There are times when Venice feels like a theme park, shuffling through the sights, across the bridges and boarding the water bus. But there are moments to escape the din of the tourists, whether navigating the back canals or strolling through the local alleys in districts far away. Canareggio provides such a moment.
The Jewish Ghetto in Cannaregio is a world away from Venice, as we had come to experience it. Away from the bustling Strada Nuova, you find yourself inside Europe’s oldest Jewish ghetto.
The Venice Ghetto is located on the north side of the city in the Cannaregio district. The main square of the ghetto is an open site. The ghetto consists almost completely of the Campo del Ghetto Nuovo square (the oldest section of the ghetto) ringed by towering palazzi, testament to how the 16th century residents were forced to build up rather than out to accommodate the growing Jewish population.
Despite its age, the ghetto is surprisingly intact. It is surrounded by canals and accessible by bridges. Most of the sites in the ghetto are clustered around the Campo. There are five synagogues which date back to the ghetto’s early days and many can be recognised from the square, with its distinctive tall buildings. The synagogues are all located on the top floor of historic buildings, as the Venetian Republic forbade the building of free-standing synagogues. They are distinguishable from the residential housing by the small rooftop domes that indicate the position of the pulpit.
The ghetto offers a fascinating slice of Venetian history. It is a quiet, residential quarter and gives one a unique perspective on La Serenissima.
Venice’s ghetto is one of the most interesting and unique corners of this city and is remarkably free of crowds. It is testament to both Venice’s rich history and her complicated relationship with the Jewish community.