Sicily’s Jewish Past

By nature of its position in the middle of the Mediterranean, Sicily has always been a multicultural land. Before the Spanish Inquisition (Yes, the Spanish ruled Sicily during this dark period (roughly 1478-1834).), Jews, according to scholar and author Jacqueline Alio, made up almost 7 percent of Sicily’s population. Palermo was home to a large community. In Siracusa, where there may have been as many as 10,000 Jews living up until the end of the 15th century, there was a large and thriving Giudecca, or Jewish Quarter (pictured). Sadly, during Spanish rule, they persecuted Jews, forcing many to convert or leave the island; Hence today, we only see traces of the contributions these communities made to the region.

In Siracusa on this street, it is possible to visit by appointment the Bagno Ebraico, or Jewish Baths, also known as a mikveh. Mikvehs are freshwater baths used for ritual cleansing to acknowledge life transitions and changes. According to writer Jeremy Dummett, this mikveh was built deep underground in order to reach the freshwater springs under Ortigia. My tip: As you move about Sicily, you’ll see many remnants of the contributions of Jewish culture. Look for them. You’ll be inspired by how forward thinking Sicily’s people were before 1500.

Sources:

Alio, Jacqueline. Women of Sicily: Saints, Queens & Rebels

Dummett, Jeremy. Syracuse: City of Legends, a Glory of Sicily

 

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