The Ancient Jewish Ghetto of Venice
The Jewish Ghetto of Venice
The Jewish Ghetto of Venice: one of the most interesting, precious and enchanting places in Venice is the Ancient Jewish Ghetto.
As I already said many times before, I always try to go there as much as I can, since it is one of the few places in Venice where time “still” stands still.
I have talked about the Ghetto in many other posts, but I never really dedicated a whole post to the area which has shaped the history of the Serenissima in so many ways. Last week-end the Venetian Jewish community together with many other Jewish tourists celebrated Yom Kippur.
I felt it was just right to talk about the Ghetto in this very solemn occasion.
I did not want to write any wrong detail or give misinterpreted information, so I took all the information from the official website of the Jewish Museum of Venice.
The History of The Jewish Ghetto of Venice
Some parts are taken directly from their website, some others are taken from the paper brochure which can be collected from the Jewish Community of Venice, Cannaregio 1146, Venice.
“The presence of Jews in the region that was to become the Venetian republic is documented from as early as the first centuries of the vernacular era.
According to the tradition they arrived in Venice, a great trading centre between East and West, towards the beginning of the eleventh century. Little by little, despite alternating moments of “permission” and “prohibition”, the number and importance of Jews in Venice grew considerably, so much that on March 29th 1516 the Republic found it necessary to enact a decree to organize their presence.The Republic obliged the Jews to live in an area of the city where the foundries, known in Venetian as “geti”, had been situated in ancient times and to wear a sign of identification and to manage the city’s pawnshops at rates estabilished by the Serenissima. Many other onerous regulations were also included, in exchange for which the Community was granted the freedom to practice its faith and protection in case of war.The first Jews to comply with the decree were the Ashkenazim from mid-eastern Europe. Their guttural pronunciation mangled the Venetian term “geto” into “ghetto”, creating the word still used today to indicate various places of segregation. The “Gheto” was closed during the night, and the boats of the Christian guards scoured the surrounding canals to prevent nocturnal violations. This is how Europe’s first ghetto was born.
The unusual tall buildings found here were divided into floors of sub-standard height, demonstrating how the density of the population had increased over the years. After the fall of the Serenissima in1797, Napoleon decreed the end of the Jewish segregation and the equalization of the Jews to other citizens. This provision became definitive when Venice was annexed to the Italian Kingdom.In 1938 the promulgation of the fascist racial laws deprived the Jews of civil rights and the Nazi persecutions began. Two hundred and four Jews were deported from Venice; only 8 returned from the death camps.What was Europe’s first ghetto is now a lively and popular district of the city where the religious and administrative institutions of the Jewish Community and its five synagogues still persist.”
How to get there to The Jewish Ghetto of Venice
As you come out of the station turn left and walk along Lista di Spagna, the busiest street in Venice, full of hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops. After a 5 minutes walk you will reach a bridge. This is the Ponte delle Guglie. Cross it and then immediately turn left. Walk approx 150 mt and then look out for a very small little archway with a sign Sottoportego del Ghetto.
This was once one of only three entrances to the ghetto which used to be completely shut at night. As the sun came down, the gates will be closed, so people could neither come in or out of the Ghetto.
The surrounding canals were patrolled by Venetian men on boats paid by the Jewish people themselves (not out of kindness, but as an imposition by the Venetian Authority). The other entrances are at the end of the Ghetto Nuovo on the bridge which leads onto Fondamenta degli Ormesini and the small archway which leads to the Ghetto Nuovissimo.
As you walk into the Ghetto on your right you will see the famous Jewish restaurant Gam Gam and just after that the lovely Kosher Bakery Panificio Volpe, full of delicious pastries and cakes.
As you carry on walking you will come into the Campiello delle Scuole (Square of the Schools).
“You can not understand the Jewish quarter in Venice if you don’t begin from the synagogues. The synagogues in the New Ghetto are on the top floor of the pre-existing buildings and recognized with difficulty outside while inside they prove to be little jewels.
Known as “Scole”, the synagogues of the Venetian ghetto were constructed between the early-sixteenth and mid-seventeenth centuries. Each represented a different ethnic group that had settled here stably and obtained a guarantee of religious freedom: the German and Canton “Scole” practiced the Ashkenazi rite; the Italian, the Italian rite and the Levantine and Spanish, the Sephardic rite. Despite a few later interventions, these synagogues have remained intact over time and testify the importance of the Venetian ghetto.
The focal points of the synagogues are the ‘Aron ha-Kodesh, the closet the keeps Torah, and the Tevah, the pulpit where the passages of Torah are read; the way the space is ordered is a consequence of the putting of the ‘Aron ha-Kodesh which must be oriented towards Jerusalem.
The Levantine Schola, founded in 1541, was rebuilt in the second half of 17th century. Even if without documents unequivocally proving that, it is thought that the artists who worked for the restoration were Baldassarre Longhena, whose stylistic models are clearly evident on the façade
and Andrea Brustolon for the important pulpit. Again the attention of the visitor is captivated by the two focuses, the rich and at the same time austere ‘Aron ha-Kodesh in multicoloured marble, and above all, the pulpit of great effect, sumptuous and oriental like of typical eighteenth century taste, which rises on cultural room, making thus the place of the reading of the Word dominating on the whole structure.
The Italian Schola, founded in 1575, is the simplest of the Venetian synagogues; it results, anyway to be the most luminous one, thanks to five wide windows opening on the south side of the square, and the most austere for the lacking of the gleaming tones of the golden leaf decorating the two Ashkenazi synagogues. Even in the Italian Synagogue the two focuses, ‘Aron and Tevah, dominate. The Tevah, in particular, is in a very high position respect to the floor of the cultural room, thus giving to the whole elegant structure, on square plant, an harmonic simplicity.
The Spanish Schola, founded about 1580, but rebuilt on the first half of 17th century. The biggest of the Venetian synagogues is of great scenographic impact. people go upstairs in a wide double staircase that leads to a wide cultural room exalted by a very high elliptic women’s gallery.
Always with the by-focus effect, the stylistic grace shows the hand of a wise architect and, as for the Levantine Schola, the thought goes to Longhena, whose stylistic tract can be also read in the smart planning of the ‘Aron ha-Kodesh in multicoloured marble.
The Great German Schola, of Ashkenazi rite, was born with the pulpit in the middle of the cultural room, then some problems of statics caused the moving of the pulpit opposite the ‘Aron ha-Kodesh not to charge too much on the floor. The irregular plant of the Great German Schola is made harmonical by an elliptic women’s gallery and by the decorations of the walls covered with “marmorino” and by an inscription, the Ten Commandments, in golden letters with red background running all over the walls of the cultural room.
The first Venetian synagogue to be built with the bifocal effect, i.e. with the Tevah opposite the ‘Aron is the Canton Schola, founded in 1531 / 32. In spite of the fact of the date of foundation, the Canton Schola became, thanks to the 18th century interventions, a baroque synagogue with some rococo style. The decoration of the Schola represents an unicum in Europe for the presence of eight wooden panels showing biblical episodes from the book of Exodus as the city of Jericho, the crossing of Red Sea, the altar for the sacrifices, the manna, the Ark on the banks of Jordan river, the gift of Torah and Moses that makes water flow from the rock.”
You are now in the Ghetto Vecchio (the Levantine and Spanish Schools are here)
and as soon as you cross the iron bridge ahead of you, you will then be in the square of the Ghetto Nuovo. Here you can admire the Holocaust Monument, the German and the Canton Schools and finally the Jewish Museum.
“The Jewish Museum of Venice is situated in the Campo of the Ghetto Novo, between the two most ancient Venetian synagogues. It is a little but very rich museum founded in 1953 by the Jewish Community of Venice.
The precious objects shown to public, important examples of goldsmith and textile manufacture made between the 16th and the 19th centuries are a lively witnessing of the Jewish tradition.
The first room of the museum is dedicated to silver wares reminding the most important Jewish festivities starting from SHABBAT .
With the objects displayed on the Days of Repentance, Rosh Ha Shanà and Yom Kippur, opening the Jewish year, are introduced.
The display of festivities continues with Channukkà (the Inauguration), a festivity during which nine-branch-lamps are lighted at home and in the synagogue (every day a further lamp is lit).
The festivity of Purim happens about at the end of winter and it is a feast of joy during which Meghillat Ester is read .
Pesach (Pass Over), feast of unleven bread, of spring and of pilgrimage, is a joyful feast commemorating the liberation from slavery in Egypt. A big tray for the Seder di Pesach is on display .
Place of honour, in the first room of the museum, is given to the Sefer Torah (Scroll of Divine Law). It is a manuscript, executed in a ritual way, of Pentateuch. The Scroll of Divine Law is covered with a mantle (Meil), a crown (Atarah), symbol of the royalty of the Lord.
Often a silver dedicatory plaque (Tass) is hanged over the Scroll of Divine Law. In many cases the inscription of the Ten Commandments or the title of the passage read in a given solemnity is carved in the plaque.
The Scroll of Divine Law, covered with the Meil and the Atarah is kept inside the synagogue, in the ‘Aron Ha Kodesh (Ark of Holiness). To help the reading of the scroll a little decorated silver stick, ending with a little hand is used (Yad). You can admire many examples of this.
The second room of the museum is instead mostly dedicated to textile manufacture, related of course to Jewish tradition. You can find different examples of Meil and other precious coverings used to decorate the Torah, but you can particularly find beautiful examples of Parokhet, curtains to cover the doors of ‘Aron Ha Kodesh.
Besides this room keeps important witnessing about Marriage and Birth: several Ketubboth, the stereotyped form of wedding contract, extremely relevant, above all in the past times, for the protection of women in case of dissolution of marriage, allowed by Jewish tradition; and a 1779 set of clothes for the circumcision, rite of basic importance that shows the entrance of the new-born Jewish boy in the alliance stipulated by the Lord with Abraham and his descendants.”
As you come out of the museum you turn right and head towards the bridge which leads to Fondamenta degli Ormesini. Our walk through the Ghetto ends in Fondamenta degli Ormesini where you can go and relax by sipping on a Sprizt in the Osteria Al Timon.
I hope those of you who are thinking of coming to Venice or who come here on a regular basis, will make sure to include a short visit to the part of the city which, in my opinion, still holds the most ancient spirit of Venice.
Address and Contacts
THE JEWISH MUSEUM OF VENICE
tel 041 715 359 fax 041 72 3007
Info and Bookings
The Jewish Museum of Venice tel 041 715 359 fax 041 72 3007
For Groups and Classes,booking is required.
Opening Times of the Museum
from June 1st to September 30th 10.00 a.m. – 07.00 p.m.
from October 1st to May 31st 10.00 a.m. – 06.00 p.m.
Guided Tours to the Synagogues
in Italian and English, every hour starting at 10.30 a.m.; last guided tour from June 1st to
September 30th , at 5.30 p.m.; from October 1st to May 31st , at 4.30 p.m..
It is possible, that the last tour of Friday afternoon can be reduced or cancelled for ritual reasons.
With previous booking guided tours also in German, French, Spanish.
Guided tours to the ancient Jewish Cemetery
Visits are possible with a previous booking.
Closing Time for the Museum, the Synagogues and Cemetery
The Museum, the Synagogues and the Cemetery are closed on Saturday (Shabbat), during Jewish festivities, on December 25th , on January 1st and on May 1st .
-didactic section for classes and groups of adults
-informative support for school libraries
-bookshop specialised in Jewish culture and religion
-private and/or specialised Guided Tours to the synagogues
-Guided Tours to the Ancient JewishCemetery
How to reach the Ghetto
With ACTV waterbuses n.1 and n.2 stop at S.Marcuola-Ghetto
nn. 4.1-4.2-5.1-5.2, stop at Ponte delle Guglie-Ghetto
On foot: From the railway station, Lista di Spagna, Guglie bridge then past the bridge on the left
follow the notices to Ghetto (15 minutes about ).
From St.Mark’s square follow the main direction to the railway station (Strada Nuova) until Rio Terà S.Leonardo then follow the notices to Ghetto (45 minutes about).