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.
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.
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.