Venetian Ghetto

The Venetian Ghetto was the area of Venice in which Jewish people were compelled to live under the Venetian Republic. It is from its name, in the Venetian language, that the word "ghetto", used in many languages, is derived.


The name is derived from the "campo gheto" an area that iron foundries located there in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries used for cooling slag (Venetian "gheta"; Italian "ghetta"; from Latin GLITTU [M] , GLITTUS). Fact|date=April 2008

Location and geography

The Ghetto is an area of the Cannaregio sestiere of Venice, divided into the "Ghetto Nuovo" ("New Ghetto"), and the adjacent "Ghetto Vecchio" ("Old Ghetto"). These names of the ghetto sections are misleading, as they refer to an older and newer site at the time of their use by the foundries: in terms of Jewish residence, the Ghetto Nuovo is actually older than the Ghetto Vecchio.


Unlike much of Europe, Venice tolerated the presence of Jews from the late fourteenth century. As merchants, they played a vital part in the Venetian economy as traders who could operate between the mutually hostile Christian and Muslim worlds. Restrictions on their movement and permitted occupations varied, but money lending, running pawnshops, dealing in second-hand goods, tailoring, and medicine were common occupations. The toleration of Jews in the Venetian Republic came to an end following the 1509 influx of Sephardic Jews, expelled from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492. Some public figures talked of deporting or isolating the Venetian Jews. In fact, they were not expelled, as happened in many European countries, but the Venetian Ghetto was instituted in 1516 to contain them. Surrounded by canals, the area was linked to the rest of the city only by three bridges, which were closed from midnight until dawn and during certain Christian festivals, when all Jews (excepting doctors) were required to stay within the confines of the Ghetto.

Despite the restrictions on movement and terribly cramped conditions, the Jewish population grew, and in 1541, the quarter was enlarged to cover the neighbouring Ghetto Vecchio; and in 1633, the "Ghetto Nuovissimo" (Newest Ghetto) was also added.

The area had such a dense population that – uniquely in Venice – buildings rose to six or more stories. There were numerous benevolent institutions. The ghetto is still home to five synagogues. Known for their splendid interiors, they were fashioned by local Italian craftsmen employed by the various communities. The oldest, the "Scuola Grande Tedesca", dates from 1528. Most have fairly plain exteriors, although the Scola Levantina is a grander, Baroque building. The Scola Spagnola now contains the Museum of Hebrew Art.

During Napoleon Bonaparte's occupation of Venice in 1797, the gates enclosing the Ghetto were demolished, but Venetian Jews did not gain full citizenship rights until 1818. For the rest of the 19th century, the population of the Ghetto declined steeply and many of the buildings fell into disrepair.

During the Second World War, some 200 Jews were deported from Venice and the Venetian Ghetto in two round-ups, by the Italian fascist authorities in 1943 and the German occupation forces in 1944. After the end of the Holocaust, only eight survivors returned.

Famous Venetian Jewry

Some famous Jews of the Ghetto include Leon of Modena, whose family originated in France, as well as his disciple Sarah Coppio Sullam. She was an accomplished writer, debater (through letters), and even hosted her own salon. Meir Magino, the famous glass maker also came from the ghetto.

The Ghetto today

Today, the Ghetto is still a center of Jewish life in the City of Venice, and is home to the aforementioned five synagogues, a yeshiva, a kosher restaurant, several Judaica shops, and a Chabad synagogue [ [ Chabad of Venice] ] . Although only around 300 of Venice's roughly 1000 Jews still live in the Ghetto, many return there during the day for religious services in the two synagogues which are still used (the other three are only used for guided tours, offered by the Jewish Community Museum).

Historical Jewish demographic of the Ghetto

Though it was home to a large number of Jews, the population living in the Venetian Ghetto never assimilated to form a distinct, "Venetian Jewish" ethnicity. Four of the five synagogues were clearly divided according to ethnic identity: separate synagogues existed for the German (the "Scuola Grande Tedesca"), Italian (the "Scuola Italiana"), Spanish and Portuguese (the "Scuola Spagnola"), and Levantine Sephardi communities (The "Scola Levantina"). The fifth, the "Scuola Canton", is believed to have been either French, or a private synagogue for the families who funded its construction. Today, there are also populations of Ashkenazic Jews in Venice, mainly Lubavitchers who operate one of two kosher foodstores, a yeshiva, and the aforementioned Chabad synagogue.

Languages historically spoken in the confines of the Ghetto include Venetian, Italian, Ladino, Judeo-Arabic, French, and German. In addition, Hebrew was traditionally (and still is) used on signage, inscriptions, and for official purposes such as wedding contracts (as well as, of course, in religious services). Today, English is widely used in the shops and the Museum because of the large number of English-speaking tourists.

In fiction

* William Shakespeare's play "The Merchant of Venice", written ca. 1595, features Shylock, a Venetian Jew.
* Geraldine Brook's 2008 novel People of the Book which traces the history of the Sarajevo Haggadah has a chapter whose action takes place in 1609 in the Venetian Ghetto.


* Hugo Pratt: "Venezianische Legende". Corto Maltese. Bd 8. Novel. Carlson, Hamburg 1985, 1998. ISBN 3-551-71669-2
* Mirjam Pressler: "Shylocks Tochter". Venedig im Jahre 1568. Novel. Alibaba Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1999, Bertelsmann, München 2005. ISBN 3-570-30172-9
* Rainer Maria Rilke: "Eine Szene aus dem Ghetto". in: Rilke: "Geschichten von lieben Gott." Insel, Leipzig 1931, Argon, Berlin 2006. (div. weitere Ausg.) ISBN 3-86610-045-0

;The trilogy work by Israel Zangwill:
* "Kinder des Ghetto." 1897. Cronbach, Berlin 1897, 1913 (German).
* "Träumer des Ghetto." 1898. Cronbach, Berlin 1908, 1922 (German).
* "Komödien des Ghetto." 1907. Cronbach, Berlin 1910 (German).


* Ariel Toaff, "Getto - Ghetto," The American Sephardi 6:1/2 (1973): 71-77.
* Sandra Debenedetti-Stow, The etymology of “ghetto”: new evidence from Rome, Jewish History, Volume 6, Issue 1 - 2, Mar 1992, Pages 79 - 85, DOI 10.1007/BF01695211, URL

External links

* [ Official web site of the Jewish Ghetto of Venice]
* [,+italy&ll=45.445274,12.326499&spn=0.003003,0.010274&t=k&hl=en Satellite image from Google Maps] (Campo di Ghetto Nuovo is the large square in the centre)
* [ Ghetto map and history]
* [ Jewish Venice]

ee also

*Moses Soave
*The Merchant Of Venice
*Leon of Modena

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