The Jewish community in Tuscany was been recorded since the early Middle Ages, but during the Medici period, it grew in importance thanks to their money lending. While policy in the Grand Duchy limited Jews to the ghettos in order to win over the papacy, other powerful families, like the Orsini, offered refuge to both local Jews and refugees from other areas.
In the 16th century, the “Legge Livornina” favoured the settlement of Jews in Livorno, where they were guaranteed their freedom as well well as the right to practice their religion. Poets, intellectuals, rabbis propagated Judaism, while they effectively contributed to the liberation war, losing famous figures in the community.
One of the larger cities that conserves traces of the community and is home to Jewish institutions is Florence, home to the Synagogue and Jewish Museum. The historic ghetto was demolished during urban renovations in the 19th century. Of the two Jewish cemeteries once used, the one in Rifredi is still open.
Since the late 1500s, Livorno has been home to a dense Jewish community, which established many commercial activities in various cities. It was around this time that the first synagogue was built, on today’s via Grande, though it was destroyed during a bombing in World War II. The current synagogue, finished in 1962, is a modern structure. In the cemetery on viale Nievo, there are important chapels and funerary monuments related to the community.
In Monte San Savino, there is still a synagogue, and traces of the Jewish population can be seen in the so-called “Rabbi’s Throne” and in the Christian cemetery, where there are a few tombs and headstones here and there.
The first Jewish settlement in Pisa dates to the 9th century. There are records of a synagogue located on "Chiasso dei Giudei,” near today’s piazza dei Cavalieri. Later, the community came together in Palazzo da Scorno on Lungarno Galilei. Today’s synagogue has been at the centre of the Jewish community since the 16th century. The current cemetery, beyond piazza del Duomo, is the fourth in a series of historic cemeteries.
Pitigliano is home to a ghetto, with its Forno delle Azzime (where unleavened bread was baked) and the synagogue, which was recently restored along with the historic cemetery. Sorano was also home to an important community; the only traces of it today, however, is the old gate to the ghetto.
For anyone visiting the Maremma, it’s worth trying sfratto (typical of Pitigliano and Sorano), a traditional Jewish dessert made with walnuts and honey. You can read the recipe and its history here.
Siena, another important Jewish centre, still has the synagogue built in the late 18th century as well as the even older cemetery.
The Jewish settlement in Viareggio dates to the early 1950s, where an oratory on via degli Oleandri serves the community and many seasonal tourists.