In 1872 David Levi, donated enough money to build a synagogue "worthy of Florence".
The construction was assigned to architects Treves, Falcini and Micheli and lasted eight years, between 1874 and 1882.
Because the Florentine Jews were Sephardic, the design of their synagogue recalls the Muslim art of Moorish Spain. It was dedicated October 24, 1882.
All the internal walls were decorated between 1882 and 1890 by a local painter: Giovanni Panti, who made use of gold-plating to highlight the Moorish designs.
The synagogue has successfully withstood wars, barbarism and floods. The Germans tried to blow up the structure during WWII, but the main building withstood their efforts. Bayonet marks are still visible on the doors of the Holy Ark which the Nazis used as a warehouse and stable. The building sustained the damanage of one gallery that fell but was later replaced. In 1944, when the fascists were driven out of Florence it was believed that they booby-trapped the synagogue before they left.
Leon Dison a Lance-Corporal in the 12th Field Squadron, South African Engineers Corps, 6th South African Armoured Division and another Sapper, Hymie Bloch were instructed by their officer, Arnold Harris to check the Synagogue in Florence.
They were in a town called Olmi north of Florence; in Florence they met the Jewish Padre of the 6th Division, whose surname was Hickman.
Leon and Hymie checked the whole synagogue and reassured the people waiting outside that it was safe to go in.
Hymie Bloch lived in Durban and passed away in 2004, Leon Dison lived in Johannesburg and passed away on May 20th 2013 at the age of 90.
On the second floor is the Jewish Museum of Florence, and outside of the synagogue, there is a stone monument. With the names of 248 Jewish deportees engraved on the face.
History of the building
The Florence synagogue was built after years of discussion about its location. The community wanted to build it as close to the center as possible, in order to signify what it saw as the important role Jews played in the new, unified Italy which had guaranteed them full civil rights. In the event, the temple was built a little off the old city center. A gift of land and money by congregant David Levi was too good to refuse. Still, the large dome of the Tempio israelitico is a prominent feature of the Florence landscape. The vaguely oriental shape of the dome supplanted an original typicaly neo-renaissance design. This and all the other Moorish features of the temple were virtually imposed on the architects by the professors of the Florentine Academy.
The Florence temple was designed by Marco Treves, Mariano Falcini.and Vincenzo Micheli. It seems that Treves, a Jew, was the main spirit behind it.