In 1516 the Council of Ten decreed that all Jews in Venice should be segregated in a small area of Cannaregio. The district was enclosed by wide canals and the two entrance gates at the end of two small bridges were manned by Christian guards. The Ghetto takes its name from a cannon foundry, geto in Venetian, which occupied the site before it was moved to the Arsenal. In 1541 they created a second ghetto, calling it the Old Ghetto, strangely enough the successor to the New Ghetto.
The name was later given to all places of forced segregation of Jewish populations around the world. During the day, Jews were allowed to leave the ghetto, and at certain times in history were obliged to wear badges and caps. In the evening, they had to return to the ghetto. Their occupation was limited to textile work, trade, money lending and medicine.
The open space of the Campo del Ghetto Nuovo is surrounded by tall buildings. These buildings were so high to hold as many people as possible. They are buildings with many floors, very low ceilings and very thin walls. Overcrowding was the cause for this evolution in architecture.
In 1797 Napoleon pulled down the ghetto gates, but under the Austrians the Jews were again forced into confinement. It was only in 1866 that they were granted complete freedom.
Today the district has not lost its ethnic character. Initially the ghetto was a place of confinement, today it is a place of culture and memory. There are kosher food shops and a restaurant, bakers, a Jewish library, a museum, two Sephardic and one Ashkenazi synagogues. There are also several shops in the large Campo del Ghetto Nuovo selling Jewish artefacts. There are still 500 Jews living in this area of Venice.