The word “ghetto” originated in Venice, from the copper foundry that existed here before the arrival of the Jews, which was known as the ghèto. In March 1516, the Venetian Republic created the first ghetto on a small island in the north-western sestiere of Cannaregio, writes Marie-José Gransard in The Guardian. “Jews in Venice therefore found a secure place to live despite the restrictions imposed on them, and were soon joined by others fleeing persecution in central Europe.” So although officials permitted foreign Jews into Venice five hundred years ago, relentless local opposition forced the Senate to confine them to a seven-acre section of the Cannaregio district.
The area has Europe's highest density of Renaissance-era synagogues, notes Fodors, and visiting them is “interesting not only culturally, but also aesthetically.” Although Jews may have arrived earlier, the first synagogues weren't built and a cemetery (on the Lido) wasn't founded until the Askenazim, or Northern European Jews, came in the late 1300s. The Jews had been working in the city for centuries, but it was the first time that they were allowed to have their own quarter.
There are two Holocaust memorials in the area, at the Campo di Ghetto Nuovo and the Museum Ebraico di Venezia. “Linger long enough in the Campo di Ghetto Nuovo … and you’ll feel the wall of the past closing in,” writes David Laskin in The New York Times. And though you can wander around this peaceful precinct day and night, a good way to understand it all is take one of the guided tours of three of the synagogues offered by the Museo Ebraico. Take a peek inside with Venezia Unica’s video.
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