Tourist Guide Venice

The Jewish Ghetto

In the district of Cannaregio there is an island which for centuries had to fulfil a very specific task: to settle the Jewish population of Venice here. The authorities of the maritime republic by no means allowed the Jewish and Christian inhabitants of the city to live together. Their aim was to avoid attacks and riots. Despite the fact that living conditions in the Ghetto (hence the name of the district which was later adopted worldwide) being cramped and the Jews being heavily taxed, this procurement was not all disadvantageous. Venice granted in exchange, protection from the Inquisition and also prosecuted any Venetians that entered the Ghetto and caused trouble there.

The first Jews came to Venice in the 5th and 6th Centuries. Most were German – at that time their home land was still called the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation, and wished to make money in Venice from their goods. As traders they were certainly welcome in the lagoon city but not as citizens. As a result they had to live on the outskirts in ‘Fondaco dei Tedeschi’ (The German’s Inn). This name still bears witness to their early presence there.

In the course of history the acceptance of Jews in Venice was characterised by a constant flux. During difficult economic times they were courted and they were even given new rights – such as the right to acquire buildings in Venice because the money that flowed through their pawn shops was needed. Once the crises were over the tensions would begin again and the Jews were harassed and discriminated against. For a time ministers seriously posed the question as to whether the salvation of Christians would be damaged on regular contact with Jews. On the 29th March 1516, Venice brought and end to this back and forth situation. For the first time in history the Jewish population were assigned a clearly defined territory in which depending on how you look at it, they either had to or were permitted to settle. The district was at that time called ‘Ghetto Novo’ and became the name for all subsequent ghettos that followed. It was Napoleon at the end of the 18th Century who first put an end to this order as his troops conquered Venice. The Jews remained in the Ghetto but on a voluntary basis. From 1943 the German authorities deported the last few Jews who lived in the Ghetto; only a few ever returned.

Today several hundred Jews once again live in the Venetian Ghetto that is visited by many tourists. Between two synagogues, a museum and many shops that produce speciality dishes like kosher meat dishes and ‘Matzoh’, one can get to know Jewish daily life. For victims of the holocaust there is a relief by the Italian sculptor Arbid Blatas.

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