Inside the small calli and canali of Venice are hidden gems filled with great beauty and romance. But tucked away within this exquisite city lies the world’s first and largest Jewish Ghetto with its origins cloaked in darkness. The fate of Jews in Venice waxed and waned from the early 900’s, mostly forbidden to live within Venice until they were finally given a permanent home within the city in 1516, but with many restrictions.
Given a filthy little island called “Gheto Novo” housing a casting foundry (geto) in the middle of Venice, the Jews who had migrated to Venice from Germany, Spain and southern Italy settled in great numbers within its walls. They were only allowed to leave during the day to work at certain trades: money lending, work the Hebrew printing presses, practice medicine or trade in textiles.
One of the most evocative entries to the Jewish Ghetto today is from a small gate Sotoportego di Ghetto Vecchio in the Cannaregio sestiere. Passing by the hinges still in the wall gives the visitor a strange feeling knowing that this gate was locked tight at night confining the residents to their island within Venice.
The population of the Ghetto continued to grow and since there was nowhere to go but up and up, this area of Venice has some of the highest buildings soaring up to seven stories, some topped with an additional floor housing synagogues.
(..part 2 coming soon)