Two spectacular synagogues – one Levantine, one of Italian rite -and a mikveh have survived. After being transferred from their original locations, each of them now occupies a separate floor at number 14, Via Astagno, a steep cobblestoned street, not far from the harbor. The austere facade, with an arched portal framing heavy wooden doors, has no outward markings identifying it as a synagogue.
The Levantine synagogue of Ancona was rebuilt from scratch in the second half of the nineteenth century. Its external appearance is very simple, standing out only because of the high arched windows on the façade, which occupy the entire height of the first floor.
The interior of the synagogues and the vaults, where the sifré Torah (Pentateuch parchment scrolls) are kept, are decorated with traditional gold-leaf, woodwork, stone, silver and precious brocades. Emancipation synagogues, such as those of Rome and Florence, were heavily decorated with oriental motives on the walls and furnishings. The 19th century synagogues of Ancona, in contrast, maintained the traditional Italian style that characterized most Jewish temples in the peninsula.
According to the architect Vito Volterra, an earlier Levantine synagogue was housed under the imposing arches of Palazzo della Farina. It appears that there was also a Saracen mosque there. Only later, when Rabbi Moses Basola settled in Ancona, the revival of religious learning led the community to open a new synagogue.
In the first half of 1500 Ancona welcomed Sephardic Jews of Portuguese origin, who introduced new synagogue architecture and liturgical music. Thanks to particularly favorable economic circumstances, in 1550 Rabbi Basola led the construction of a new Spanish-Levantine Scola, merging the Spanish and the Levantine rites.
This beautiful synagogue was built by the harbor, adjacent to the famous Yeshiva Shalom (Peace Academy), was destroyed by the pontifical general Louis Christophe de Lamorcière in 1860, just before the unification of Italy.
The current synagogue is actually the third Levantine school of Ancona, inaugurated in 1876.
Italian synagogue, Ancona, 19th century (building), 15th-17th century (furnishing)
Rabbi Abraham David Vivanti was instrumental in building the new hall and making the transition from the old one. He commissioned plans and surveys of the old scola prior to its demolition and managed to preserve the aron and transfer it to the new synagogue.
In the same building, on the floor below, there is the Italian synagogue. Interestingly, its aron was positioned exactly under the Levantine aron on the floor above.
The community had rented a building owned by Count Ferretti in Via Stimata close to Via Bagno. The building was transformed into a beautiful synagogue inaugurated in 1597, which remained in use until 1932. That year the Fascist authorities, taking advantage of a project of urban renovation, ordered the destruction of this historic monument. The hardship that followed the Racial Laws prevented the construction of a new building. The sixteenth-century furnishings were thus transferred to the Levantine synagogue, where they are still today.
A miqwè is located in the same building. It features two parallel tanks that allow the mixing of water. A terrace, accessible by a staircase leading to the women’s gallery, provides the open space for setting up the sukkah.
The hall of the Levantine synagogue had the teva placed across from the aron until the 1930s. After changes in the arrangement of the furniture, both the teva and the aron now stand against the same wall on a raised level. The monumental aron, in wood and stucco gives an idea of the splendor of the old synagogue it came from.
Levantine synagogue, Ancona, 19th century (building), 15th-17th century (furnishing)
The ten columns, five on each side, are made of wood painted as faux marble in the encaustic technique. Their Pompeian red color stands out against the green backdrop; they are topped with gilded Corinthian capitals. The structure is surmounted by a large gilded crown, with the inscription “For those who follow the Torah”, in Hebrew.
The doors that close the ark are embossed silver in Spanish style.
In the 1940′s, a teva balcony from Pesaro was placed in one of the arches on the right.
The Italian synagogue of Ancona preserves the precious furnishings of the previous synagogue. The canopy of teva is placed between the two doors. The aron is embellished with carved silver doors, with floral motifs and the Tablets of the Law the at the top, a wonderful example of the chasing decorating technique.
Twisted columns decorated with golden leaves are flanking the aron, while additional columns placed on the sides give an illusion of depth. A classically inspired tympanum above the aron, stands across an imposing menorah.
The Jewish community of Ancona is also in charge of the synagogues in the nearby towns of Urbino and Senigallia.