Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Venice's Ghetto

I've been to Venice twice before this most recent trip with my family.  

My first visit was as a teenager, and part of a packaged tour of Europe.  
We spent one day in Venice, at most.  
We did the obligatory gondola ride and navigated the main streets with all the other tourists.  

For my second trip I arrived on my own as a solo backpacker.  
I visited during the off-season, spending an entire week in a youth hostel on the island of Guidecca, across the water from Piazza San Marco. 
A whole week in Venice means a lot of wandering the narrow streets getting lost alternated with hopping on and off the vapporettos (water buses).  
I would sit on the back and watch Venice from the back of the boat.  
It was awesome.

Still, even after a week, I managed to miss a lot of sites.  
One was the Jewish Ghetto.  
The original Ghetto, in fact.  During the renaissance and until their liberation by Napoleon in 1803, thousands of Jews from all over Europe were sequestered during the night (i.e. locked in) but allowed to do business during the day.  
Currently on track to become a  world heritage site, the Ghetto was first on my list of sights to see when we arrived in Venice in 2014.

During the life of the ghetto, it was a  relatively small piece of real estate, and it did not expand to accommodate the numbers of Jews who lived there.   
The only way to build to deal with the crowds was to build up.  
Thus, the tallest buildings in Venice are to be found there.  

In addition, the small parcel is home to 5 different synagogues - one for each of the groups of immigrants who came to Venice:  French, Spanish, German, Portuguese, and of course Italian.  Synagogues needed to be on the uppermost floors, so we walked many ancient stairs to visit them (no photos allowed).  
The interior of the synagogues reflected the wealth of their congregants.   
The Spanish synagogue was the most ornate.

All the signs in the ghetto were written in Hebrew as well as Italian.  
In the picture in the above right, the building on the top floor with wood paneling is the French synagogue.

Many of the residents of the ghetto were sent to concentration camps during the war and very few returned.
We visited shops and art galleries in the ghetto and purchased a souvenir or two 

Even though Adam is working hard to look unimpressed, we also enjoyed some treats from the kosher bakeries in the ghetto.

If you are ever in Venice, do yourself a favor and spend a few hours away from the mad throngs of tourists and step a bit off the beaten path to explore and important piece of Venice's history, still alive (though struggling) today.

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