, vary from the strictly to the less observant. The services follow the Spanish and Portuguese rituals and are held on the premises of the Moorish-style Synagogue, built in 1882. Major holidays are marked by appropriate services where visitors are welcome. In addition, Bar and Bat Mitzvah as well as weddings are celebrated in the splendid Synagogue by Jews from all over the world. The Community offers a range of services for its members and visitors such as cultural events, Kosher facilities, Mikveh, nursing home, Jewish cemetery, etc. JEWISH MUSEUM The design of the Jewish Museum in Florence, strongly backed by Rabbi Fernando Belgrado, was initiated in 1981 as a result of the donation of Marta del Mar Bigiavi. The first exhibit occupied the first floor in a room behind the women’s gallery and included the historical section and the furniture and home furnishings of synagogue worship. The project was designed by the architect Alberto Boralevi, with the exhibition design by Dora Smooth. The second part of the museum, opened in 2007, is located on the top floor, and was designed by the architect Renzo Funaro in collaboration with the architect Michael Tarroni and was set up by Dora Smooth and for the textile industry section by Laura Zaccagnini. This time the museum was divided into two sections: the first floor were the furnishings ceremonial use in the synagogue, in the latter have been moved to objects for domestic worship. One room, curated by Renzo Funaro and Liana Funaro, was dedicated to the Holocaust. The choice of rooms and Museum set up has been done based on museological and conservation considerations. First, it was decided to set it in the Temple which, due to its artistic and historical importance for its monumentality, not only represents the ideal, but it has become an integral part of the course of Jewish History in Florence. The cellars, while beautiful and impressive, but who did not have security policies because of the danger of floods (the last of which, in 1966, came up to two meters in height above the height difference created by the steps outside), have been discarded. It is a relatively small museum, but very impressive.
The Jewish Community of Florence follows the Sephardic rite, keeping its traditions as well as local customs alive. This year the Community is e hoping to print the Mahzor for Yom Kippur, which will allow the tefillah to be followed more easily during the most important day of the Jewish calendar. The community will use the great manuscript bound in silver that was copied at the end of the 1800’s for the Temple of Florence, built in 1882, as a reference, which contains the details of the tefillot in use in the Florence Community, and it has been also included an Italian translation of the prayers. The publication of the Mahzor will contribute significantly to maintaining the relationship of families living both near and far from our Community with their Jewish identity. “A hidden corner and unknown even to most of the Florentines themselves” is the Jewish Monumental Cemetery, established in 1777 outside the Porta San Frediano (Viale Ariosto n. 14), which remained in operation until 1870. Beforehand there were other cemeteries, but unfortunately nothing has remained of them. A high perimeter wall guards an important cultural treasure, consisting of funerary chapels and monuments. There are three monumental chapels on the main avenue. The first, of the Levi family, has a pyramid shape and in the style of Egyptians tombs, as is the second chapel, of the Servadio family, made in about 1875. The third chapel, of the Franchetti family, was probably planned by the architect Treves who also rearranged the little building at the entrance. Time-worn, but worth a visit to this enchanting place to discover remnants of the Jewish world. Unlike in other Jewish cemeteries, some of the graves are sculptures of high artistic value. Equally interesting are the funerary chapels neoegizio and neo-Renaissance style, like that of the Franchetti family. The same styles connote the oldest part of the cemetery at Rifredi (Via di Caciolle n. 13), designed by Marco Treves (one of the architects who designed the temple) between 1881 and 1884. The mortuary chapel, recently restored, temple-shaped with a central plan in the Renaissance style with painted decorations inside. Judaism does not allow for the exhumation of the bodies except in a few specific cases; generally there were multimple fields or “Campacci” in every city. When the graves covered the whole area, it is time to find new land, although the people and towns have often contradicted this law forcing people to move corpses and tombstones elsewhere.
Proposals of class activities.
We can use a short video: with a general presentation.
Other web resources to prepare activities in the classroom:

How did Jews live in Florence at the time Michelangelo was sculpting the David?
Hidden in the city that all the world knows and loves is another Florence: a Jewish Florence!
What was life like for Jewish people in Florence when Botticelli painted the “Primavera”? Or at Galileo’s time? And what is life like for Jews in Florence, today?
Giovanna Bossi Rosenfeld, a native historian of Florentine architecture and licensed tourist guide, specializes in tours of Florence from a Jewish perspective. She makes Jewish history come alive through her knowledge, stories and by actually taking you to the places where Jewish history was made and is still alive. You will have an insider’s view of a Jewish Florence not found in guidebooks.
The students can read and use the map and text of "Jewish itinerary in Florence" on behalf of the local Jewish Community, printed by APT (Florence Tourist Office).

Discovering Kosher food in Florence:
Ruth’s Kosher Restaurant
Via Farini 2/A - (next to the synagogue)
tel: +39 055 2480888

Kosher Market
A vast choice of kosher products from Italy and Israel.
Via de' Pilastri 7r (close to the synagogue)
tel: +39 055 240508



Follow us


This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.