Italy's Jewish Quarters

Several Jewish quarters – the so-called ghettos - were established in Italy between the 16th and 19th centuries in different Italian cities, following the mandate of the papal bull "Cum nimis absurdum", issued by Pope Paul IV in 1555.

The bull revoked all rights to the Jewish communities and placed religious and economic restrictions on Jews in the Papal States, renewed anti-Jewish legislation and subjected Jews to various degradations and restrictions on their personal freedom, forcing them to live in ghettos. The ghetto was a walled quarter with three gates that were locked at night.

Ghettos were closed beginning in the 19th century as a result of the process of emancipation of Italian Jews. Many of the ghettos were abandoned by the Jewish population, and fell into a state of decay and neglect, others remained the center of life for the local community.

Between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, many ghettos underwent a process of renovation alongside the ancient historical centers of the cities. Thus, some ghettos were totally demolished, such as in Florence, while others were extensively reworked, as in Rome and Mantua. In some cases, the ghetto has been preserved almost intact, such is the case in Venice.

Today, in many cases, it is still possible to recognize the area of the old ghetto, to locate the entrances, see the houses with their courtyards and internal passages, and the synagogues, which, at the time, had to be hidden. In recent years, the ghettos have become a tourist attraction, and efforts have been made by local governments to preserve their traces and make them a part of tourist itineraries.

In the slideshow below, we have selected some images from the ghettos of Venice, Rome, Trieste and Syracuse.

The Venice ghetto was instituted in 1516 and is the oldest in Italy. In the Venetian language, it was named “gheto”, from the name of the contrada where the Jews were forced to reside; it is from gheto that the word ghetto derives. Today, the ghetto is still the center of Jewish life in Venice.

The Rome ghetto is among the oldest in the world; it was established in 1555 in the Rione Sant’Angelo, in the area surrounded by present-day Via del Portico d'Ottavia, Lungotevere dei Cenci, Via del Progresso and Via di Santa Maria del Pianto, close to the River Tiber and the Theatre of Marcellus.

Trieste boasts one of the largest synagogues in Europe, evidence of the long and important presence of Jews in Trieste. 

Syracuse is home to the oldest Jewish ritual baths, or mikveh, in Europe