VENICE AND THE JEWS
A PRIVATE TOUR
Rialto Bridge, Venice
venezia galeoni aerei acqua alta 2008 170
VENICE AND THE JEWS
A PRIVATE TOUR
Highlights of this tour:
Rialto area and Bridge
Historical survey about the Jewish presence in Venice
Both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews arrived for different reasons in Venice during the course of the centuries, and, although the Ghetto wasn’t established until 1516, the Jewish presence was already of great relevance in Venice since the second half of the 14th century.
Our walk will start with a short visit to St Mark’s Square, where all main political decisions about the Jews and the other foreign communities were taken.
Here, in front of the Doges’ Palace, we’ll briefly sketch out the attitude of the Venetian government towards the Papacy on one side and towards the Jews on the other.
We shall then proceed to the Rialto market area, for long centuries a world-wide important seat of banking and mercantile transactions.
Here, symbolically on the very tracks of Shylock, we’ll try to frame the history of the Jews Venice into the wider economic history of Europe.
After having crossed the Grand Canal on a “traghetto” (i.e. a gondola ferry) we’ll visit the three areas of the Ghetto (Ghetto Nuovo, Ghetto Vecchio and Ghetto Novissimo), retracing the history of the Jewish Community of Venice up to our days.
If there will be time we shall also have a look at the small but well arranged Jewish Museum located there.
At this point our private tour will be over.
If you wish you can then join one of the group tours departing every hour from the Jewish Museum and including a visit to three out of five synagogues.
Before leaving our guide will provide you with all necessary instructions about how to go back to central Venice on foot or by boat.
» More about this tour
The term “ghetto” is now generally used to designate an urban area inhabited by a certain minority mostly for socioeconomic reasons, and conveys a negative idea of segregation, racial or ethnic discrimination and poverty.
In Nazi occupied Europe the ghettos were overpopulated quarters where the Jews and sometimes Gypsies were required to live prior to their transportation to concentration and death camps.
The first time the word ghetto was associated with the segregation of a minority population was in 1516, when, as a form of compromise between those who wanted to expel all the Jews from Venice and those who had recently allowed them to live and operate freely all over the city, the government decided to force them legally to move to a small island at the extreme Northwestern part of Venice, in the Cannaregio district.
The island was then named the Gheto Nuovo (‘the new metal foundry’) but it was formerly known as the “terren del Gheto,” i.e. “the terrain of the metal foundry.”
It was a marshy island where waste from the nearby municipal copper foundry (called Gheto Vecio, the Old Gheto) was thrown, and where a new artillery foundry had operated for a short time before all cannon-making activities were definitively moved to the Arsenal (at the extreme Northeast of Venice, in the district of Castello) in the 1430s.
Gheto or Ghetto originally meant metal foundry, and was simply the name of an abandoned industrial area of Venice, sold in 1434 by the Venetian government to private owners, which later had to rent their modest buildings to the Jews for almost three centuries.
In 1541 the government decided that the wandering “Levantine” Jewish merchants arriving in Venice from the Ottoman Empire should receive better treatment than the German and Italian Jews already residing in the New Gheto.
The government established their residences into the nearby Old Ghetto, which was separated from the rest of the city by tall walls, with a single entrance and exit along the Cannaregio Canal that was connected to the New Ghetto via bridge.
At this point the word gheto was strictly associated with the Jews of Venice and the quarter they were obliged to live in.
During the day however, they were allowed to exit, while the Christians were permitted to visit.
In 1555 Pope Paul IV issued the infamous bull “Cum Nimis Absurdum” obliging Roman Jews to reside in one single section of the city; the word “gheto” was set for migration.
Seven years later the mandatory Jewish quarter in Rome was already called the Ghetto.
After the example set by the Papal States, other governments in Italy decided to create their own Jewish Ghetto, and at this point “ghetto” was already used in legislation and official documents.
As for Venice, the Ghetto was enlarged a third time after the 1630-1631 plague, and was now obviously called the Gheto Novissimo (the “newest ghetto”).
It was the only ghetto without synagogues or shops, used exclusively residentially.
Different origins have been conjectured for the word “ghetto,” but the Venetian/Italian origin is widely proved by extensive documents.
» Read less