“Little Jerusalem” in Tuscany


Italy is intensely Catholic, being the home to the Roman Catholic Church’s headquarters, and statistics show that roughly 90% of the population identifies itself as Roman Catholic. (Of course, the fact that only about one-third of those people regularly attend church is another matter altogether.) The point I’m getting at is that when a small hilltop town in Tuscany bills itself as “Little Jerusalem” you sit up and take notice.

The town of Pitigliano sits on a butte overlooking a trio of rivers near Maremma, on the southern border of Tuscany. There is historical evidence that the area around Pitigliano was inhabited by the Etruscans, and some of the town’s main sights are connected to that period of time. There are also churches and a medieval fortress worth visiting, too, but what I want to focus on is the thing that sets Pitigliano apart from other similar Tuscan hill towns – and that is the town’s Jewish community.

There has been a Jewish community not only living in but flourishing in Pitigliano since the mid-1600s, when many Jews left Rome because the Catholic church was going through its “counter-reformation” period. Because this area was, at the time, a separate city-state, Jews found safe harbor in this town just across the border. The community was once even so strong that a Jewish University of Pitigliano was established. During World War II, residents of the Pitigliano area were among those who hid Jews from the Nazis, helping them to find a way out of Europe.

The name “Little Jerusalem,” or “La Piccola Gerusalemme” in Italian, refers mainly to Pitigliano’s history as a town with a large Jewish community, but sadly, there are very few Jews left in Pitigliano today. Still, residents are proud of their history. The Pitigliano synagogue dates from 1598 and contains religious objects from the 17th and 18th centuries. Residents raised the money to restore the synagogue in 1995. Other monuments which were restored include the Jewish cemetery and the Kosher oven, so visitors can see evidence of the Jewish community, and there is still Kosher wine produced in this region.

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If you’re interested in visiting Pitigliano, it’s 52km west of the town of Orvieto on the A1 motorway. The Jewish sights include:

  • Synagogue
  • Museum of Jewish Culture
  • Ghetto
  • Jewish Cemetery
  • Kosher Oven
  • Ritual Baths

The opening hours for most of the sights listed above are:

  • 1 June through 30 September – 10:00-12:30 and 15:30-18:30
  • 1 October through 30 November – 10:00-12:30 and 15:00-18:00
  • 1 December through 28 February – 10:00-12:30 and 15:00-17:30
  • 1 March through 31 May – 10:00-12:30 and 15:00-18:00

For all the above times, please note that all sights are closed on Saturdays. The last entry is permitted roughly 20 minutes before closing time. During Jewish festival days, the Synagogue is closed but the other sights remain open.

Ticket prices for the sights are:

  • Adult – €2.50
  • Reduced Rate – €1.50 (includes children aged 6-12, adults over the age of 65, groups of 20 or more, university students)
  • For children under 6, tourist guides, handicapped people and their guides, there is no entry fee.

Please note that if you are planning to bring a large group, you’ll need to make arrangements in advance.

For more information, see the town’s official website (in Italian), a website (in Italian and English) dedicated to the Jewish side of Pitigliano, and a website (in Italian) about “La Piccola Gerusalemme.” The town’s official website also has one page in English about “Little Jerusalem,” here, but information about the Jewish sights is in Italian only.

Photo by: giorgio restino