At least for the Jews. They arrived in the 16th century from the papal state in Maremma, in the territory of Sovana and Sorano. However, the 1619 decree of Cosimo II de’ Medici drove them out of their homes, and forced them to move in Pitigliano. Their doors were beaten with sticks as a notice to move, and the Jews of Pitigliano have remembered this even centuries later with the cake called sfratto, “eviction”, made with honey and walnuts, orange peel and anise.
Pitigliano, a town of tufa of Etruscan origin, is one of the most beautiful Italian towns. On the border of the Tuscan Maremma and Lazio, it was called “Little Jerusalem” because of the importance of its large Jewish community, which settled here from the middle of the 16th century. They were mostly Sephardic Jews pushed into this corner of Tuscany by the 1555 Bull of Pope Paul IV. The decree ordered them to live only in certain streets, to prevent their contacts with the Christian population, thus institutionalizing the ghetto, and to wear distinctive clothes. Later these directives were also introduced by Cosimo II de’ Medici, and the Jews in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany had to move to Pitigliano, in the county of the Orsinis. They were happy to accommodate the wealthy and educated Jewish community, who were satisfied with the wetlands assigned to them, infested by malaria.
In Pitigliano, the Jews adapted themselves well to the local community, and enjoyed a freedom of trade and crafts not granted elsewhere. In 1571 they were authorized to open a credit bank, and the Jews who worked there were allowed not to wear any signs of distinction, and had the right of armed self-defense. Their synagogue was built in 1598. After the annexion of the territory in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the ghetto was introduced also here, the commercial activity of the Jews was limited, and they were forced to wear the yellow badge. The credit bank was closed down, and the conditions of the inhabitants of the ghetto gradually worsened. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Jews fleeing from Castro also moved to Pitigliano, so this remained the only Jewish community in Maremma. With the advent of the Hapsburg in 1765, the community had their rights again, and achieved full integration in the local Christian community, so much, that it was the Catholics to prevent the destruction of their houses during the anti-French revolt of Viva Maria. The community reached its peak in the 19th century. They established a school, where Jews and Christians studied together, they had their own library, and an institute for the care of the poor Jews. Some key characters of Italian Judaism were born in Pitigliano, including the Servi brothers, founders of the journal Vessillo Israelitico, and Rabbi Dante Lattes, founder of the publishing house of the same name, which had great merits in the dissemination of Jewish culture in Italy.
The progressive normalization of the Jewish community of Pitigliano was probably the main reason of their dispersion. By 1931 they had only 70 members instead of the 400 of the previous century, and they were subordinated to the Jewish community of Livorno. The racial laws of 1938 did not spare them either. Today there are only five Jews in Pitigliano.
Nevertheless, the former Jewish neighborhood is still intact and can be visited, including the female ritual bath, which used the healing water already exploited by the Etruscans, the wine cellar, the kosher slaughter, the bakery of unleavened bread, the dyer’s workshop, the cistern, and, not least, the synagogue. Built in 1598, it was restored in the 18th and 19th century as well as in 1931. Its facade is embellished with Rococo stucco. At the time of its closure in 1956, the Torah ark was transferred to the synagogue in Karmiel, Israel. The last restoration was done in 1995 on the costs of the municipality of Pitigliano, and today there are again services in the synagogue.
The Jewish heritage and the small permanent exhibit of Jewish culture are managed by the “Little Jerusalem Association”. An active fundraising is gong on for the restoration of the Jewish cemetery, which is located below the tufa rock of the town. It has about 280 graves. A small shop at the entrance of the ghetto sells kosher products, including the aforesaid sfratto, the typical cake of Pitigliano.
Sfratto, Eviction, for four persons. Ingredients:
200 g flour, 100 g sugar, a pinch of salt, 1 dl white wine, 6 tablespoons of olive oil, 4 cloves, 150 g honey of Maremma, cinnamon, nutmeg, 200 g of crushed nuts, anise seeds, orange peel, vanilla, egg.
• Half an hour before preparing the dough, put the honey on low heat and gently heat it
• Add to it the orange peel, the anise seeds, the nuts, the cinnamon and nutmeg.
• Prepare the dough by mixing flour, olive oil, wine, sugar, vanilla and the yolk of an egg.
• Flatten it thin and cut it in strips about 25 cm long and 6-7 cm wide.
• Fill it with the mixture of honey, which meanwhile has run cold.
• Roll up the strips into sticks. Put them in the oven at 170 °C for 15 minutes.
In Sorano, only a few traces of Jewish presence have remained: the via del Ghetto, the oil mill, the knockers of the doors of the old building which today houses the Locanda Aldobrandeschi, and the nearby former grain storage from where they gave “wheat loans” to the Jews. The old synagogue was converted into a hall for cultural events.