In the past weeks I have explored quite a lot of my surroundings including places I do not visit very often or where I had never been before despite their proximity. Casale Monferrato is a small town in the central area of Piedmont, the north west area of Italy where I live, at the borders with France and Switzerland. I had been there several times but never I visited it in a “travelish” mode before.
Located on the right bank of the river Po (the longest and larger river of Italy), Casale Monferrato is quite a small city with approximately 30.000 inhabitants. Although it’s a regular city nowadays, mostly known for the production of cement, it has been a very important place from 1200s until the beginning ot 1800s being the capital of the local Marquisate.
As many other cities in Italy, Casale had to create a Jewish Ghetto. In this area of the Country, which was subject to the king of Savoy, Ghettoes were created a lot later than elsewhere, in 1723 when the ruler decided to introduce such policy. The Ghetto of Casale Monferrato is quite small, just a couple of streets, however, the local Jewish community created what is considered the most beautiful Sinagogue of Italy, hidden behind a simple and plain facade that won’t make you believe it covers such an impressive masterpiece of art.
In fact, among the rules of the time, stood the fact the Jews were not allowed to use specific construction materials and especially they were not allowed to make they temples “visible” from the outside. That is why this impressive Sinagogue doesn’t have a facade. You can guess there is a temple there just because you see the 2 marble plates with the 10 commandments.
More than 20.000 people come to visit this Sinagogue every year, mostly from the USA, from Israel and from Germany. The reson is the unique artistic value of it and the history of the local community that, despite being kept into the ghetto, contributed quite a lot to the local welfare.
Once inside, the Sinagogue appears in splendour. Being forbidden to properly decorate the facade, the local Jews put all the arts inside.
The Sinagogue measures 18 meters of lenght, 9 meters of width and 9 meters of height. You might think that such numbers are referred to the Kabbalah but they are not. Before being turned into a Sinagogue, the place was used as a gym, thus such measures were already there.
Carved wooden plates covered with gold leaves decorate the walls, together with marble plates displaying lines in Hebrew. The ceiling is a masterpiece of late baroque decoration. The nail-shaped voult of each window is painted in light green and light blue while the centre of the voult shows 3 areas with a line, written with golden paint, saying “this is the gate of heaven”
On the walls around the Bimah two big engraved bronze plates show the tombs of the Patriarchs and the Temple of Jerusalem, while on the left side, just behind the green metal fence which separates the Bimah from the audience area, a big structure, looking like a pulpit, occupies quite a big portion of the wall. It is not a pulpit but a choir. The structure is a nice artistic installations which looks like a bloomed flower when you are sat on the benches.
Finally, there is one very unique detail inside the Sinagogue, which is the only one in the Country where a decoration written in Italian is allowed. It is quite a big marble plate, on the left side of the Bimah, with a dedication to the King Carlo Alberto of Savoy. In 1848 in fact, the king decided to transform his land into a Constitutional Monarchy, thus the first constitution, called “Statuto Albertino” was published. Article n. 1 of the new Constitution said that the Roman Catholic Religion was the official religion of the Kingdom, however, every other religion was to be tolerated. It was the end of the Jewish Ghettoes for the whole Kingdom of Savoy.
The picture I took is very bad, hope you can read anyway the name of the king Carlo Alberto.