Rome’s Jewish Quarter, Retrospective Travel/ 3.

Rome’s Jewish quarter is a thriving and busy precinct within the centro storico. It is both a cultural and culinary attraction, with Jewish bakeries, delis and trattorie lining the busy streets, as well as synagogues, the Jewish Museum and other important historical markers. These days the area has become a little too popular: spruikers now work the narrow lanes with their menus and intrusive spiel while locals and tourists form long queues at bakeries and delis. The precinct is best accessed via the bridge, Ponte Garibaldi, over the river Tevere ( Tiber) from the inner suburban district of Trastevere.  A good time to visit would be early morning on a weekday.

Jewish quarter, Rome, Sunday!

The Roman Jewish Ghetto was established as a result of the Papal Bull by Pope Paul 1V in 1555 which required the Jews of Rome, who had lived as a community since pre- Christian times, to live in the ghetto. The area became a walled quarter with its gates locked at night.

The papal bull also revoked all the rights of the Jewish community and imposed a variety of new restrictions such as prohibition on property ownership and practicing medicine on Christians as well as compulsory Catholic sermons on the Jewish Sabbath.

In common with many other Italian ghettos, the Roman ghetto was originally referred to in documents as serraglio degli Ebrei or claustro degli Ebrei, both meaning “enclosure of the Hebrews”. Various forms of the word ghetto came into use in the late 16th century, most likely via Venice.

It is thought that the word ‘ghetto’ is based on the Venetian word, getto, meaning  foundry, given the first Jewish quarter was located near a foundry in Venice in 1516. Another interpretation is that the word derived from the Italian word borghetto, the diminutive of borgo meaning ‘borough’. There are other theories about the etymology of this word, but the first seems most likely.

Carciofi.  Time to eat that classic Roman Jewish dish, Carciofi alla Giudia and the best place to find them is close to the Jewish Quarter in Rome.

More information about the Jewish-Roman community throughout history may be found here.

This is an edited version from my archives, January 2018, based on my last visit to Rome. Will I ever return? Things will be rather quiet in Rome now. In 2018, 61.6 million tourists visited Italy. It’s hard to imagine how devastating that will be for the Italian economy this year and into the future.

13 thoughts on “Rome’s Jewish Quarter, Retrospective Travel/ 3.”

  1. Italian Jewish history has fascinated me for a long time, so I enjoyed your memories and research results here. I have visited several Jewish sites in northern Italy, but not the Roman ghetto. Are you familiar with the Italian-Jewish cookbook “Classic Italian Jewish Cooking: Traditional Recipes and Menus” by Edda Servi Machlin? It includes recipes for traditional foods as well as a memoir of life in a small town with a significant Jewish history.

    be well…. mae at maefood.blogspot.com

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    1. No, I’m not familiar with that book Mae but will certainly do a search and look at it. Some of Marcella Hazan’s old book include some Italian Jewish recipes. I like the idea of a cook book/memoir – always good reading. Thanks for the recommendation.

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    2. Sadly, this book is as rare as hen’s teeth and the few copies available cost a fortune. I only found one copy in a library in Australia, in Spanish. Now I am very keen to read it.

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      1. It’s very expensive here too! I didn’t realize that. Luckily I did buy a copy at some point, though I remember first discovering it in the local library. Sorry you can’t get it.

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  2. Fascinating, I can imagine why this district is popular, significant history and the food… despite the attraction of an atmosphere with some life and busyness, judging by your photos, in normal times I would have to visit very early indeed. I love the idea of Italian Jewish food culture… an interesting culinary rabbithole to explore.

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