Testimony of the Past: Ghetto Novo e Vecchio

December 3, 2012 / Places
Venice, Veneto

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)

Colleen Simpson

by Colleen Simpson

Colleen followed a long-held dream and made a home in Piegaro, which is a pristine medieval glass-making village south of Lago Trasimeno in Umbria. She is the innkeeper at www.anticavetreria.net.

10 Responses to “Testimony of the Past: Ghetto Novo e Vecchio”

  1. A great “note” Colleen. I visited Venice way too long ago, but I did actually visit the Ghetto, including a couple of the beautiful synagogues, and was really struck by its isolation and the way the inhabitants had to adapt to the by-laws of the Venetian government. However, I was aware of the origin of the word “ghetto” which is really interesting – it’s interesting how our language evolves over time.

  2. Paula (Giangreco) Cullison

    Thank you for the article on the Jewish Ghetto in Venice. I first happened upon this section in 1998 when I was there studying Italian. I had no knowledge of it. More surprising was my meeting and conversation with a young Rabbi who was from (of all places) Brooklyn, NYC…. that’s where I was born. I returned to Venice in 2006 with our daughter. I took her to the Ghetto.

  3. Thanks for this wonderful note. I went to the Jewish Ghetto when I visited Venice. There’s also a very moving commemoration of the Holocaust there. The quarter is a little run down, but also fascinating. Looking forward to Part 2!

  4. Anna Stella

    How very interesting. So sorry I did not know about this when we visited one of my very favorite cities of Italy !
    Look forward to your next chapter.

  5. Colleen Simpson

    So happy that you find this Note interesting. My husband and I were fascinated to explore the Jewish Ghetto which is such a unique gem hidden within Venice. We too, met a Rabbi from Brooklyn. There is a group of Lubavitchers with world headquarters in Brooklyn who operate two kosher food places, a yeshiva and the vibrant Chabad synagogue. This place is such a living piece of history and I hope more visitors to Venice discover it! I could have written five parts!

  6. Anna Pitzo

    This is very interesting to me because I had the privilege of hearing a presentation by Elizabeth Bettina, the author of the book, It Happened in Italy, and by survivors of the holocaust who had immigrated from Germany. When Jewish people attempted to leave the Germany, no one was able to obtain a visa. The only country to accept them was Italy. After World War II started, the internment of those Jews was far removed from the horrors of Germany. There was an Italian official, Giovanni Palatucci who arranged for them to be sent to internment camps all over southern Italy where they would be safe. His honorable actions eventually cost him his life. Jewish business owners who lost their companies during the war had those businesses returned to them. You must read this book to learn of how the people of Italy worked against the fascists to save the Jewish people.

  7. Taube Ponce

    Thanks so much for sharing this fascinating bit of history. I look forward to the second part!


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