All quiet on the Isonzo front

After the recent post on General Cadorna, Tamás Deák sent some clippings from the contemporary Hungarian press as a commentary. The reports were written a hundred years ago, at the turn of 1915-1916, from the Italian front. Nice, round, even hilarious stories about the valor and humanity of the Austro-Hungarian army, the failures of the Italian army, but mostly about the ruthlesness and the embellished war reports of General Cadorna. Arguments over national characterology and why the Italian is not a good soldier. In short, all the topoi desired both by the military leadership and general readers anxious for their sons and husbands fighting on the front, and which were obviously used by the Italian press as well. As to how much they reflect reality, it would require a more complex analysis. So let us read them as the war, seen from a grassroots perspective.

The war in Italy
After the occupation of Görz [Gorizia], all the desperate efforts of the Italian troops are squandered. Their attacks are broken at the prowess of the mostly Hungarian defenders. Even if they have been driven from one attack to another for weeks, and they try to break ahead towards the Italian dream of dreams: Trieste. More than one Italian division has already been destroyed in this bloody struggle, but Count Cadorna, the Italian commander-in-chief insists with an insane stubbornness upon his plan, which has already brought so much failure to the Italian army. Most recently, the Italians suffered a severe blow on Monte Cimone. Our troops had mined this mountain, flinging it high into the air. This brilliant operation was a resounding success, and the enemy suffered heavy losses. About a hundred Italian soldiers were stranded in one of the cavities created by the explosion in Monte Cimone, and were unable to escape from their rocky prison, since the cavity was blocked by a huge boulder. The commander of our troops offered the enemy a few hours truce out of simple humanity, so they could recover the Italians holed up in the cavity hollowed out by the explosion in Monte Cinone. It is characteristic of the barbarity of Italian warfare, that they rejected the truce offered, not bothering about the fact, that thereby they had sentenced their own blood to death. Nevertheless, our troops managed to rescue the Italian soldiers, who had been left to a miserable death by their own compatriots. And this noble act will remain a glory of our weapons equal to their bloody victories. In the heaviest drum fire, in the midst of Italian grenades and a rain of shrapnel, the Hungarian medical corpsmen crept up Monte Cimone, the rocky prison of the Italians. They saved the Italians, at 
risk to their own lives, who were half-dead from hunger and exhaustion, from a most agonizing death. With this brilliant feat they responed thusly to the shameful barbarity of the Italian commander, inspired by hate.

The Italian veteran speaks about his “heroic deeds”.
And then suddenly an enemy grenade comes, and tears off my left arm!
But Giuseppe – interjects a member of the company – you still have your left arm!Per Dio! – the Italian bouncer says indignantly. – If you are so petty, what do you say about the Cadorna reports?

The Italian war
Cadorna’s report on bad weather

The Italians were looking forward to May, the month of love, to send a hot declaration of affection to the long-desired vineyards and orchards of Trientino. However, the grapes will already be ripe when the Italian fox, 
languishing no more, instead covered with blood and with bloodshot eyes, will be still ramming his head against the rocks of Tirol and Carniola, against the keen-aimed bullets of the Tyrolean, Hungarian and Austrian soldiers. The Italian will never eat of the grapes of Tyrol. Beyond the rocks and abysses, a thousand deaths ares waiting for the Italian army, and the roads are dangerously undermined at every step… Italy would need at least one million men here, and with such an unprecedented waste of souls, like the Russians in the Carpathians. Even so, we have strong doubts about Italian “eroismo”, which has never figured in Italian history, not even against the half-naked Abyssinians or the poor, earthy Arabs of Tripoli.

Cadorna has repeatedly blamed the “cattivo tempo”, bad weather, for Italian public opinion. Those who know the Italian people will find this pallative somewhat understandable. The warm climate makes the Italians overly sensitive to any change of weather. In Southern Italy, winter lasts only a few weeks, and snow falls only once or twice a year. The short winter period is characterized by continuous rainfall from dawn to dusk, which encourages a truly desperate mood among this people, accustomed to smiling azure sky throughout the whole year.

The majority of Italians do not work in the winter, because the rainy weather ruins their mood, and the rest of the year they value idleness over excessive labor. The Italian soldiers fighting at Isonzo, for example, require rest on Sunday and feast days, a custom that is not observed by the soldiers of any other nation.

Therefore, the Italians are somewhat persuaded by Cadorna excuses of bad weather, although the rest of Europe just laughs at him. Had winter not intervened, the Italians would have probably entered the war much earlier for the giant payment in blood promised to them. However, they had awaited the passing of winter, knowing well the character of their own people, which is unable to wage a winter campaign – with the exception of some of the northern Italians. So far, they have sent ahead mostly these alpini, but once they are depleted, the quality of the Italian army will further sink below those in the home of the glaciers, snowy mountains and alpine storms, because the toughness of central and southern Italian people falls far short of the Lombard soldiers, especially of those that also have some German blood in their veins.

Apparently, the Matin is not bound by Italian money, so they had the courage to declare that the Italians are now exactly where they were a month before (…)

A day next to Montfalcone

(…) During lunch, a gentle serenity spreads among the officers. A telegram is brought around with the latest “weather report” of Cadorna. These communiqués are not very clever. He must report something daily, and as he cannot report on victories, so he prattles on about the weather. This time, for example:

– The bad weather, which has been going on for a few days, have repeatedly tried the endurance of our troops. Nevertheless, they resist it with unshakable tenacity. In the area of the battlefield, fog hinders the activities of our troops. On the other hand, it allows the enemy to advance with their works of fortification, which we are trying to disturb with smaller troops.

As the Italian commander in chief cannot end his report 
this way, he does something that can be called quite cunning. In fact, he invents Austro-Hungarian attacks against the Italian front, and he reports that “we have victoriously repelled” these attacks. In reality, these attacks never took place (…)

South Tyrolean front
How are we doing? In one year, the “valiant” Italian army only could “break forward” where our military leadership would allow them. The whole world was amused by Cadorna’s reports, which went on an on about the bad weather rather than the awaited victories. However, Cadorna’s reports have recently become more varied, because they daily report on various retreats caused no longer by “bad weather”. The Italian military leadership keeps silent only about the prisoners of war and the cannons and machine guns seized by our valiant soldiers. However, for us it is quite enough if we know about the great victories, through which our heroic soldiers have already reached the edge of the Lombard plain. Such difficulties, as shown in this map, the grim ridges of which proclaim the eternal glory of our army.

The Isonzo front
How are we doing? The fierce and desperate resilience of the Carpathian battles is being repeated on the Italian front. For nine months the Italians have been trying to break our positions on the rocky ridges of the Karsts, and the result is that they are further back than where we allowed them at the beginning of the war. That is, they are proceeding a “defensive” campaign, and Cadorna does not report on bad weather any more.

And finally, as a counterpart of the Cadorna reports, let us have here a typical Austro-Hungarian Höfer report. This report, radiating strength and positivity,  fills the reader with confidence and hope. Which we also wish to all our readers for the new year.

Great Italian defeat
The battles around Görz [Gorizia], which took on an ever broader scope recently, have developed into a battle, as a result of the offensive of the 3rd Italian army. About four enemy corps\ advanced with massive artillery support against our front line, contracted from the sea to the Görz bridgehead. They were completely beaten back, and suffered terrible losses. Thanks to the bravery beyond all praise of our excellent, battle-hardened troops, especially of our valiant infantry, all military positions have remained in our possession. Our heroes faithfully and firmly guard the southwestern boundary of the Monarchy against the advances of the enemy. They can safely count on the gratitude of all the peoples of their homeland, as well as of our armies advancing from victory to victory in the north.

All quiet in the central part of Isonzo, in the Krn territory, and the other front lines. No major event has happened.

Höfer, Lieutenant-General
Deputy Chief of the General Staff

War from a grassroots perspective

“War from a grassroots perspective”, as we wrote before in the conference report of yesterday, which focused on the relationship between the front and the hinterland, the soldiers and their families, the self-organization of local communities, wartime postcards, and so on. The war, however, is seen from a real grassroots perspective by the fallen. They were commemorated with an unusual monument in the Sardinian town of Orgòsolo.

The walls of Orgòsolo have been decorated by – surprisingly good quality – murals since the 1960s, and from here they have spread to the other towns of Sardinia. But while in the other places they usually paint traditional scenes and figures on the walls of the houses, the majority of the Orgòsolo frescoes are politically charged protest paintings. Orgòsolo, laying in the heart of the Barbagia, the most closed, most archaic mountainous region of Sardinia, has always been the center of Sardinian independence and of protest against Italian power, whom they consider as invaders. It was especially so in the 1960s and 1970s, when they defended the traditional pastoral culture against the expropriation of land by the central power. The first murals, about which we will write in detail in a separate post, were expressions of this resistance.

The mural in question adorns the corner of via Cadorna. General – under Mussolini, Marshall – Luigi Cadorna was the commander-in-chief of the Italian army during World War I. In victorious Italy, many streets have been named after him. However, the opinion of the historians is not so favorable of him. According to David Stevenson, he was “one of the most callous and incompetent of First World War commanders”, who believed that discipline could resolve every problem. He was extremely cruel to his soldiers, while he could not attain the smallest success on the Isonzo front, due to a lack of organization, supplies and military overview. Between 1915 and 1917 he launched eleven major offensives against the Austro-Hungarian positions, all unsuccessful, with massive casualties. Then, when in late October 1917 the Central Powers launched a counterattack at Caporetto – today Kobarid –, they swept away in a few days the Italian army, the majority of whom – 275 thousand soldiers – surrendered. The Italians were able to finish the war only through French and British support. Nearly six hundred thousand Italian soldiers perished in the Isonzo and Piave fronts.

“For a brilliant attack, you calculate how many men the machine gun can break down, and you attack with a greater number of men. Someone will reach the machine gun.”
Luigi Cadorna: Letters

If a grateful Italian State guarantees that a street sign that the name of General Cadorna will forever be maintained, the mural painted next to it as a commentary will ensure, that the Sardinians – who lost especially many young people during the First World War – know precisely what is Cadorna’s due. The text commentary in the picture reads as follows:

“General L. Cadorna, the main responsible for the massacre of World War I.
Soldiers killed on all frontlines: 8 million 740 thousand
Italian soldiers killed: 571 thousand
Invalids and mutilated: 451.645
Missing: 117.000
210 thousand soldiers were shot dead or were convicted, because they did not want to fight any more.

And the First World War soldier’s song given in the mouth of the young widow, and thus of the whole community, makes sure that the memory of Caporetto be also maintained:

E anche a mi’ marito tocca andare (My husband must also go). Text and recording from here

E anche al mi’ marito tocca andare
a fa’ barriera contro l’invasore,
ma se va a fa’ la guerra e po’ ci more
rimango sola con quattro creature.

E avevano ragione i socialisti:
ne more tanti e ’un semo ancora lesti;
ma s’anco ’r prete dice che dovresti,
a morì te ’un ci vai, ’un ci hanno cristi.

E a te, Cadorna, ’un mancan l’accidenti,
ché a Caporetto n’hai ammazzati tanti;
noi si patisce tutti questi pianti
e te, nato d’un cane, non li senti,

E ’un me ne ’mporta della tu’ vittoria,
perché ci sputo sopra alla bandiera;
sputo sopra l’Italia tutta ’ntera
e vado ’n culo al re con la su’ boria,

E quando si farà rivoluzione
ti voglio ammazzà io, nato d’un cane,
e a’ generali figli di puttane
gli voglio sparà a tutti cor cannone.
My husband must also go
to put a barrier to the invaders
but if he goes to war and dies,
I remain alone with four children.

The Socialists were right, that so many
die, and we are not still awaken
but even if the priest tells you to go
you should not go, there’s not that Christ!

But you, Cadorna, are not satisfied with
the so many dead you’ve killed at Caporetto
we here suffer and cry all the time
but you, son of bitch, do not even hear it

I’m not interested in your victory,
because I spit on your flag,
I spit on all Italy,
I fuck in the ass the king with his arrogance

And when there will be revolution,
I want to kill you, son of a bitch
and all the bastard generals
I will to shoot dead with cannon.

“Here, along the trench…”

We have already written several times about the Great War here in río Wang. On various aspects of it, but always from a grassroots perspective. About the wartime children’s books, the child propaganda, the Székely soldier letters, the soldier’s songs sung on the two shores of Isonzo, the grateful Russian prisoners of war, the Galician Jews marching out to greet Archduke Frederick, and much else. From this perspective it has been examined also by the conference recently organized by our friends in Szeged. Unfortunately we could not be there in person, but at our request Norbert Glässer, the organizer of the conference, associate of the anthropology department of Szeged, and leader of The Ties research project sent us a report on the event.

„My consort is writing that she’s worrying for me / Don’t worry for me, my dear wife”

The events of the First World War not only radically changed the European power relations and state boundaries, but they also had a considerable impact on everyday life, since it fundamentally transformed former networks and posed new challenges to the communities. On this they held a scientific conference entitled The impact of the Great War on the changes of everyday culture on 26 and 27 November 2015 in Szeged, organized by the Research Group of Religious Culture of the Hungarian Academy and of Szeged University, the Faculty of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology of Szeged University, the Ethnographic Research Group of the Academic Committee of Szeged, and the Meritum Public Association of Culture and Education.

The conference speakers viewed the war as a transition, which amplified some processes of modernity, revealed new phenomena, or made new directions to changes. The war was also a crisis situation, which prompted the society to search new answers and models, and questioned models which had worked for several generations. The conference gave special attention to the perceptions of war of various groups, including religious confessions, and the intertwining of life’s turning points and religious contents with war situations.

The event was held under the patronage of Michael von Habsburg-Lothringen, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, Chairman of the Cardinal Mindszenty Foundation. Archduke Joseph August von Habsburg-Lothringen, Commander of the 7th Corps, took part in the battles of Doberdo together with the 46th Infantry Battalion of Szeged. His grandson, Michael von Habsburg-Lothringen also remembered this in his opening speech in the ceremonial hall of the Town Hall of Szeged.

As part of the program, in the Corridor Gallery of the Department of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology they opened the temporary exhibition “Here, along the trench…”, organized by László Mód from the postcard collection of József Szanka. The period postcards presented the relation system of the front and the hinterland, the fighting soldiers and their families waiting for them, the everyday life and feasts in wartime. Professor Gábor Barna, head of the Research Group of Religious Culture in his opening speech drew attention to the special postcards quoting the verses of the prayer Our Father, and embedding them in war situations. These travesties could also give force of motivation midst the trials of front life. The pictures showing the whole society, from the ruler to the family members, praying for the victory and the end of the war, set in a transcendental context the war events. This is clearly expressed in the picture of Jesus supporting Emperors William and Franz Joseph, but this is also the background of the representations of Jesus and Mary appearing in the battlefield. Due to their novelty, and the differences of the visual culture of the period from that of today, these images could have a significant influence on the contemporary viewers.

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Next conferences:
“Franz Joseph Malkenu”,
27. October 2016

“Take the crown…”,
23-24 November 2016
The speakers analyzed the issues of the First World War and literacy in the light of wartime letters, diaries and subsequent narratives, and presented the effects of the war on the hinterland within the framework of micro-historical case studies about military hospitals, the economic management of the front, captivity of war and reconstruction. They also examined the impact of the war on the organization of communities, such as the establishment of a new quarter in Szeged, the role of the “Tree of Doberdo” in the war memory of the inhabitants of the city, the influence of the war on the self-organization of associations and political groups. The thematic lectures of the conference included the changing female roles, the fate of the women who replaced the men fighting in the front, their replies to everyday challenges from female employment to the changes in cleaning.

The video recording on the opening of the conference and the plenary section can be seen here.

Dissolving: Crossing the river

Anton Graff: The Elbe under Dresden, ca. 1800. Gemäldegalerie Alter Meister, Dresden

Crossing the Elbe at sunrise, the day before yesterday

Walter writes:

Dániel’s new post touched me but not with words. So I reply in kind, but blogger comment does not accept images.

We live in the Old Town part of Kingston upon Hull five minutes walk from the Humber Estuary with all its moods (much flooding in the rivers feeding the Humber). That day there was no sound other than the mournful foghorn and muffled voices from the boat leaving on the tide: I felt the same stepping out of time that Dániel alludes to.

Over 2.2 million Jewish immigrants passed through Hull in the century before 1914. Hilary’s family stayed here possibly because they had no money for onward passage. The Jewish community here is now in decline, a few hundred remain, but the history is still to be found in the detail in which you specialise.

Ghost sea

The last excursion of this year, to the Nagy-Kopasz (“Great Bald”) Hill in the Buda Mountains. In the last week or so, most of Hungary was covered with fog and grey clouds, the sun would appear only occasionally. But if you reach above of the fog line, you enter another dimension, uncharted waters, undreamed shores. As if the ghost of the late Pannonian Sea was about to reconquer its former basin, the hilltops become islands and peninsulas, the lookout towers on their tops are lighthouses in the slowly rolling embrace of the sunlit ghost sea. The black pines, artificially populated on the bald south-west side of the dolomite hill, recall Chinese ink wash paintings as their groups emerge from the mist lingering among them. Silence and a feeling of being out of time.

Hossein Alizade: مه Meh (Mist). From the album ماه و مه Mâh o meh (Moon and mist, 2009).

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Dresden, Gemäldegalerie Alter Meister 1

Do you recognize the paintings, photographed in the Dresden Gallery, on the basis of the details? We will write under them the titles of the recognized ones. By clicking on the titles, you can see the whole painting.

Jordi Savall, Montserrat Figueras, Hespèrion XXI: Seguidillas en eco: De tu vista celoso. From the CD Folías Criollas (2010)

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It was night out there

The valley of Riu Pardu in Ogliastra, the eastern mountainous region of Sardinia is, as the locals say, an island on the island. The river runs in a deep valley between the two huge mountain ranges of the Tricoli and the Tacchi, and the pastoral villages, Gàiru, Osini, Ulassai, Jerzu, climb up on the steep slopes from the eternally shaded depths of the canyon, toward the light. For thousands of years closed off the external world, and inspired by the bizarre forms of the butte rocks of Tacchi, they populated the region with strange creatures, the evil and good spirits of darkness and light, which still live in their tales and songs.

Here, in Ulassai, in a shepherd’s family blessed with great imaginative power and quite a few artists, was born one of Sardinia’s most important modern artists, Maria Lai. She was lucky: her Italian language teacher discovered her talent, and she was able to complete high school in Rome. Then, since World War II had cut off the island from the mainland, she became acquainted with modern art during her years in Venice. Only her artistic bequest returned to Ulassai, to the former railway station established as a memorial museum. However, her pictures, statues, textiles throughout show the amorphous cliffs and deep fissures of the Sardinian mountains, their animals and shepherds, the basic experience of the contrast of light and darkness, and the stars, which are as bright here only in a very few places of the world.

The Stazione dell’Arte dedicated to Maria Lai on the hilltop, about which we are going to write soon.

The Italian mountains inspired also the manger of Bethlehem, in which the medieval imagination displays the encounter of darkness and light through the medium of religious theater, and with the motifs of the shepherds, the animals, the stars. The first Nativity manger was set up at Christmas 1223 in Greccio, in the Central Italian mountains by St. Francis, who was especially susceptible to such games, and the presepe has since become a basic genre of Italian popular art. In 2006, Maria Lai organized an exhibition in Cagliari of her presepi, made mainly in the 1960s, with the title It was night out there. The scenes, rendered in sweeping contours or collages, are surrounded by a box frame, which makes them three-dimensional. The pebbles and found objects stepping out on the edge of the box, and the similarly lapidary figures, which recall the relics of prehistoric Sardinian art, open up the compositions, and link them with the vastness of the mountains of Ogliastro.

Peppino Marotto and Coro di Neoneli: Sa Ninnia (shepherd’s lullaby)

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The treasure of the Jews

In Sardinia, in the old town of the bilingual Alghero/Alguer, the street signs are also bilingual. The two names, however, are not translations of each other. They belong to two completely different registers. The Italian names are the empire-uniting trademarks of Italian nationalism, to be found in every city, the symbols and heroes of the Italian nation constructed a hundred and fifty years ago. The Catalan names are the medieval street names of an introverted traditional town: saints, churches, local landmarks, imprints of a local history. The street of Carlo Alberto, King of Sardinia and Piedmont, is in Catalan St. Francis, that of the Garibaldist Ardoino is Street of the old post, the Street of Rome is on the one end St. Anne Street, and on the other Stairs to the bell tower, the Square of Citizens is the Square of the old well, and the street of the Italian politician Manno is in Catalan Street of the Cemetery.

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The street named after the First World War hero Giuseppe Bertolotti is in Catalan Carreró dels Hebreus, Street of the Jews. In a city where there have been no Jews for more than five hundred years.

There is also another square in the old town, whose name is the same in both languages, but as it is not translated into Italian, the foreigners do not understand it, only the local Catalans. Piazza/plaça de la Juharia – the Square of the Jewish quarter.

Local memory retained in the street names the remembrance of the Jews exiled in 1492.

Even the weapons guarding on the sea bastion are of two types. Above, the one with which the Kingdom of Italy, below with which the Catalans guarded the peace of the port.

The first Jews, just like in Mallorca, arrived in Alghero with the Catalan conquerors, partly as investors, and partly as soldiers. In 1353, when Peter IV, King of Aragon set out to put an end to a centuries-old feud and conquer Sardinia from the Genoese, he previously had taken a major loan from the Jewish bankers of Catalonia, promising to compensate them with estates in the island to be conquered. His army also included a large number of Jewish soldiers, who – just like James I in Mallorca – were rewarded for their services with plots in Alguer. The preserved documents mention about twenty-five of them by name: Salamon and Jucef d’Alcatraz from Castilia, Murduto and Maymone Seciliano, Vital Codonyo and Jucef with his sons from Sicily, Isach Levi, Jahudano Ataf, Mosse Exalo, Isach Sucra and Abram Sanoga from the Catalonian Lerida, Mosse Amarello, Mosse Avempu, Samuel Botrom, Abraham and David Soriano from Calatayud, a certain Samuel from Segorbe, Isach Merdona from Mallorca, Janton Gabay from Zaragoza, Haim Crespin from Toledo, Samuel Juceff and David from the Valencian Jérica, Jucef Salamonis Argillet from Gerona. Abrahim Abenxeha provided two armored horses for the siege of the fortress, for which he received a generous reward. Ferrario de Santa Cruz was rewarded with an armored horse after the siege. Salamon Scarpa fought for his own life: he had been sentenced to death for murder in Catalonia, and he joined the army because of an amnesty promised to the participants of the campaign.

The first Jewish settlers were all given a plot in the northern “horn” of the old town, which is known since then as the Jewish quarter – aljama or juharia –, although, unlike later ghettos, it was never surrounded by walls. From the Christian city it was separated only by a broad street, which in the Middle Ages was called the Square of the old well, because here, between the two neighborhoods, stood the city’s public well.

The residents of the Jewish quarter from the outset had the right of self-adnministration. This was the kahal, which was simplified to call in the Catalan language. The community was headed by three elected secretaries, nemanim, who collected the taxes and kept contacts with the royal authorities. The kahal also judged the disciplinary affairs of the Jews. In 1408 for example, as Eliezer ben David recounts in the 1937 issue of La rassegna mensile di Israel, they summoned a Jew who had played an illegal dice game. The piquant thing was that his opponent in the game with none other than the King of Aragon himself while on a visit to the island, and the Jew had even won 160 gold florins. To save himself, he subsequently asked the king for a declaration that he had forced him to play under penalty of capital punishment. The case ended up before Rabbi Bonjua Bondavin, a Marseille-born doctor, the highest Jewish authority in Sardinia, whose judgement was, that even if the accused repented, he must give the winnings to the embellishment of the synagogue. However, the person in question preferred to accept excommunication, and kept for himself the hundred and sixty gold florins.

The archives of the kahal were scattered after the expulsion of 1492, so that our main sources on the life of the Jews are the royal land registers and the documents of the lawsuits. From here we know that the owners of the plots were mainly merchants, whose network of connections covered the whole island, the countries of the Hispanic Peninsula and Northern Africa, as well as money lenders, physicians, artisans and soldiers. An especially prominent doctor was Eahim de Xipre, who wrote a book on the medicinal plants of Sardinia, and another on the climate of the island. In the 1370s a lot of new land buyers are registered from Southern France in the wake of the persecutions of Jews there. In the early 1400s, a third wave arrives from Provence, including some extremely rich dynasties, such as the Bellcayre, Lunell and Carcassona families. Lawsuit documents from 1376 mention the wealthy merchant Jacob Bessach, who wounded the Christian barber Pietro Seguert with a sword. In 1381 the same merchant and his wife sell a plot of land to the kahal for the purpose of a synagogue. In 1448 the synagogue needed to be expanded, because at that time there lived more than 700 Jewish families in the quarter.

The only document originating from the kahal of Alguer, which has been preserved in a book-binding, is the ketubbah, marriage letter given by Shelomo ben Zarch de Carcassona to Bella bat Merwanha ha-Sheniri on the sixth day of the month of Shevat in 5216, that is, on 9 January 1456, “in the city of Alguer, on the seashore”. The groom promises the bride that he “…will provide for you and bury you and will give you to eat according to the custom of Jewish men”. According to the clause, Bella remains the owner of her entire dowry, as it was the custom among the Jews of Aragon. The document, which was analyzed in detail by Amira Meir in the 2009 issue of Materia Giudaica, has been also included in the World Digital Library.

The head of the wealthy Carcassona family, Samuele, came in 1422 from Provence to Alguer, where he immediately became a secretary of the call and the tenant of the royal customs. His sons, Maimone, Moisse, Zarquillo (Zarch, the father of the above groom) and Salomone (Nin) all occupied high positions both in the community and in the royal administration. They built their palace on the main street of the Jewish quarter, named after St. Erasmus. It was so luxurious that Ferdinand II, King of Spain, wrote to the viceroy of Sardinia still before the publication of the decree on the expulsion of the Jews, that the house of “Nin de Carcassona” be held for him, for the purpose of royal accommodation:

“…que la casa del Nin de Carcassona se reserve segons nos ab aquesta la reservam per abitacio real.”

The palace still stands, and is still the largest house in the quarter. Its gothic windows have been bricked up and decorated with Art Nouveau sgraffiti, but its arched gate is late medieval, just like the surprised face on the façade of the building. Today it houses the “Restaurant O” by Master Chef Eoghain O’Neill, so it still receives the same rank of guests as in the time of the Carcassonas.

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In 1492, the decree of expulsion did not come unexpectedly to the Jews of Sardinia. The royal decree of 31 March was promulgated in Sardinia on 28 September, so the well-informed Jews had some time to escape with the movable part of their assets. The last Jew left the island on 16 December. However, many of them were converted to the Christian faith, so that they could remain there. They as marranos got into trouble with the Inquisition even generations later, such as Antonio Angelo de Carcassona, who became a priest, and he was summoned before the court in 1580 because he preached from the pulpit – fully in line with St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans – the chosenness of the Jewish people. It was an aggravating circumstance, that many of his relatives who had fled abroad, returned to Judaism, such as his brother who was the Rabbi of Krakow. Elio Moncelsi in his book Ebrei in Sardegna (2012) has collected more than two hundred family names of Jewish origin, still in use in the island. A local converted Jew was the interpreter of Columbus, Luis de Torres, who in the New World addressed the Indians first of all in Hebrew, suspecting them to be the descendants of the ten lost tribes.

The synagogue was converted into a church, named in good taste after the Holy Cross, with which the Jews had to do a pretty lot. Near the church was built in 1641 the convent and church of Santa Chiara for the order of the Isabellines, that is, the reformed Clares. After the order was dissolved in 1855, the convent was turned into a hospital, which in 1902 also included the Church of the Holy Cross. In 1909 the church was finally pulled down, and the entire hospital rebuilt as Ospedale Marino “Regina Margherita”. Today only the little square in front of the building recalls the name of the former Chiesa della Santa Croce.

The Jewish quarter in the 1870 map of Alghero C. G. Gerenzani. B marks the church of Santa Croce, C that of the Clares, and I the hospital. From the blog post written on the old hospital.

In the 19th century, the ghost of the Jews once more returned to the old synagogue. In 1820 the news spread that the exiled Jews had buried their treasures, lu sidaru, as they say in Sardinian, in the synagogue, before leaving the island. The news came from Cià Crara, who was considered a witch, and who in a number of occasions saw in a dream the devil in the church of Santa Croce, undoubtedly guarding the treasure. This case shows simultaneously that, not only the street names, but also collective memory clearly preserved the memory of the Jews, more than three centuries after their expulsion. The enlightened Sardinian-Piedmontese government took the news seriously, and appointed a committee to dig up the church. As one would expect, they did not find anything.

In 1847 the digging started again. This time, the parish priest and his three colleagues created a secret consortium, to which two city doctors were also enrolled. As to how secret the undertaking was, is shown by the fact that a long satirical poem was immediately made about them, which was published in La ilustració catalana some thirty years later. According to this, prior to the commencement of the excavations, someone – perhaps the author himself – as a joke had hidden a small iron box in the earth, with a worthless German-language book inside. The treasure seekers found it, and they believed that God wanted to show them with this book, written in an unknown language, where to search the treasure. They were thus looking for someone who understood the mysterious language, and they came across Ferrandino Simò, the town fool, who noted that the book was written in mussulmà language, and it includes invaluable tips on how to get rid of the white flies, and how to heal a crooked leg, an empty head, and him who speaks in French. The book, ends the poem, is still shown off to foreigners at the gate of the city by “the son of Chichu Piga”, in the original and together with the translation.

Since then, nobody has sought for treasure in Alghero, but lu sideru became part of the folklore of the city. The last archaeological excavation in the place of Santa Croce was in 1997-1998, whereupon, aside from the traces of the former treasure hunt, they found the remains of the synagogue and of the mikveh.

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The former hospital is now partly a public library, and partly serves as the department of architecture and urban design. The Middle Eastern style elements adopted in the modern reconstruction suggest that consideration has been given to the Jewish tradition of the place as well. In the inner courtyard of the building, which is open to the sea, in front of the exciting exterior stair composition, a piece of an old wall of the former Jewish quarter stands, almost as if it were a sculpture. And on the wall of the building a plaque recalls the memory of the former juharia.

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The Carreró dels Hebreus, the Jewish street starting from Santa Croce Square is flanked with cheerful Mediterranean flower pots cut from plastic bottles, praising the creativity of the residents. The plaster has been renewed a couple of times in the past five hundred years, but wherever it is lacking, there emerge the medieval carved stones, in front of which the Jewish inhabitants had passed day by day. The street emerges with a steep staircase to the seafront promenade, at the former Marine Gate, the guarding of which was once the responsibility of the Jews. On top of the St. Elmo Gate Bastion now stands the last Jewish woman who remained in the town, the Virgin Mary watching over the harbor.

Elena Ledda: Duru duru Deus Adonai. Sardinian urban music also preserving Sephardic melodies and texts

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On Hospital street – in Catalan, Street of the nuns – we return to the Square of the old well, the border of the Jewish quarter. Across the square, or rather the broad street, the cathedral stands. On this side, a ruined medieval house, its knee-high wall has been overgrown by a bush with fragrant blue flowers. Someone, as in a Jewish cemetery, placed a pebble on top of the wall.