The Jewish Ghetto (Il Ghetto) is one Venice’s quieter, less touristy neighbourhoods steeped in history. In 1516 the world’s first walled off Jewish community was instituted. Hundreds of Jews were locked on the small island patrolled by guards at night and only allowed to leave during the day for work in the city. They were allowed to run pawnshops, lend money for a very low commission, sell textiles and practice medicine. Despite the restrictions, Venice was still considered a safe heaven, attracting Jews from fleeing the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal, so the Ghetto grew.
|Ghetto - Canal View|
With the densest population in the city, the Jewish community was allowed to build the tallest buildings in Venice with the synagogues on the top floors. In 1797, after Napoleon’s arrival the Ghetto’s gates were open but the complete liberation came only in 1866 when the Italian state was established.
Today only 30 Jews live in the former ghetto with several hundred others residing in other parts of Venice. However, Il Ghetto has remained virtually unchanged since the 16th century and become the centre of Jewish life in the city. There are two synagogues built in the 1500s that are still open for worshipping, an old people’s home, library, kosher guesthouse, two restaurants and a bakery where matzo, unleavened traditional bread is still baked in an ancient wood oven. There is also a small Jewish museum (Museo Ebraico) with an excellent collection of exhibits telling the history of Venetian Jewish community. You can see ornate silver Hanukkah lamps, Torah scrolls, beautiful wedding contracts in Hebrew.
|Campo de Gheto Novo|
Make sure to stop at one of the restaurants in the area. The famous Gam-Gam serves excellent traditional Jewish dishes such as matza ball soup, shnitzel and massa’bacha. Another good place to sample Venetian and Jewish cuisine is the Kosher Club Le Balthazar (Campo di Ghetto Nuovo, 30121) with its peaceful elegant courtyard.
Photos via Flickr by: Szilveszter Farkas, Joanna Penn.