Tales from the Road: Listening to Klezmer in the Ghetto

One of the motifs of our recent Bologna stay (besides vast gluttony) was discovering the old Jewish ghetto there. We spent some our first day wandering the maze of alleys where we thought the ghetto was but, alas, found nothing. Why? Because Google sucks at navigation in medieval cities.

That night we researched the ghetto, seeking locational guidance and history from local sources. From Bologna Welcome:

“The layout of Bologna’s 16th century ghetto can still be precisely traced amid the narrow streets in the medieval heart of the city; here, a maze of alleys, covered bridges and small windows tells the story of a whole community forced to live in a specific area of the town by order of the Papal State beginning from 1556.

In Bologna, Jews lived in the ghetto until 1569, when they were expelled for the first time. In 1586, they were allowed to come back to town and lived here again until 1593, year of their final expulsion: 900 people left Bologna and no Jewish community was allowed into town for more than two centuries. ”

The ghetto was, of course, located in the shadow of the church in order to keep an eye on the Jewish community. The trouble for us is that Bologna is littered with churches!

The better clue we discovered the next day was to walk to the “fraternal twin towers” in the center of the city then head under an arch on Via Zamboni. When we found a street named Purgatorio, it was no surprise that that was where the Jews had been sequestered.

It being Saturday, the Museo Ebraico was closed. However, we learned that night was the first in a series of Jewish Jazz concerts at the Museo and we were now prepared to navigate our way back.

After dinner we wandered back to the ghetto along narrow and quiet streets. Arriving just a few minutes before start time we were amazed to see a long line waiting at the gate. About 250 people had the same as idea as us.

At nine, the gate opened to a stone courtyard and somehow we all fit. We stood near the back. Then we waited. And waited.

My claustrophobic thoughts during the wait flitted to what it must have been like being corralled in this quarter as a medieval Jew. And then I thought of the tragic Jewish ghettoes of the twentieth century … then on to more modern terrors; I wished the few police nearby had inspected our bags and persons as we filed into this crowded gallery. There were no inspections.

Finally, my thoughts drifted to the amazing human migration occurring right now in neighboring countries. The refugees from war and privation in Syria and other conflicts were walking across Hungary to Austria and Germany by the thousands. And they were welcomed! Different times for sure.

And then, suddenly the music began. Lively uptempo klezmer interpretations of Kurt Weill filled the night air with joy, creativity and life. Couples cuddled in the tight quarters, enjoying a free concert and community. The musicianship of the Gabriele Coen Quintet was engaging, adding their modern touches of tapping and funk to Weill’s classic works.

We wended our way home passing plazas filled with other night musicians. This city loves music. The ghetto Ebraico is today a place of art and culture…and still the echoes of history can be heard if you listen to the walls.

Find out more about this area here.

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Mimi Sells

Written by Mimi Sells

Mimi was the OFJCC’s Senior Advisor for Special Projects, which means she worked on top secret activities which included spearheading the creation of the Oasis Play Space. She believes a healthy life includes walking 10,000 steps a day and eating the four basic food groups: chocolate, cookies, ice cream and candy.


  1. Margaret Cirullo says:

    Thanks alot : ) for your blog post.

  2. Sun says:

    Hey very interesting blog!

  3. bantal silikon says:

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  4. jeffrey hunter says:

    Thanks for sharing.

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