Synagogue, interior and exterior, Urbino, 17th century
Located at the corner of Via Scalette del Teatro, under the turrets of Palazzo Ducale, the synagogue is easily identifiable by the high arched window. Externally, the building is unassuming, and the facade on Via Stretta has the appearance of a residential home.
The location was chosen in 1633; it was built a year later.. That year, all the Jews who lived in the cities and countries of the former Duchy of Urbino, were forced into the ghetto. The furniture and the old aron, now on display at the Jewish Museum in New York, were transferred to the new synagogue.
Initially the synagogue had a rectangular floor plan with three tall windows to the West and the Teva in the center of the hall. We can still appreciate the original architecture of this synagogue thanks to a series of drawings made in 1704 by Rabbi Joseph Del Vecchio, which decorated a precious prayer book.
In the mid-nineteenth century, with the opening of the ghetto and the emancipation of the Jews, the building underwent a renovation that radically changed its appearance. A vaulted apse was built on the Eastern wall, (where the aron was placed), introducing an element entirely foreign to Jewish architecture. It is noteworthy that the shape of the vault is almost identical to that of the cathedral of Urbino.
The old aron no longer fit the renovated hall and a new one was commissioned in neo-classical style, to match the rest of the room. The women’s gallery remained where it had been, accessible through four flights of stairs. The fountain for washing hands is located at the entrance. The renovated synagogue was inaugurated in 1859.
Fourteen Ionic columns support the vault. The new aron is the work of the cabinetmaker Francesco Pucci from Cagli. It has the appearance of a circular temple in blond walnut. Six Corinthian columns support the dome of gilded wood adorned with golden pinnacles. Pucci also made the Teva, the benches and the four balconies of the women’s gallery, all with the appearance of an elegantly carved lace. There are three chandeliers in Dutch style on the ceiling.
The west side of the synagogue of Urbino protrudes above the city walls, between the doors of Valbona and Palazzo Ducale. As such, it was always present in the city landscape of many famous painters and engravers. It is possible to reconstruct the changes of the building since 1634 through these images.