A neighborhood that is often forgotten by most of the old-fashioned Roman guidebooks is the Jewish Quarter, a place that has its unforgettable color and authenticity. Both Jewish and non-Jewish tourists love to hang out in this unique area for so many reasons. Let’s find out the tragic background behind Ghetto di Roma and the peaceful present of today.
Rome is the place of the longest unbroken diaspora of Jews in the world. The history of Jews in this area started in the 1st century BC, but the area of Rome called Ghetto di Roma was founded much later in 1555.
The circumstances of Roman Ghetto were not very benevolent. In fact, Jewish ghetto appeared after one hateful Papal decree (Papal bull) known as Cum nimis absurdum that restricted Jews in many ways, settled them separately from the rest of Rome with a surrounding wall. Jews couldn’t live where they wanted, couldn’t take jobs they wanted and were even locked down at night in ghetto. This ridiculous Papal bull belonged to an austere and authoritarian Pope Paul IV. After his decree the ghetto officially existed till 1882. Sadly, these times were not the worst for Jews of Rome.
October, 16, 1943 was a terrible day. Nazis came to the Jewish Ghetto in Rome and proposed a deal: 50 kg of gold in exchange for safety. With help of non-Jewish Romans 50 kg were collected and delivered to Germans. In spite of this Nazis surrounded Jewish Quarter, arrested 1,259 innocent people and took them to a concentration camp. After the II World War only 16 people survived.
However, Rome is known as a city of constant metamorphosis. Unlike other places, which after fires and wars change drastically and utterly, Rome is eager to transform into something new rather than to be destroyed and rebuilt (though this, too, happened). Probably, thanks to this wonderful trait of the city the Jewish Ghetto managed to be reborn into a new kind of world. Today the Jewish Ghetto is another vibrant Roman neighborhood unique in its own way, fashionable and nice to live in due to its location, rich historical background, authentic eateries and variety of craft shops. Today Jewish Ghetto in Rome is an area everyone would like to live in and no tourist wants to miss visiting this part of the Eternal City.
One of the easiest ways to get to the Jewish Ghetto is to reach the Termini station and take a bus number 70. Otherwise, it depends on your current location. If you happen to stay in Trastevere, then the Jewish Quarter is just a small walk away. You need to aim at Teatro Marcello or Portico di Ottavia.
The heart of the area is Via del Portico d'Ottavia. Not far from it there is Tempio Maggiore di Roma, the Great Synagogue, also known as the biggest synagogue in Rome. Built in 1904, it stands in Lungotevere de' Cenci street, combining inside it the Jewish Museum of Rome. The latter is also very recommended by tourists. Check up their site to be in tune with their current openning hours. Their official website: www.museoebraico.roma.it/en
Portico di Ottavia ordered by Emperor Augustus is one of the attractions that belong to the ancient times. It is famous for being a place where free bread was distributed among Romans before people went to the Circus Maximus to be entertained. Here the famous saying “bread and circuses” was born.
It is easy to get from Portico di Ottavia to Teatro di Marcello that looks exactly like the famous Colosseum, but smaller. This arena is often mistaken for the Colosseum by Roman new-comers, but in fact it can be its “grandfather” since it was built in the times of Augustus.
The Fountain of Turtles is definitely on the list of the most famous fountains in Rome. Like many other Roman masterpieces it took a substantial amount of time till it was finished. Many monuments and buildings in Rome were changed a couple of times and accomplished their current look through work of different masters. The fountain was initially built in the 16th century, but the final elements including the turtles, were added by Bernini himself in 1658. Fontane di Tartarughe is actually one of the most beloved fountains in Rome.
And also, don’t miss out on Tiberina Island, which is very close to the Jewish Quarter. The unusual location of this place is very picturesque and peaceful. This island in the Tiber river is considered to be the smallest inhabited island in the world.
For centuries Jews have honed their skills in cooking using local Roman food. Some of the dishes have become legendary. The restaurants in this area are known to be really good, kosher and many people do come back to taste for food and the atmosphere. What can’t be missed? Carciofi alla giudia (artishocks) and brodo di pesce (fish) are a must.