In 1516 the Council of Ten agreed that all Jews in Venice should be contained in a small section of Cannaregio. The quarter was cut off by wide canals, and the two watergates were manned by Christian guards. The Ghetto was named after a cannon foundry, geto, meaning casting in Venetian, that occupied the site before being moved inside the Arsenal.
The name was subsequently given to Jewish enclaves throughout the world. By day, Jews were allowed out of the Ghetto, but at certain periods in the city’s history they were made to wear identifying badges and caps, while their employment was limited to textile work, money-lending, and medicine.
The open space of the Campo del Ghetto Nuovo is surrounded by, for Venice, extremely tall buildings. Overcrowding was a problem throughout the Ghetto’s history, forcing higher buildings to be erected.
In 1797 Napoleon pulled down the gates, but under the Austrians the Jews were again forced into confinement. It was not until 1866 that they were granted their freedom.
In the present time the quarter has not lost its ethnic character. There are kosher food shops and a restaurant, Jewish bakers, a Jewish library and a Museum,and three synagogues. There are also several shops on the large, recently restored Campo del Ghetto Nuovo, which sell Jewish artefacts.
The small Jewish Museum in the Ghetto Nuovo houses a collection of artefacts from the 17th-19th centuries. A guided tour of the quarter’s synagogues leaves from the museum every hour from 10:30am to 5:30pm daily except Saturday.
Led by English-speaking guides, the tours give a fascinating glimpse into the life of the Ghetto. A short history of the quarter is followed by a visit to the lavishly decorated German, Spanish and Levantine synagogues.