The Jewish Ghetto in Venice: on March 29th 1516, the Government of the Serenissima Repubblica issued special laws that declared the Jewish population of Venice had to live in an enclosed area, near San Girolamo where there used to be a foundry (in venetian “ghèto”). And so the first Ghetto of Europe was instituted where Jews from German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Levantine Sephardi origins lived together keeping their own traditions and synagogues. The area was closed by gates at sunset and opened again at dawn and still today the marks of those gates are visible.
Jews at that time were allowed to practice only some professions: they were doctors, because they were the most prepared and able to understand Arab writings, money lenders, because Catholic religion forbade this practice, ragsellers and merchants. And especially the merchants and bankers conveyed an important role to the Jewish community for the economic life in Venice.
The Ghetto of Venice in those days was also of great importance to the cultural life of the Jewish society as Jewish books printed in Venice were distributed to the Jewish communities all over Europe. Eighty years after the creation of the Ghetto, Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice.
The Ghetto existed for more than two and a half centuries, until Napoleon conquered Venice and finally opened and eliminated every gate in 1797.
Today the Ghetto is still the center of Jewish life in the city, with working synagogues but also a kindergarten, a home for elderly, a guest house; The Kosher House Giardino dei Melograni and a bakery. Along with its architectural and artistic monuments, the community also boasts a Museum of Jewish Art, the Renato Maestro Library and Archive and the Info Point of the Jewish community inside the Midrash Leon da Modena.
When in Venice the Ghetto is definitely worth a visit and guided tours are organized on a daily basis.
Stay tuned for special events in occasion of the 500th anniversary!
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