Saturday, January 07, 2017

Roman Jewish catacombs under renovation

ROMAN CATACOMBS WATCH: In Rome, Restoring a Vast Repository of the Jewish Past. After years of delay, the ancient Jewish catacombs under Rome’s Villa Torlonia are set for restoration (John Hooper, Wall Street Journal).
This week, a central-government budget went into effect which, after more than 10 years of delay, allots €1.4 million (about $1.5 million) to restoring Villa Torlonia’s Jewish catacombs. If things work out, within a few years—maybe even next year—the public will be able to see an “area of extraordinary historic importance,” as Claudio Procaccia, director of the Department of Jewish Culture of the Jewish community of Rome, calls the site.

Paintings of stars, planets, peacocks and pomegranates decorate the walls and ceilings, along with a dolphin arching over a trident. One of the grander niches has small columns at each corner and a frescoed cross vault with a depiction of a menorah. There are images of sacred Jewish symbols, including an ark with the scrolls of the Torah, and several inscriptions referring to synagogues in the city.

But as Monica Zelinotti, the architect charged with managing the restoration, says, not every visitor to Rome will be eager to explore these catacombs. Gouged out of brownish-gray rock, they are eerie places: damp, claustrophobic and, of course, scattered with human remains. “The humidity can be as high as 100%,” says Ms. Zelinotti. The ceilings of the passageways are low. “In places, the space between the niches is no more than the width of your shoulders,” she adds.
Background on this renovation project, which has been planned since 2004, is here and links. This is only one of the Jewish catacombs surviving in Rome, but it is somewhat infamous because Mussolini lived at the Villa Torlonia. For background on Rome's other Jewish catacombs, see here and links.