Zohar, a photographic journey through Jewish Italy

One day, a friend of Francesco Maria Colombo showed him some pictures of the synagogue of Casale Monferrato. “I was impressed by its beauty and by the fact that I had never heard of it before. I asked myself, as an Italian, how come I wasn’t aware of the existence of such a crucial architectural heritage for the artistic and spiritual shaping of my country”, said Colombo to Pagine Ebraiche. Six years ago, this question, together with his “love for Jewish culture,” propelled his exploration of Jewish Italy, with its synagogues, cemeteries and other places related to Judaism. Led by his eclectic nature — Colombo is a photographer, conductor, writer, music critic —, he documented his wandering with his camera, photographing the most solemn synagogues, like the temple of Vercelli, as well as the most secluded ones, like the synagogue of Senigallia. His pilgrimage resulted in “Zohar. A photographic journey through the places of Italian Jewish culture” (ed. Skira).
His photographic research, continued Colombo, follows two directions: “Jewish culture and Italian culture, which should not and cannot regard Jewish culture as a foreign body. This is why I started entering the synagogues, the cemeteries, the symbolic places of Italian Jewish culture, penetrating their silences and their transcendent atmospheres. As a stranger to this culture, I decided to explore its traces, tragic at times, and to try and see what I could find through the photographic medium.”
Expressing his gratitude to the Jewish communities that welcomed him, he added: “I don’t think this project would have ever been possible if it wasn’t for Dario Disegni, President of the Foundation for Jewish Cultural Heritage in Italy.” The project took place under the aegis of the Foundation, with which it shares its fundamental goals, as Colombo himself wrote in Zohar: safeguarding, enhancing and promoting the Jewish cultural heritage in Italy.

Above, the synagogue of Saluzzo © 2023 Francesco Maria Colombo

Translated by Marta Gustinucci, student at the Advanced School for Interpreters and Translators of the University of Trieste, trainee in the newsroom of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities – Pagine Ebraiche.