Old Cimitery Gravestone

The old via del Monte Jewish cemetery

The Jewish cemetery in via della Pace was inaugurated as part of a wider rationalisation and removal from Trieste’s most densely inhabited areas of the city’s burial grounds.

As a matter of fact, until the early Nineteenth century the city’s national and religious communities buried their dead in various areas located close to a now rapidly expanding urban area.

As for the Jewish community, the traditional graveyard was located in the proximity of San Giusto Castle, on a hill known as “di Montuzza”, along present-day via del Monte. The earliest evidence of its use dates back to 1420 – witnessing the long rooting of Jewish presence in the city – but it is likely it had been active already in the preceding decades.

There, generations and generations of Triestine Jews found their final resting place, until a new awareness spurred by the Enlightenment and a growing city’s practical needs pushed for the opening of a new cemetery on land bought for that purpose on Sant’Anna’s Hill by the City Council. Next to the Catholic, the “Oriental” and “Illyrian” Orthodox, Protestant and “Ottoman” cemeteries, a new Beth haOlam – “eternity home” – was inaugurated by the members of the Jewish community, holding its first burial in June 1843.

The old graveyard at the foot of S. Giusto became that “abandoned / graveyard, where no funerals are ever held” sung by poet Umberto Saba in the early Twentieth century. An evocative place indeed, but abandoned to neglect and disrepair.

A huge place (more than 20.000 square meters), that Triestine authorities wanted to use to build public housing. For this purpose, the City Council drew designs, bought the area not occupied by burials (about half of the total surface) and, given the Jewish religious prohibition to sell cemeteries, expropriated the remaining land.

The works, that later would be halted by World War One, began between 1908 and 1909, when the City Council took charge of moving hundreds of headstones and, under the watch of the Fraternita di Misericordia (a confraternity that in most European Jewish communities looks after the sick, the dying, and burials), the exhumations and transfer of the remains to the ossuary in via della Pace.

This act, however, met fierce resistance by the Jewish community, spurred by both historical-sentimental and halakhah (religious law) reasons. With few and limited exceptions, in fact, Jewish rules dictate not to disturb the dead neither with improper usage of the grounds nor with exhumations or moving of the remains. The City Council, however, continued on its path.

Thus, 2400 bodies and the Rabbis’ sarcophagus tombs were moved.

Giacomo Misan, Salvatore Sabbadini, members of the Community, and Pietro Sticotti, then director of the Civici Musei di Storia ed Arte (City Museums of History and Art), saved at least in part the traces of the old cemetery by cataloguing and transcribing epitaphs from the headstones on their way to being removed. Some of these headstones, such as that of Rachel Segal, who died in 1448, are now displayed in the Lapidario Tergestino at San Giusto’s Museo d’Antichità “J. J. Winckelmann” and at Museo della Comunità ebraica di Trieste “Carlo e Vera Wagner”.

Eventually, to commemorate the event, the plaque placed in the new cemetery’s entrance invokes peace for the bones that, «disturbed in their slumber», had to abandon their home, looking here for their rest.

Pianta del vecchio cimitero ebraico (1907). Civici Musei di Storia ed Arte - Trieste
Outline of the old cemetery’s map. At the top of this drawing you can notice S. Giusto castel’s bastion – Museum of the Jewish Community in Trieste “Carlo e Vera Wagner”.
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