Alessandro Parodi

In medieval times this Cannaregio outpost housed a getto (foundry). But it was 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 lenders, doctors and clothing merchants were allowed to attend to Venice's commercial interests by day, while at night and on Christian holidays, they were restricted to the gated island of the Ghetto Nuovo.

When Jewish merchants fled the Spanish Inquisition for Venice in 1541, there was no place to go in the Ghetto but up. Around the Campo del Ghetto Nuovo, upper storeys housed new arrivals, synagogues and publishing houses. If you scan the upper floors, 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), while the rooftop Schola Italiana (Italian Synagogue) is a simple synagogue built by newly arrived and largely destitute Italian Jews, who had fled from Spanish-controlled southern Italy.

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.

Hour-long English- and Italian-tours of synagogues leave from the Museo Ebraico six to seven times daily starting at 10.30am.