A walk through Rome is always exciting. One of the capital’s districts that tells us particularly meaningful stories is undoubtedly the Jewish Quarter, better known as the “ghetto.”
This district was born on the banks of the Tiber River in the summer of 1555, when Pope Paul IV issued the “Bull Cum nimis absurdum,” which not only deprived the Jews of their rights, but also imposed obligations and prohibitions on them: it required those who lived in the ghetto to remain within its boundaries and to have a distinctive sign identifying them as belonging to the Jewish community.
The concentration of people within the ghetto led to an increase in the number of inhabitants and thus to the construction of more floors on existing buildings in order to have more housing available. However, Jews were not receiving any assistance, leading to an increase in the degradation of the area, already impoverished by its isolation from the rest of Rome, which lived in far more dignified conditions.
Between 1700 and 1800, the ghetto was dismantled several times due to declarations of equal rights between Christians and Jews. However, these were short periods, followed by further confinement. It was with the breach of Porta Pia in 1870 that the power of the popes came to fall.
The annexation of Rome to the Kingdom of Italy marked the final closure of the Jewish ghetto. In 1888 much of the neighborhood was rebuilt and Jews were given the opportunity to be a permanent part of political and civic life. Although the obligation to live within the ghetto had been abolished, many Jews chose to stay in the district.
Check out our itinerary – The Jewish ghetto today
We’ve shared a lot with you about the Jewish Quarter, but that’s only part of what you can learn about and see in person on our tour with our expert guide!
Of the old dilapidated dwellings where thousands of Jews were barricaded in inhumane conditions, fortunately almost nothing remains today. However, there is still a great history that you can breathe in as you walk through the alleys of the ghetto, filled with monuments, buildings, streets (if you look on the ground you will find the “stumbling stones” recently placed in memory of the citizens deported to the Nazi death camps) and especially see in the eyes of some of the descendants of those who lived in the ghetto in its darkest hours.
Thanks to our 1 hour and 30 minute itinerary with the company of our dedicated guide, you can learn the secrets of the following places:
1. Teatro Marcello:
This is a small theater commissioned by Emperor Augustus that is called the “Little Colosseum” due to its resemblance to the majestic Colosseum though being considerably smaller in size and with semicircular structure.
2. Portico of Octavia:
Only the monumental entrances are preserved. This monument has contributed to one of the most evocative views of the ghetto and of Rome itself.
The millennial history of this monument begins with the dedication of an earlier portico by Augustus to his sister Octavia in order to bind it, along with Teatro Marcello, to the memory of his gens (a group of families who identified with a common ancestor and practiced common cults). In the Middle Ages, the area was used as a fish market and maintained this function until 1880. The strong bond with the ghetto gave birth to one of the typical dishes of traditional Jewish-Roman cuisine: fish broth.
3. Synagogue (exterior):
This sacred place represents the spiritual hub of Rome’s Jewish community and was inaugurated in 1904 as a result of the neighborhood’s transformation. After Italian unification, the ghetto was abolished and completely rebuilt, with the replacement of the original place of worship with the Major Temple. The latter, with its style combining Assyro-Babylonian, Egyptian and Moorish elements, recalls the history and journeys of the Jewish people.
The synagogue also houses the wonderful Jewish Community Museum, where valuable objects related to Jewish liturgy are preserved, as well as textiles and silverware used to decorate ancient synagogues.
4. Via del Portico d’Ottavia:
Considered the beating heart of Rome’s Jewish quarter, Via del Portico d’Ottavia is home to the most popular restaurants and stores of the Jewish community, which has about 16,000 members. Although only a small part of the community lives in the old ghetto, the area still holds a great fascination for many. Here you can enjoy traditional Jewish-Roman dishes and sweets.
5. Piazza Mattei:
Piazza Mattei allows you to discover a small fragment of the Renaissance, thanks to its Turtle Fountain, a work by Bernini that made this square unique.
6. Turtle Fountain:
This masterpiece was built in the late 16th century as a result of a challenge issued by Duke Mattei. He ordered the construction of this extraordinary fountain in a single day, wanting to prove his importance before his lady love’s father. The turtles were designed and placed by Bernini in 1658.
7. Palazzo Manili:
Even today it is still possible to come across buildings that preserve the identity of the past, such as the house of Lorenzo Manili. This building was restored at the height of Renaissance, precisely in 1468, by a wealthy citizen who wanted to celebrate in the manner of the ancient Romans and had a long commemorative inscription engraved in Latin, which can still be seen today, decorating the exterior with archaeological finds.
8. Piazza delle Cinque Scole:
The name of this square comes from the presence of five religious buildings from the past: Scola Nova, Scola Siciliana, Scola Castigliana, Scola del Tempio, and Scola Catalana. At its core is the “Fontana del Pianto,” built in the middle of the 16th century. Although one might think that the name is related to the painful history of the Jewish people of Rome, it is actually related to the Church of “Santa Maria del Pianto.”
9. Piazza dei Cenci:
From this square you can see the rear part of the majestic building complex that became the property and residence of the Cenci family and where Beatrice Cenci is believed to have lived. According to the Romans, Beatrice was a young and attractive noblewoman who suffered the abuse and violence of a despotic father. The girl was accused, along with her brothers and stepmother, of witchcraft and murder of her father. She was sentenced to death by Pope Clement VIII and beheaded on Ponte Sant’Angelo in 1599. Much of the medieval palace was demolished and the present building dates from 1570.
10. Ponte Fabricio:
This bridge was built in 62 BC by the “curator viarum” Lucius Fabricius. It connects the left bank of the Tiber, where Sant’Angelo district is located, to the heart of the Jewish community and also to the Tiber Island. End this amazing tour with a wonderful view!
If you are extremely hungry now at the end of this tour, we highly recommend the fantastic Jewish cuisine, also known as “Kosher Cuisine.” It is a cuisine full of tempting dishes, such as fish broth or artichokes “alla giudia,” many delicious delicacies including tortolicchi and/or nocchiata that you can find everywhere in the numerous bakeries and restaurants in the ghetto. Absolutely worth a walk!
We look forward to seeing you on this unmissable tour dedicated to this key community in the city!