There is evidence of a synagogue in the house at 36, via Cavalca, dating back to the early fifteenth century. As in most cases at the time, the synagogue was rented or purchased by the Community’s notables, and annexed to their house. The building on Via Cavalca was the da Pisa family’s residence, bankers who had held the monopoly of money lending for almost a century, following the Florentine government’s decision to group all the lenders into one institution. In the course of its history, the Jewish community concentrated in a one area or another of the city. Towards the end of the thirteenth century there are references to an area near Piazza dei Cavalieri, known as “chiasso dei Giudei”. In the early fifteenth century the Jews concentrated in the Via Cavalca area, and in the late sixteenth century with the arrival of the Levantine merchants, in the opposite bank of the River Arno and settled in the Palazzo da Scorno (Via da Scorno / Lungarno Galilei). Finally, a few years later, the Community acquired its current premises in Via Palestro, which it rented in 1595 and purchased in 1647.
Abramo Giuseppe Pardo Roques (1875 - 1944) was President of Pisa’s Jewish Community from 1907 to 1910 and again from the early 1920s until his tragic death in 1944. On the morning of August 1st, a squad of German soldiers burst into his house in Via Sant’Andrea. Having seized all the valuables, they slaughtered Giuseppe Pardo along with eleven other people in the house: six other Jews who had sought refuge, three servants and two neighbours. Given that the break-in was made to look like a robbery, there is reason to suspect that an informer had collaborated, someone who knew that Pardo was Jewish maybe a neighbour who had recently moved and was known to be friendly with German soldiers. Giuseppe Pardo Roques was a prominent, well-respected figure in the city of Pisa. He came from a Sephardic family that had arrived in Livorno in the late nineteenth century; he had been deputy mayor of Pisa and his name had been associated with philanthropic activities in the city. A commemorative plaque can be seen on the façade.
Documents show that Pisa’s synagogue has occupied the same building since the end of the sixteenth century. Initially rented, the complex was purchased in 1647 and first renovated in 1785. In 1861-65 it was renovated again, to a project by the architect Marco Treves. Treves was a Jew from Vercelli working in Tuscany at the time, where he designed some major works for his Jewish clientele. The façade was redesigned, and is simple albeit echoing classical forms. The main hall of the synagogue on the first floor was raised, and Treves added both a second order of windows, and the large pavilion vault adorned with sober neoclassical decorations. The furnishings were rearranged according to layout that had become popular during the Emancipation, inspired by Roman Catholic churches: the tevah, enclosed by a semi-circular balustrade in walnut wood was placed next to the area of the Aron ha-Kodesh, creating a single focal point, like church cancels. The central space was entirely occupied by pews, in two sectors of parallel rows facing the Aron and the women’s gallery was on the opposite side, above the entrance.
The Jewish cemetery of Pisa is located in an attractive position just outside the section of city walls surrounding Piazza dei Miracoli, which is why in the twentieth century numerous Jews from other cities wanted to be buried here. It is one of the oldest preserved Jewish cemeteries still in use. It was purchased in 1674, and followed three previous burial grounds in the history of the Jewish community in Pisa. The oldest one dates back to the thirteenth century and was next to the Porta Nuova (New Gate) where epigraphs have been found carved into the city walls. A second one, listed in 1330 and perhaps used until the sixteenth century, was further south, on land belonging to the da Pisa family. The third, mentioned in surveys from 1618 and 1622, was also along the western walls, to the left of Porta Nuova. It seems to have remained in use for a short period until 1674, when the Grand Duke Ferdinando II requested the land for another purpose and offered the area of the current cemetery in exchange. The cemetery houses tombs from every period, most of them single graves. The oldest ones were simple consistently with the Jewish tradition, often belong to Jews of Iberian origins, descended from Spanish and Portuguese exiles who had been expelled from their countries in the late fifteenth century and welcomed a century later by the Grand Duke Ferdinando I with his so-called “Livornina” letters of invitation. In the late nineteenth century, when there was a tendency to assimilate with the dominant culture’s customs, elaborate monumental tombs in the popular styles of the time became more common. A plaque on the wall of the hall of rituals commemorates the Jews who were deported and killed in the Nazi death camps, along with the victims of the Casa Pardo Roques massacre.