We learned so much from Francesca on our Gourmetaly food tour about Rome’s amazing history, particularly in the Jewish Ghetto…this gave us a whole new perspective on this area of the city.
Way back in 1550, the Pope ordered the 2,000 Jewish Romans into segregation in a small area of the city – that would become known as the Jewish Ghetto. Some Jews initially thought this segregation would be good for their community; keeping them protected from Christian attacks, but all their basic human rights were taken from them as part of their segregation. They were even forced to pay for the wall that was built to keep them confined in the Ghetto. Jews weren’t permitted to own property, even within the Ghetto, and what they could do to earn a living was controlled by the Christian population.
Located right by the river, the Jewish Ghetto was constantly flooding, forcing the inhabitants to get around using boats. Initially, there was only one gate, but as the population grew to 5,000, another few were added, but still these were only opened for an hour each night to allow the Jews to collect water from the fountain. The fountain was renovated by the aristocratic family whose house looked over it, so they would have something more ‘pleasing’ to look at – charming.
Though the population of the Jewish Ghetto had grown considerably over a century, the area was not allowed to expand outwards to accommodate the increase in inhabitants, so the Jewish had to build upwards. Although they created more living space, they also blocked out much of the light, creating dank conditions in their confines – which became all the worse when the plague came in the 1650’s, wiping out a quarter of their population.
Through the centuries, the Jewish Ghetto was abolished and reinstated many times under different rulers and laws. Unfortunately for the Jewish population in Rome, theirs was the last Ghetto left in Europe, with abolition in 1888 meaning they could live freely again. Only a few short decades later, in the 1930’s, the Jewish Ghetto was reinstated by the Nazis, and their treatment became even worse than ever before. In one night, 1,700 Jews were captured and taken to Auschwitz, never to be seen again.
Along the front of the Ghetto, the original houses were destroyed when the Jews became free, making way for the road that now runs between there and the river. Toward the back of the Ghetto though, the original houses still remain, renovated into new apartments now, but still the memory of past suffering is honoured – look out for gold plaques on the floor outside entrances to the buildings. The names remain in memory of lives lost.
The original synagogue remains in what was the Jewish Ghetto, untouched by the Nazis who thought it was a church and therefore under the protection of the Vatican – a resolute symbol of the end of Jewish suppression.
Now, what was the Jewish Ghetto has an awesome community feel about it, with great restaurants and a buzz of activity in the evening – but always great to appreciate the epic history of such a place.