Mantua in Jerusalem
A Virtual Interactive Web Exhibition
The Quest of the Holy Ark of Mantua

This is the story of one of the oldest Holy Arks in the world, a story which spans five centuries and stretches from Northern Italy to the holy city of Jerusalem.
Through the story of this beautiful gilded Torah Ark, we will follow the thread of a long history, that of one of the most remarkable and fascinating Jewish communities of the Italian Peninsula, whose treasures of culture and art are dispersed or lost for ever.

Our story begins in the small Italian town of Mantua.
Mantua, or Mantova, is a lovely city in northern Italy surrounded on three sides by artificial lakes created during the 12th century. It was one of the greatest Renaissance courts in Europe and home of the wealthy Gonzaga family. Under the Gonzagas, Mantua became one of the most important artistic, cultural and musical Renaissance centres of Northern Italy, known particularly for its architectural treasures, elegant palaces and charming cityscapes.
A Jewish community developed and grew in this small town and became famous for the number of its cultivated bankers, scholars and liberal thinkers; interested in Jewish studies, as well as in art, science, and poetry.
During the Renaissance period, creativity in the form of literature, music and theatre reached its peak in Mantua, where the first polyphonic synagogue music was composed, and the oldest extant Hebrew drama was written. The Jews of Mantua contributed greatly to the culture of Jewish Italy: its writers, scholars and rabbis were among the most distinguished of Jewish Europe.
The Mantua played a major role in Italy and Europe in the history of Jewish mystical knowledge, leading the cabbalistic studies in the mid-16th century. Within the span of six years fundamental Jewish esoteric books were brought to light for the first time by brave Mantuan printers: Sefer Yetzirah, Sefer ha-Zohar, and Tikkune ha-Zohar. The towering twisted columns on the opening pages of 16th century printed books from Mantua are well known today by scholars, book connoisseurs and cabbalists, and are highly esteemed for their perfect form and philological care.
Throughout the 18th century the Jewish community of Mantua was one of the largest in Italy, and continued to be an important centre of Jewish culture.

During the 19th and beginning of the 20th century the area of the ghetto was progressively abandoned, and then demolished.

In this period of decadence the dispersion of the treasures of the gorgeous Mantuan synagogues began. Most of the patrimony of silver, manuscripts and precious textiles was dispersed.

For this virtual exhibition on Jewish Mantua, we collected material from all over the world and reconstructed an image of the past splendor and richness of this community.

The Ark, the silver synagogue implements and precious textiles, ancient books and finely decorated documents virtually connected by means of one of the most modern instruments, an internet website, tell their story, show their beauty and reveal for us a world we had never visited before and uncover the secret legend of the past.