The synagogue of Siena, located only a few steps from the Piazza del Campo, stands in the heart of the ancient Jewish Ghetto of Siena, where Sienese Jews remained confined until 1859. In 1571 the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I de Medici, extended the restrictive measures already in place in Florence to the state of Siena, where Jews had been present since the 12th century.
Despite the limitations and the heavy restrictions imposed, the Jewish community of Siena increased, coming to include over 400 members, and its activities contributed significantly to the economic and cultural growth of the city.
In 1786, the magnificent Synagogue was inaugurated with a solemn musical ceremony; today it remains the centre of worship for the local Jewish community, and it stands out as one of the few examples present in Tuscany of architecture between the Rococo and Neoclassical Periods.
The relatively simple external façade and, by contrast, the elegant richly decorated interior are typical of synagogues built during the age of the ghettos, prior to the Emancipation of Italian Jews, which came about following the Unification of Italy in 1861.
The Sanctuary, more or less rectangular in shape, is lined by rows of benches on the sides, while in the centre stands the podium (referred to as a tevah by Sephardim, or bimah by Ashkenazim) adorned with nine candelabra from the 18th-century, each with nine branches. The centre of the ceiling is adorned with the Tablets of the Law painted in blue and circled by white stucco.
The synagogue, still used today for religious services by the local Jewish community, houses ancient Torah scrolls, silver furnishings and ritual vestments of great value, which are displayed in the room adjacent to the prayer hall.
The ancient gallery for women, arranged on two floors, looks out upon the synagogue and is set behind wooden grates with floral motifs; this intimate, evocative space is no longer used during services, but it completes the visit to the Synagogue and houses a collection of texts, images, prayer books and objects that exemplify the most significant aspects of the centuries-old Jewish presence in Siena.