The gate at this bridge was closed at night and the Jewish community was confined inside
We returned to the Grand Canal, where we took the next vaporetto to S. Marcuola and walked a short distance to the Ancient Jewish Ghetto of Venice.
Jews had an important role in medieval Europe. The Roman Catholic church banned Christians from charging interest for the lending of money to other Christians, but Jews were permitted to do so. In 1516, those Jews wishing to live in Venice were forced to move into an island which was the sire of an abandoned 14th Century foundry. At first there were about 700, but the population grew to a peak of about 5,000 in a fairly small area. With so little space, they made the ceilings on each floor as low as possible and built the the structures up to eight stories tall.
"Geto" is an old Venetian word for foundry. In time the word "ghetto" was used throughout Europe for neighborhoods of isolated minority groups.
In 1797, Napoleon gave the Jews liberty to move wherever they liked, but many continued to live in this neighborhood because their synagogues and community were here.
At the start of World War II there were about 1,500 Jews left in the ghetto. 247 of the Venetian Jews were deported by the Nazis during the Holocaust and only eight lived to return. Today the historic ghetto is still the center of Venice's Jewish community of about 500 people.
We went to the Jewish Museum of Venice (Museo Ebraico), where it took about 30 minutes to view the exhibits related to the history of the Jews in Venice. We then went on a tour where we learned more about the history of the Ghetto and visited three of the five synagogues in the Ghetto. Venetian laws forbade the building of separate synagogues, so the synagogues were built on the top floors of existing buildings and there are no signs or particularly distinctive decorations on the outside..
The 45 minute tour was both interesting and thought provoking. No photography was permitted in the museum or synagogues. The synagogues were fairly ornate inside. The each had an upper gallery, where the women would watch the services, but not be visible to the men.
copyright 2012 by Keith Stokes.