Most iconic districts of Rome: the Jewish Ghetto

Mara Noveni | Live the World

November 23, 2022

Today, I take you out for a walk in one of the most iconic districts of Rome: the Jewish Ghetto. The Jewish Ghetto of Rome is one of the oldest in the world, after Venice. It is located in the historic Sant’Angelo district, where the Tiber Island also stands, not far from Trastevere area. Currently, the Jewish Ghetto is one of the most loved and appreciated areas by Romans and tourists, for the beauty of its buildings, for the ancient air you can still breathe here and for the presence of numerous restaurants serving Roman-Judaic cuisine.

© iStock / Photo Beto

The Jewish Ghetto of Rome is located next to the Teatro di Marcello and was born in 1555 when Pope Paul IV issued a bull ordering the creation of a ghetto for the Jewish citizens of Rome. The area was therefore born as a place of segregation, but today it is one of the liveliest areas of Rome.

© iStock / piola666

Origins and history

In classical antiquity, the Jews of Rome lived in particular in the Aventino area. After the papal bull was issued, which ordered them to live segregated in the Sant’Angelo district, they moved to this neighbourhood. They had to carry a sign of recognition, a sort of badge, they could not own the houses they lived in, and they could not trade. For this reason, the houses in the Sant’Angelo district were often degraded and almost crumbling. In addition, the ghetto was closed by doors, and the access was regulated.

© iStock / irisphoto2

After 1870, Rome was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy and no longer belonged to the Papal States, so the Jewish ghetto was closed. A large part of the neighbourhood was rebuilt and many Jews, despite no longer having the obligation of residence, decided to stay in the same area. In 1904, the synagogue was built, which still today is one of the main historical attractions of Rome.

© iStock / Pauws99

What to see in the Jewish Ghetto

One of the most important stops during a visit to Rome is the Jewish Ghetto. It is a very suggestive area, starting from the splendid dome of the synagogue.

The most beautiful streets are Via della Reginella, Via di Sant’Ambrogio and Via del Tempio, where you can take beautiful pictures. Beautiful is the church of Sant’Angelo in Pescheria, which stands inside what was once the fish market, on the ruins of the Portico d'Ottavia. Also, very famous and interesting are the bridge Ponte dei Quattro Capi, which connects the Jewish Ghetto to Tiber Island, and the Fountain of the Turtles (Fontana delle Tartarughe).

© iStock / Fabianodp

The Jewish Museum of Rome

This museum is located inside the synagogue and is very interesting to visit. It hosts many historical artefacts, as well as contemporary art events. Inside the Jewish Museum of Rome you can visit:

• the ancient marble gallery

• the wardrobe of fabrics, which displays precious decorated Renaissance velvets

• the tombstones from the catacombs and medieval manuscripts

• the party hall, dedicated to the main Jewish holidays throughout the year

• life and synagogues, in which the Jewish-Roman life and cuisine is told

© Museo Ebraico di Roma

The Jewish Ghetto is a place of Jewish history and culture in Rome, which is why it is visited every year by many Jews from all over the world. One of the most evocative places is the Portico d'Ottavia, which rises between the synagogue and the Teatro di Marcello. These are some remains of ancient Rome.

Jewish cuisine in Rome

Many Romans and tourists visit the Jewish Ghetto to taste the flavours of the Roman Judaic cuisine. It is a place not to be missed, especially for food and wine lovers. In Via del Portico d’Ottavia, you can visit many restaurants to taste Judaic flavours.

© iStock / Photo Beto

The district is full of places to eat. The most famous dish is the "carciofi alla giudìa". These are the artichokes whole dipped in boiling oil and fried, a delicious and light dish, which you will not find anywhere else. You can then taste the “concia di zucchine” - Roman courgettes cut into julienne strips and fried, and then seasoned with vinegar. Many restaurants offer fried dishes, such as cod and courgette flowers. Then, to finish on a sweet note, you can taste the famous ricotta and sour cherry tart.

© iStock / Manakin

“Da Boccione” bakery and pastry shop deserves a separate discussion. It is an anonymous shop, without a sign, located on the street corner, displaying many goodies in the window. From the ricotta and sour cherries tart to the ricotta and chocolate cake to the famous Beridde pizza, a biscuit filled with dried fruit and candied fruit, everything is delicious! And in the afternoon, you can find freshly roasted pumpkin seeds, typical street food of ancient Rome ...

© An American in Rome / unknown

Another authentic place to visit is the Dolceroma pastry shop, the only Austrian pastry shop in Rome, where you can enjoy an excellent Sacher cake or a freshly baked pretzel.

Tips for visiting the Jewish Ghetto of Rome

Now that you know a little more about the history, origins, what to see and what to eat, you are ready to visit the Jewish Ghetto. The ghetto can be visited at any time of the year, although the spring period, with its traditions related to Easter, is one of the most important moments of the year.

As you stroll through the narrow streets of Rome's Jewish Ghetto, do not forget to look at the ground, because you will find the "stumbling blocks". These are metal plates in place of the cobblestones or inserted in the asphalt, which indicate the name and surname of some people, in memory of the Jews deported to the Nazi extermination camps.

© Mara Noveni

After visiting one of the most iconic districts of Rome - the Jewish Ghetto, you will be a little more aware of the soul of the Eternal City, and a little more inserted into its magical atmosphere ... Have a nice walk!

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