Jewish Baths of Siracusa : Constructions of Jewish History
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The oldest and largest mikveh in Europe was discovered, just a few decades ago on Ortygia, in Syracuse, Sicily, ten meters under the Hotel alla Giudecca. The "Casa Bianca" mikveh was most likely built during the Byzantine period and was probably in use from the 7th to the 15th century. Its five immersion pools were entombed and apparently erased from the records, after the Jews, in 1492, were forced to either leave or convert. This case study explores the different historical constructs that have evolved around this monument in recent years. Based on the assumption that the success of a narrative depends on engagement and the ability to connect with the story being told, a mixed methods approach, combining a qualitative literary analysis of several media materials and a diary to field data observations, was used. An ethnographic analysis, based on primary data collected during a two weeks field research in Syracuse, was combined to the literary analysis conducted of the mikveh owner’s diary, as well as three mediated Jewish articles, in order to trace and remark upon the politics of representation currently active in the area as well as develop a better understanding of the role this monument holds in sparking the individual and collective imagination. The explored narratives exposed the Casa Bianca mikveh as a trigger for memories of the past, formative of emotional thought. Additionally, the conclusion establishes the monument as a testimony of material culture selected and patiently restored to create and corroborate Amalia Daniele’s vision. Above all, this mikveh is determined to be an emblem of Jewish past, present and future in Ortygia.