Over two hundred objects – many precious and rare – including twenty manuscripts, seven incunabula and sixteenth century editions, eighteen medieval documents, largely from the Genizah of Cairo (a major medieval Jewish archive rediscovered in the Egyptian capital), forty-nine Roman and medieval epigraphs and one hundred and twenty-one items such as rings, seals, coins, oil-lamps and amulets that are little known or on display for the first time, on loan from museums around the world. Furthermore, an engaging exhibition offering the visitor a wealth of images, reconstructions and experiences.
The exhibit “Jews, an Italian Story. The First Thousand Years” – in effect, the first permanent segment of MEIS – communicates, in an original manner, the uniqueness of Italian Jewish history, describing – for the first time in such detail – how the Jewish presence in Italy was formed and developed throughout the Peninsula from the Roman Age (second century BCE) to the Middle Ages (tenth century CE) and how the Jews of Italy built their own unique identity, even when compared to other places in the diaspora.
Through five major scenarios, the path of the exhibit curated by Anna Foa, Giancarlo Lacerenza and Daniele Jalla, and prepared by GTRF Tortelli Frassoni Architetti Associati, identifies places of origin and areas of dispersion of the Jewish people, tracing the routes of the diaspora and their exile to the western Mediterranean after the destruction of the Temple. It documents their time in Rome and southern Italy, speaking of migration, slavery, integration and religious intolerance – both in relation to the pagan and Christian worlds. It follows the blossoming of the Dark Ages and then, in a political climate marked by Longobard, Byzantine and Muslim domination, traces the establishment of an Italian Jewish culture, even in the north. It continues on to the Crusades, the bloodshed, the forced conversions marking the Jewish communities of Germany, while those in Italy were still enjoying remarkable stability and relative coexistence with the surrounding environment, as witnessed by the Jew Benjamin of Tudela in his “Itinerary”.