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Venice Jewish ghetto: discovering the neighborhood

The Venice Jewish ghetto was the first real ghetto in Europe – in the heart of the sestiere (district) of Cannaregio, just two minutes away from our hotel, this lively part of the city preserves Jewish religious traditions and administrative institutions up till now.

A large wooden door, and a sottoportego identify the entrance to one of the busiest areas of Venice – three synagogues and the Jewish museum can be visited thanks to numerous guided tours.

If you are curious to discover all the curiosities that make this place full of charm and mystery, here we have collected all the information you need to visit the Jewish ghetto.

The history of the Jewish ghetto

Venice, a great trading center between East and West, is known as a place where different cultural groups have lived together for centuries without conflicts. In fact, since the beginning of the 11th century, a large Jewish community settled in the city, and the Republic found it necessary to issue a decree to organize their presence.

In 1516, the Serenissima forced the Jews to live in the same area of Venice: an area of the city where the foundries, known in Venetian as “géto”, were found in ancient times – giving rise to the term ‘ghetto’ to describe Jewish neighborhoods This ghetto was closed during the night, and Venetian Christians carried out patrols to check for nighttime attacks.

What to visit in the Jewish ghetto

The ideal itinerary includes visits to the synagogues (schole), the Jewish museum and a walk around the small calli surrounding the ghetto. We suggest buying the 12 euro ticket, which gives you access to 3 of the 5 synagogues, in addition to the Jewish museum.

The little but very rich Jewish museum, founded in 1954, preserves inside important goldsmith and textile manufacts, that testify to the important presence of this Community.

The synagogues, the soul of the ghetto, are places of prayer built on the top floor of the pre-existing buildings in the ghetto novo: outside, it’s very hard to recognize them, while inside they hide great surprises. The Great German Schola, the Italian Schola and the Canton Schola are the oldest, and can be found in the ghetto novo (‘New Ghetto’), while the Spanish and the Levantine ones are located in the ghetto vecio (Old Ghetto’).

We suggest taking a close look at all the various buildings. Those with 5 well-aligned windows – 5 like the number of Torah books, the Jewish holy book – are the synagogues.

The Jewish ghetto: things you may not know

Walking around the Campo del Ghetto Novo, you could notice the presence of 3 pawnshops: the red, the green and the black one, probably named for the color of the receipts they gave. The Serenissima obliged Jews to manage these financial institutions in Venice, in exchange for this the Community was granted the freedom to practice its faith and protection in the case of war.

However, the Republic set a maximum interest rate and it established they could not in any way pawn weapons and objects of religious worship.

Speaking about Venetian usurers, you probably didn’t know that the Jewish ghetto was ideally the location for The Merchant of Venice (2004), based on the theatrical opera of the same name by William Shakespeare. The actor Al Pacino, acting as Shylock, the famous Venetian Jewish usurer, took part in the 61st edition of the Venice Film Festival, where the film was screened for the first time.

There is curiosity about a typical Venetian dish: sardine in saor. The tasty fried sardines – seasoned with marinated onions, pine nuts and raisins – come from the Jewish tradition and not exactly from the culinary Venetian tradition. It is possible to appreciate this dish and many other flavors of Kosher cuisine in various restaurants and bakeries presents in the area.