1. The Venice ghetto

The Venice ghetto is the Jewish quarter in the northern district of Cannaregio. From the fourteenth century onwards the Venetian Republic became more tolerant towards the Jews than did surrounding states. Many Jews made their living as money-lenders, pawnbrokers, tailors or even doctors. From 1509 onwards Sephardic Jews exiled from Spain came to Venice, and in 1516 a law was promulgated obliging Jews to settle in the ghetto. The quarter was only linked to the rest of the city by two bridges, which from then onwards were closed by gates at night. Anti-Jewish sentiments were not unknown, as Shylock experienced in Shakespeare’s tragicomedy The Merchant of Venice.

The quarter consists of three parts known as old, new and newest (see postcard map). However, the names are confusing: the Ghetto Novo is the oldest and the Ghetto Vecchio was added in 1541, followed by the Ghetto Novissimo in 1633. The name is taken from the ‘campo gheto’, an area used in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries by iron smithies for cooling slag. The word for slag is “gheta” in Venetian, and “ghetta” in Italian. Our word “ghetto” comes from this Venetian “gheto”. At one time 5,000 people lived in an area of two hectares. The ghetto was the only part of the old town which had houses of six or more storeys. Napoleon conquered Venice in 1797 and had the gates removed, but Venetian Jews did not become full citizens until 1818. This map shows the situation in 1838, at the time when the former ghetto was beginning to fall into disrepair.

Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (ed.),Venice, London 1838

Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (ed.),Venice, London 1838

 

Pianta del Ghetto di Venezia, n.pl. 1997. (Postcard map)

Pianta del Ghetto di Venezia, n.pl. 1997. (Postcard map)