The Ancient Jewish Ghetto In Venice


The Jewish Ghetto of Venice, the first ghetto in Europe, was established on 29th of March 1516 by the government of Venetian Serenissima Republic. It was an area where Jews were forced to live and which they could not leave from sunset to dawn. The isolation of the Jewish community in Venicelasted until 1797, the year the Republic felt to Napoleon who finally decreeed the end of the segregation and recognized equal rights to the Jews.


The name Ghetto seems to derive from the iron foundries that were active in the that area of the city, where metal was cast (geto in Venetian) to make cannons; the name was later applied to neighborhoods in other cities where Jews were required to live.


To get to the Ghetto, take vaporetto boat line 1 get off at the San Marcuola - Casinò stop; a short walk will then take you to the former gates of the ghetto. Once you are in the square of Campo del Ghetto Nuovo you can decide whether to continue your visit independently or with an authorized guid from the Jewish Museum.


What sets the Ghetto apart from the rest of the city are some prevalently structural peculiarities that a careful visitor will notice at once. With the settlement of the new community, the layout of the area did not change much. However, the residential and functional buildings took on a new aspect: since the area could not expand horizontally, vertical additions were built to form tower houses - buildings with a number of stories that were most unusual for Venice, and rooms with very low ceilings (often less than 2 meters high).


Venice conceded a particular role to the Ghetto and its inhabitants: Jews were the only ones allowed to operate as pawnbrokers and lend money. The presence of the Pawns Banks turned the area  from a district with a purely local character into an important place of exchange between Jews andGentiles, as the latter could not charge interest  on money loans because of religious reasons.


Between the 16th Century and the first half of the 17th, the various ethinc groups  began building their synagogues (called Schools or Schole). A visit to the synagogues is the highlight of this tour. There are five in the Ghetto: The Schola Tedesca (German school), The Schola Canton (literally, the corner Synagogue, following the ashkenazim ritual like the German school), and the Schola Italiana all overlook the Campo dle Ghetto Nuovo, while Schola Levantina (levantine school) and Schola Spagnola (Spanish school) face the Campiello delle Scuole in the nearby Old Ghetto. The buildings themselves form an architectural complex of great interest.


The Ghetto Museum, located in Campo del Ghetto Nuovo, houses objects and artfacts used during prayer or to decorate the synagogues. On the opposite side of the square, a sybolic strand of barbed wire by Lithuanian artis Arbit Blatas commemorates and reminds passer-by and visitors of the tragedy of the deportation of the Jews to the concentration camps.


Next to the memorial is the Jewish Rest Home, founded in 1890 and still in use today, from where a sad procession of Venetian Jews left for the camps during the years of nazi-fascist persecution.


In their memory, on the adjacent wall of the Ghetto, a new monument by Arbit blatas titled The Last Train (1979) record their names and ages .