Museo Ebraico & Jewish Ghetto
Lonely Planet review for Museo Ebraico & Jewish Ghetto
This area in Venice was once a getto (foundry) on an island away from the main area of Cannaregio to contain the risk of fire – but its role as the designated Jewish quarter from the 16th to 18th centuries gave the word a whole new meaning. In accordance with the Venetian Republic’s 1516 decree, Jewish artisans and lenders stocked and funded Venice’s commercial enterprises by day, while at night and on Christian holidays, they were restricted to the gated island of the Ghetto Nuovo. If you scan the top floors of the buildings ringing the Campo di Ghetto Nuovo, you can spot three synagogues, or schole (literally, ‘schools’), distinguished from the residential housing by the small domes that indicate the position of the pulpit. A plain wood cupola in the corner of the campo marks the location of the Schola Canton (Corner Synagogue). Next door is the Schola Tedesca (German Synagogue), recognisable by rows of five larger windows. When Jewish merchants fled the Spanish Inquisition for Venice in 1541, there was no place to go but up: around the Campo di Ghetto Nuovo and the adjacent Campo di Ghetto Vecchio, additional storeys atop existing buildings housed new arrivals and publishers. Jewish refugees from Portugal and Spain raised two synagogues in the Campo di Ghetto Vecchio that are considered among the most beautiful in northern Italy, with interiors renovated in the 17th century that may be the work of Baldassare Longhena. The Schola Levantina (Levantine Synagogue) has a magnificent 17th-century woodworked pulpit, while the main hall of the Schola Spagnola (Spanish Synagogue) is reached by a sweeping staircase. On the Campo di Ghetto Nuovo, the rooftop Schola Italiana (Italian Synagogue) is a simple synagogue built by newly arrived and largely destitute Italian Jews, who had fled from what was then Spanish-controlled southern Italy. After Napoleon lifted restrictions in 1797, Ghetto residents gained standing as Venetian citizens. But Mussolini’s 1938 race laws were throwbacks to the 16th century, and in 1943 most of the 1670 Jews in Venice were rounded up and sent to concentration camps; only 37 returned. Today Venice’s Jewish community numbers around 400, including a few families in the Ghetto. A starting point to explore this pivotal community in Venetian arts, architecture and commerce is the Museo Ebraico (Jewish Museum), where English-language tours leave every half-hour starting at 10.30am, and head inside three of the Ghetto synagogues, including the Schola Canton, Schola Italiana and either the Schola Levantina during summer or the Schola Spagnola in winter. Opened in 1955, the museum has a small collection of finely worked silverware and other Judaica art objects used in private prayer and to decorate synagogues. You can also inquire at the museum about guided tours to the Antico Cimitero Israelitico (Old Jewish Cemetery) on the Lido.