A brief visit of the Ghetto

Today we visited the oldest synagogue in Venice, which was used by the Ashkenazi Jews coming from Germany. As we are in Venice, the interior is the same as in a traditional venetian palazzo. Before 1528, there wasn’t a permanent Jewish community residing in Venice, but in the following centuries this community reached the total of 5000 people. Since this synagogue is particular small, this fact lead to an evident question: “How do 5000 people could stay into such a small space?” The answer was that not everyone was going to the service. The guide added that it is the same today. Actually the community consists of 500 people and around the 10% of them go to the service.

Services were spread in five synagogues: Spanish, German (Tedesca), Levantin, Italian and Canton.

When you are walking around the Ghetto, nothing can tell you from outside where the synagogues are, except if you read hebrew. The entrances of the synagogues are indicated just by the inscription on a small arch.

The first one is shown in the following picture.



In the second one, there were representations, which are usually forbidden in Jewish religion. And the guide told us that there was a legend about the rounded mosaic in the middle of the synagogue: when a woman walks inside of it, she will be married by the end of the year (Maybe a joke for tourists? But in our case, girls and guys moved aside, except for Chiara).

In the third one was decorated with dark wood, gold coloring – according to the venetian style of that time – and red curtains. It was by far the biggest one. There were three large lustres in the middle of it. The architecture of that synagogue was strongly influenced by the Christian Church. Like in the other synagogues, women had to stay on a balcony surrounding the room and had to hide behind a séparé – called Mashrabiya – because it was not allowed to see their faces from the ground floor. Nowadays, since the synagogue is less populated, all women are accepted on the ground floor. The guide added that this is unlucky for them, because they cannot gossip anymore.


The guide showed the map of the Ghetto, explaining that the first localisation was an island, closed by two doors during the night. He added that the word Ghetto didn’t have such a pejorative definition as it is today. The word Gheto means iron foundry, because the location in this part of the city. A student asked why and who decided to enclose the Jewish community on this island. The guide explained that Catholic Church took that decision to punish the Jews. To enclose is one of the punishment, the other was having to wear a yellow cap. Venetian catholic church wanted to do the same as in Spain, in which there had expelled the Jewish community in 1492. The senate refused, and proposed instead to enclose them on this island. When the first island became too small, they extended the ghetto south and north-east, and built new doors.

The Jews in Venice had more or less the possibility to choose any job (merchants, doctors, etc.). At night, only the doctors had the autorisation to leave the ghetto.

Through the ages, population of the ghetto decreased in the same proportions as the Venice population. After someone asked if there were differences between the communities in the ghetto, the guide replied that the differences between Sephardis and Ashkenazis are still visible inside the (Spanish) synagog. The Sepharads were rich, and Ashkenazi oscillated between poor and middle class. For example, it was not possible for them to get married in between communities.

People then concluded that working day by going either to the Ghetto museum, either regrouping around projects.

Then we went to an aperitivo, where there were a 3D demo showing Piazza San Marco and the excellent Ca ‘Foscari jazz band playing In a Silent Way by Miles Davis.


One thought on “A brief visit of the Ghetto

  1. Pingback: Digital Humanities Venice Fall School 2013 | Mostly DH and networks

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