New brand discovery in Bologna (central-northern Italy)
Recovered the medieval Jewish Cemetery: it's the largest in Italy and the second in Europe after York
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Bologna medieval Jewish Cemetery recovered. Destroyed in 1569, then long disappeared, it hosts 408 graves and is the largest one known in italy so far
The extraordinary finding will be the cornerstone of a project aimed at studying and enhancing the cultural heritage and history of the Jewish community in Bologna

It's the widest medieval cemetery site ever identified in town, a witness to events that radically changed the history and life of a part of Bolognese citizens between the 14th and 16th century. At that time, for 176 years this place used to be the major burial ground of the Jewish community in Bologna, but after the papal bulls issued in the second half of the 16th century, authorizing the destruction of the Jewish cemeteries in the city, for centuries it survived only with the toponym "Jewish Garden".
Found during the archaeological excavations of 2012-2014, the Jewish cemetery discovered in Via Orfeo, in Bologna, is not only the largest one ever known in Italy, but also a unique chance for study and research. It revealed a total of 408 graves of women, men and children, some of which included personal ornaments made of gold, silver, bronze, hard stones and amber.
A working team including the Superintendence for Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape of the City of Bologna, the University of Bologna, the Jewish Community of Bologna, as well as freelance researchers, with the support of the Municipal Government, will try to put back together the historical events related to the cemetery, reconstructing the dynamics of settlements and the social and topographic evolution of the area. One of the primary goals of the project is to develop a “memory recovery” plan and to enhance appreciation of the Jewish cultural heritage and history of the Jewish community of Bologna.

Between 2012 and 2014, the area that was later to appear as the "lost" medieval Jewish cemetery in via Orfeo, Bologna, underwent an extensive stratigraphic archaeological excavation, carried out by the Cooperativa Archeologia in relation to the building site for a residential complex. The burial ground is located nearby the Cloister of Saint Peter Martyr, in the city block enclosed by Via Orfeo, Via de’ Buttieri, Via Borgolocchi and Via Santo Stefano.
According to existing archival sources, this area was purchased in the year 1393 by a member of the Jewish family named Da Orvieto, then given to the Bolognese Jewish community to be used as a burial site. This practice was interrupted in 1569, when two Papal Bulls condemned Jewish people to be expelled from every town within the Papal domains and to be cancelled from the memory of the places where they had lived until then. One of the most violent effects of these persecutions was the permission to destroy cemeteries and desecrate all the Jewish graves to be found in town. A true "condemnation of memory" that was only in part successful, since in the acts and registries of the following years, but most of all in the oral tradition, that area kept on being referred to as "Jewish Garden".
By the Papal Brief dated 28 November 1569, Pope Pius V donated the Jewish cemetery area to the nuns of the nearby church of Saint Peter Martyr, giving them the permission "to dig up and send, wherever they want, the bodies, bones and remains of the dead: to demolish, or convert to other forms, the graves built by the Jews, including those made for living people: to remove completely, or scrape off the inscriptions or epitaphs carved in the marble".
The archaeological excavation brought back to light the devastating effects of this papal act: about 150 graves, apparently tampered to offend the sacredness of the burials, and no trace of the tombstones that must have carried the names of the dead, as they had been probably sold or re-purposed. For example, the four beautiful Jewish gravestones now preserved and displayed at the Civic Medieval Museum of Bologna most probably came just from via Orfeo.
The cemetery area in Via Orfeo has now disclosed 408 burials perfectly aligned in parallel rows, with ditches dug in an east-west direction and heads of the dead on the west end.
The rational layout of the graves and the presence of especially precious ornaments are peculiarities which are hardly found in other cemeteries of the same period. Further investigations will allow it to study the effects given by the property transfers of the land to the Cloister of Saint peter Martyr, also checking the possible presence of Christian burials made on the area of Jewish cemetery afterwards. The archaeological research will study both the stratigraphic process, witnessing the settlements in that area from the Copper Age to the modern times, and the objects dug out during the excavations, also making comparisons with similar Jewish cemeteries uncovered in England, France and Spain. Among the objects recovered, a special attention will be given to the many medieval jewels, which will be studied as regards their stylistic features, the technique of their creation and the meaning of their carvings. An interdisciplinary approach, integrated with the methods of archaeological, anthropological and demo-ethnic-anthropological study, will allow it to reveal some of the historical and social dynamics of the Jews in Bologna, redefining the heritage of the Jewish culture as a life experience of the Jewish community from the Middle Ages until the present time, and as an important component of the Cultural Heritage of the city. Starting from the cemetery found in via Orfeo, the project's aim is to spread the knowledge of the Jewish heritage and enhance appreciation of the symbolic historical places of the Bolognese community, thus contributing to the process of building an active and shared memory of the city.

By Soprintendenza Archeologia, belle arti e paesaggio (Superintendence of Archeology, Fine Arts and Landscape) for the Metropolitan City of Bologna and the Provinces of Modena, Reggio Emilia e Ferrara (SABAP-BO)
Division of Archeology, Via Belle Arti 52 – 40126 Bologna
tel. (+39) 051 223773 – (+39) fax 051 227170
Scientific information by
Renata Curina, archeologist SABAP-BO,
Valentina Di Stefano, archeologist SABAP-BO,
Laura Buonamico, Cooperativa Archeologia,

(English courtesy translation by Micaela Merli - Comune di Bologna)

The Cemetery in the Jewish tradition

The word we use for cemetery is “Bet ha Chajjm”, which means “house of life”, or, as it's written in particular at the new entrance of the Jewish section within the Cemetery of Bologna, “Bet mo'ed lekhol chai”, that is “house of reunion for all the living people”.
As we can notice, but even more so as the Masters of the Jewish tradition teach us that, the word DEATH is mostly omitted, even to indicate that condition.
Always according to the Jewish tradition, death is part of the life passage, and the cemetery is the absolute proof of it.
The Cemetery is one of the most valid testimonies of the Jewish Community's existence: even where the Jews have long gone from a town, it represents the undeniable and lasting proof of their ancient presence.
Ever since antiquity, Jews have always struggled to gain a land where they could bury their loved ones. The clearest example is to be found in the Book of Genesis, chapter 23, narrating that Abraham, at his wife's death, strived to purchase a land where to bury her.
The primary feature of such a land is to be located far from where bodies of people belonging to other religions are buried; therefore, to be separate and self-standing. In the Bible episode, it's interesting to read the part where Abraham negotiates with Ephron - king of the Hittites - (probably Amurabi) to purchase the land. With great elegance and nobleness, Abraham says he is ready to pay even a large amount of money for the land, provided that it's far from the place where other bodies are buried.
He pays indeed a very high amount - "400 shekels of silver", as this was “current money among the merchants”1. Such a detailed description indicates that, according to the exegetical interpretation of the text, the money paid by Abraham for the land is considered as re-appraisable in time.
Also in later centuries has the cemetery played a relevant role in the Jewish tradition, and it's plain to see how important the cemetery has always been, in every historical period, for the Jews.
All the regulations concerning the establishment of a cemetery are considered to be very strict, but are followed by all the Jews.
Some of the rules mentioned below are showing a strong consistency with our specific subject:
• The cemetery must be established outside the city walls, or at least at a distance of 25 meters from the inhabited area.
• The dead must be buried in rows, and they should all have their feet in the direction of Jerusalem.
• Masters and Rabbis, as well as babies and little children, are recommended to be buried separate from other bodies.
• Inside a Cemetery, one should not behave "lightly", nor put sheep or other animals to pasture.
• Due to impurity of the corpses, a Kohen (whose family name comes from the priestly service in the ancient Temple of Jerusalem) is forbidden to enter the cemetery, except for his closest relatives.
• Torah study is prohibited in a cemetery, and so is to enter with liturgical clothes (i.e. tefillin - the phylacteries, worn by male observant Jews during weekday morning prayers).
• It is forbidden to enter a Cemetery on Saturdays and on the holidays as to the Jewish calendar.
The cemetery, also thanks to all this set of rules, has therefore gained an almost sacred, refined, aspect.
The Roman Jews call it Holy Ground, due to the importance of the place: an expression that has been long taken in the common speak of other religions as well.
On the contrary, those who decided to desecrate such a sacredness named it "The awful Jewish garden" (“l'ortaccio delli hebrei”), as it was in Rome in the centuries of the Jewish ghetto, when the cemetery was offended in a most shameful way.

Alberto Sermoneta
Chief Rabbi
via De’ Gombruti, 9 – 40123 Bologna
tel +39 051 232066

(English courtesy translation by Micaela Merli - Comune di Bologna)

Life, death, origin and diaspora of the medieval Jewish community of Via Orfeo in Bologna

The anthropological study of burials (more than 400) at the medieval cemetery in Via Orfeo conducted by the Laboratory of Bioarcheology and Forensic Osteology, directed by Prof. Maria Giovanna Belcastro of the Department of Biological, Geological and Environmental Sciences is part of the cooperation between Alma Mater Studiorum University of Bologna, Superintendence of Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape for the metropolitan city of Bologna and the provinces of Modena, Reggio Emilia and Ferrara, and the Jewish Community of Bologna.
The study will focus on examining many of the biological characteristics of the buried individuals using an integrated approach combining morphological, microbiological, molecular and tomographic analyses in order to retrace the history and life of the
community in question.
The demographic composition of the group will be reconstructed, as well as the state of health, diet, any specialisation in terms of work activities, aspects related to funerary rituals, and the geographical origin linked to any relocation from other areas of Europe. To achieve these results, the Laboratory of Bioarchaeology and Forensic Osteology will examine the aspects that involve piecing together the skeletal remains in order to proceed with reconstructing the biological profile (evaluation of the age and gender of the buried), health and nutritional status by examining all bone and dental alterations and pathologies, and of the work activities they carried out during their lifetime. The state of preservation of the buried will be analysed from a taphonomical point of view so as to detect any intentional changes made to the postmortem burials.
Microbiological and molecular tests will be conducted on dental tartar to establish the oral microbiota and integrate paleopathological and dietary data. For this purpose, researchers from the Department of Pharmacy and Biotechnology of the University of Bologna and of the Department of Biology of the University of Florence will be involved. Nutritional status data will be supplemented by the study of stable isotopes (carbon and nitrogen) and, for aspects related to the possible origin of the group under examination from other geographical areas, a series of analyses will be conducted on stable isotopes (strontium and oxygen) and ancient DNA. To this end, researchers from other Italian Universities (University of Florence) and European Universities (University of Cambridge and University of Dublin) will be involved.
Computed tomographies and microtomographies will be performed as part of a collaboration with the Department of Physics and Astronomy (UNIBO), thanks to which the remains of the buried will be reconstructed virtually, thus allowing the anthropological study to be enhanced and expanded at different levels of investigation.
The mortal remains buried in the cemetery of Via Orfeo will then be returned to the Jewish community to honour the memory of this medieval community.
To conclude, the data will be collected and entered into a geodatabase, which will provide not only a tool for managing excavation and laboratory information but also significant support for analysing the context, by developing plans generated through thematic visualisations.
The resulting integrated study model, which combines the information gathered from historical and documentary sources and archaeological and biological data, along with the cooperation of the Jewish community of Bologna, is unique in its kind. The study of the cemetery in Via Orfeo - which is unprecedented in Italy and almost unparalleled in Europe - and the reconstruction of the life of its community gives the city of Bologna the opportunity to retrace an important part of its history and, more generally, offers food for thought so that our society can increasingly move towards inclusive models of coexistence.

Prof. Maria Giovanna Belcastro, Anthropology - Laboratory of Bioarchaeology and Forensic Osteology
Department of Biological, Geological and Environmental Sciences
Scientific contact person of the Museum of Anthropology
Alma Mater Studiorum University of Bologna
Via Selmi, 3 - 40126 Bologna, ITALY
Tel. +39 051 2094197
Fax +39 051 2094286

The Jewish Cemetery of Via Orfeo in Bologna
The symbolical space and the buried body from a cultural anthropological perspective

The research of cultural anthropology took place through a combined project of study and research lead by the Superintendence of Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape for the metropolitan city of Bologna and the provinces of Modena, Reggio Emilia and Ferrara. It was in collaboration with the Jewish Community of Bologna and with the University of Bologna.
The anthropological cultural study investigates the cemetery through its significance as a settlement. It is characterized by its cultural heritage and historical values and in its ability to evoke memory.
The formation of the cemetery, orto degli hebrei, in Via Orfeo in Bologna, and its relative desecration are historical events. The cultural elements are thus extremely important as they leave a profound mark on the Jewish population and on the city of Bologna.
A summary of a notarial act, preserved in the Archive of the State in Bologna, says that the property, once in contracta sancti Petri Martiris, was taken over by Elia l'hebreo to establish it as the cemetery of Jewish people.
Cultural anthropology studies the cultural processes, and it examines the elements around a practice and its conservation. In studying the context of the cemetery, it is possible to know a lot of information linked with cultural identity as a factor.
The study permits in depth-analysis of the Jewish rite of burials and its dynamics, thanks to the combined approach of analysing the archaeology and the physical anthropology.
Particular attention is paid to the investigated area regarding its quality as a burial field. The link between individuals and/or groups is defined by the buried body and the practice of burial produces an action similar to that of scripture, since it has a space that gives it a precise physiognomy and thus constructs a cultural link with it.
The term culture comes from the Latin colere (cultivate), it indicates a cyclical idea, in essence a transformation; colere is the practice of living on the land, cultivating the land and of burying bodies. It is an action for humans who intervene in a territory.
The Cemetery of via Orfeo brings a symbolic meaning too. In 1569 the cohabitation between Jewish people and Christians ended because of a sequence of measures against Jewish people: after Hebraeorum Gens Pope Pius V granted the property of the burial field to the nuns of San Pietro Martire he then commanded the desecration of the cemetery. Form an anthropological point of view that event is an attempt to deprive the Jewish Community of their history. This action rooted out the remains of the Jewish group to which the cemetery belonged as well as the demolition of their cultural landmarks. Their gravestones, for example, were destroyed or reused. Just four of them are conserved in the Medieval Museum of the City of Bologna.
The cemetery of via Orfeo is a unique case in Europe. Thanks to its informative elements, it represents an extraordinary field of collaboration among scientific disciplines and public institutions. The mission of the anthropological research is the restitution of human remains to guarantee them a burial according to Jewish rites and the restitution of a historical and cultural scenario fit for the contemporary setting. It will study and make actions to enhance and make known the facts linked to the cemetery of via Orfeo, of the period in which it was used, because it is a part of the memory and of the cultural Jewish heritage of the city of Bologna.

Valentina Rizzo, cultural anthropologist
phone (+39) 338 9252272