Venice's Ghetto was the first segregated Jewish community in Europe. It was created by the Venetian Republic in 1516 to placate the Roman Catholic Church, which had forced the expulsion of Jews from many European countries. (The Venetians were more interested in wealth on Earth than in religious ideology; if creating a nighttime dormitory quarter was required to keep a community of Jewish financiers and goldsmiths intact, that was good enough for the Republic.)
The Ghetto has several interesting characteristics, such as the low-ceilinged, multistory apartment buildings that were built to accommodate a dense Jewish population and the upstairs synagogues that served Jews of different nationalities.
If you have time and a few euros to spare, you can visit the Jewish Museum or take a guided English-language tour of the synagogues.
The Ghetto is easy to reach: As you're walking toward the city center from the railroad station, turn left after crossing the Ponte delle Guglie and look for the Gam Gam restaurant. Turn right into the passage before the restaurant; you'll first encounter the Ghetto Vecchio, or Old Ghetto. Beyond that is a larger square, the Ghetto Nuovo or New Ghetto, which is shown in the top photo above.
Interesting fact: Venice's Jewish population fell sharply during World War II, when many Jews were shipped off to concentration camps, but it has grown in recent years because of an influx of Messianic Jews from the other parts of Italy and the United States. (If you see men in black hats and side curls, there's a good chance that they're from Brooklyn.)
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Copyright © 1996-2015 Durant Imboden and Cheryl Imboden. All rights reserved.