Place of Interest
Visiting the oldest ghetto in the world
The oldest ghetto in the world is to be found in Venice. Today only a few Jews live here but once more than 5,000 people lived in the Ghetto in confined spaces. As a trading and naval power in the eastern Mediterranean, Venice quickly came into intensive contact with foreign cultures. Therefore it is not surprising that many foreign cultures, religions and nations were to be found in Venice at this time. Nevertheless, Jews were treated with suspicion, and with the rise of anti-Semitism in the 16th century the Doge decided to relocate the Jews to their own district. Surrounded by four canals and accessible only by bridges, the Jews were able to live here in peace. At night the doors were locked from the outside. In the Venetian dialect this area was called “ghetto”. This “Jewish solution” quickly spread to other Italian cities and finally all over Europe – the Venetian term is still used even today.
Attractions in the Ghetto
From outside you can’t see a difference between the Ghetto and the rest of Venice. The only distinctive features are the very high and narrow houses which had to be built due to lack of space in the17th century. Right after the entrance to the Ghetto you can see a table to the left, which displays the penalties for Jews who convert to Christianity but still practise Jewish customs. The small Ebraico museum houses some remarkable objects, manuscripts and documents of the Jewish community of Venice. At the museum you can also arrange a guided tour to the Jewish cemetery on Lido.
The five synagogues in the Ghetto
Well hidden behind the nondescript facade are five Jewish synagogues, which are the best preserved medieval synagogues in Europe and therefore constitute a unique testimony to Jewish history. If you follow the path from the Fondamenta di Cannaregio (the entrance to the Ghetto is next to the Gam-Gam restaurant) you will reach first the Scuola Spagnola, the synagogue of the Spanish Jews, in Baroque style, and a few metres further on the most magnificent synagogue in Venice – the Scuola Levantina.
From here you can enter the old Ghetto (Ghetto Vecchio) over a bridge. The upper floors of the houses around the Campo di Ghetto Nuovo conceal Venice’s three oldest synagogues. They are not visible from the outside – except to experts who see the little details. The Scuola Italiana (1575) can be recognised on account of its small baroque dome and an inscription (“Santa Comunità Italiana”). The Scuola Ganton (1531) is located right next door and has a small wooden dome. The Scuola Tedesca (1528) is the oldest synagogue in Venice and is in the same building as the museum. From the outside you can see the five large arched windows in the facade – three of them are bricked up.
The synagogues can only be visited on a guided tour. These run every hour from 10.30 am to 3.30 pm (June to September until 5.30 pm).
Landing stage: Ponte Guglie or San Marcula