An Incredible Discovery – The Jewish Baths of Siracusa, Sicily

Situated in a narrow street in Siracusa, Sicily (Via G.B. Alagona) lies a small hotel called Alla Giudecca. The hotel shares the same entrance with a tiny museum where you can find the Jewish Baths of Siracusa (the Miqweh / Mikvah). But these baths were not always known to the general public…

In fact, the Jewish Baths were discovered completely by chance 25 years ago. Amalia Daniele Di Bagni purchased a house in the Giudecca area and was in the process of restoring it. At the time, the area was abandoned and, as she states in her book, Diary of a Discovery: The Jewish Baths of Siracusa, there wasn’t even a single store in the area and the streets were very dark at night. Vandals had come into the run-down house, dumped old furniture there and scribbled vulgar Sicilian words on the walls. The place was in dire need of rescuing.

During the restoration, Amalia was puzzled at certain structural elements of the house. She observed the little courtyard inside (see above) and another building next to it (to which she had no access). With the help of a builder she broke through the wall and discovered a vault which was full of earth. The space was eventually cleared (156 truck-loads later!). They then found a small staircase leading down to a kind of a basement area. Amalia’s interest piqued at this point. However, she did question herself since the costs of the renovations were drastically increasing but her curiosity really got the better of her and she persisted.

At the bottom of the staircase they discovered the Jewish Baths of Siracusa (today, the biggest and oldest Jewish Baths in Europe dating from around the 6th century BC). This underground area consists of one main room with tiny rooms jutting off from it. In the centre of the main room you can find three ‘plunge’ pools whereby Jewish ladies once bathed. The other smaller, more private rooms (with tiny pools) jutting off from the central room were for the rabbis and their wives exclusively.

Fascinated by her discovery, Amalia did plenty of research into the Jewish folk who once lived in the area (she had known of the community since there was an old Synagogue which was later converted into a church). Amalia was, however, quite upset with those who wanted to erase all traces of the Jewish people in the area by simply covering up this important site which she discovered (in the 1400s Jews were expelled from all Spanish territories). Hence, Amalia wanted to bring her discovery to life and founded a cultural association ‘Siracusa III Millennio’.

As a result of her hard work, today the area has came back to life with new shops and a hotel in Via G.B. Alagona. Amalia continues the work of the association she set up and in her book (available from the museum shop) she outlines the importance of the site as well as her continued work to ensure that the Jewish Baths of Siracusa remain a crucial part of history, and not ever to be covered up again.

You can partake in a guided tour of the Jewish Baths of Siracusa, Sicily everyday from 9:00 – 19:00.

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Elizabeth Joss

Elizabeth Joss is the founder and main writer at The Museum Times. She works as a university lecturer by day and is an avid travel blogger and arts and culture enthusiast by night. Elizabeth started The Museum Times out of the need to give smaller, lesser-known museums more exposure.

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