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Whenever I am in Venice, I always try to take a walk through the Jewish Ghetto. I’ve always found this area quite fascinating. It may be its history, it may be that it is always fairly free of tourists, or it may be some other reason. In any case, whenever I am there it just feels right.
History of Venice’s Jewish Ghetto
This site was the first Jewish ghetto in the world and was created in 1516, after the authorities of Venice decided that all Jewish people living in Venice (mainly on the island of the Giudecca) had to move to a confined area and could not hold any job apart from those indicated by the Republic of Venice. Among the jobs that Jewish people were allowed to do were money-lending and mercantilism.
At night the gates of the Ghetto would be closed and nobody could go in or out of it. Armed guards on a boat would patrol the surrounding canals.
The Jewish Ghetto is located just off Ponte delle Guglie in Cannaregio, at the beginning of the Strada Nuova. As you get off the bridge, turn immediately left and then immediately right under the arch that reads “Sotoportego del Ghetto Vecchio.” This was the former gate.
What to see
You will enter a small dark alley which will lead you into the ghetto. As you step back in time, you’ll notice the quietness and the lack of crowds. Also notice that the buildings here are seven to eight stories high, which is quite unusual for Venice. They were constructed this way because the ghetto was a small confined area, and vertical expansion was the only option.
After you take a look in the nice Jewish bakery displaying all sorts of goodies, continue walking until you reach Campo del Ghetto Nov, where, near the Scuola Grande Tedesca, you’ll find the Jewish Museum of Venice. The museum is located in the main section of the Ghetto and it contains information on the history of Venice’s Jewish community.
After visiting to the museum, stop by the three splendid synagogues in Campo del Ghetto Novo (next to the museum) and then continue towards the other two in Campiello delle Scuole, in the Old Ghetto. In the 18th century, the ghetto had as many as nine synagogues to serve the city’s three “foreign populations” (German, Levantine and Sephardic).
I love to go here, sit on one of the stone benches, and be surrounded by trees, children playing in the campo, people praying and a few tourists sitting in the bars drinking a spritz. The atmosphere is so relaxing— and so completely far away from the crowds of Saint Mark’s Square. I highly recommend making the Jewish Ghetto part of your itinerary in Venice.