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Visit Venice

Ghetto

This is the city's former Jewish ghetto, created during the Serenissima Repubblica in 1516. 700 Jews were ushered into this area where a former 14th century foundry once stood. This seems to have been the first ever Jewish ghetto and the word may have originated from the Italian gietto meaning "foundry." Over time the numbers swelled to over 5,000 and living conditions became cramped so the ghetto was expanded to include Ghetto Vecchio. Jews were forced to live here and remain here from sunset to sunrise; they were also required to wear a badge identifying them as Jews. You can still see where the hinges were on the walls that held large gates which would lock the Jews in at night; these gates were guarded by Christians. The ghetto is on an island and was access from only two drawbridges which were raised at night. In addition to the laws which restricted the movement of Jews there were also laws determining which professions Jews could practice. Money lending was one of the professions reserved for Jews as it was forbidden for Catholics to lend money, hence the inspiration for Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice." The ghetto was a residential prison for Jews up until Napoleon conquered Venice in 1797, two and a half centuries later and had the gates removed.

Today there are 5 historic synagogues in the former ghetto, kosher shops and restaurants and a Jewish Museum. One of the unique aspects of the ghetto was that due to the lack of space they built upwards and you can see rare historic 7 storey buildings. The Jewish community of Venice still inhabits this area where you can see notices in Hebrew and Orthodox Jews in their traditional garb. It is thought that between 500 and 2,000 Jews still live in the city but not exclusively in the former ghetto.

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