The city of Venice was found over one thousand years ago, the city is well known and popular because of the history it brings at the table. The city is not only in written history but also the presence of remnants of ancient historic structures which prove that the written history really exists (Benjamin, 1975). The history presented by the city of Venice is not only interesting but also very unique. The city is well known of its strategic geographical position which made navigation an easy task for the city residents (Benjamin, 1975). The good geographic position did not only made it ready to navigate around the city but also, made the city the centre of most sea trades connecting both the east and west side of the globe (Benjamin, 1975).
The city of Venice is a city hosting many cultures; one of the main cultures hosted by the city of Venice was the Jewish culture. The places containing Jewish settlement were small sectors referred to as Ghettos (Benjamin, 1975)
The main aim for this paper is to study the Jewish settlement within the City of Venice. This paper tends to conduct a study which establishes both the social and economic aspects of life surrounding the Jews who lived in the ghettos. The study of the social and economic aspects of life around the Jewish ghettos help us understand and appreciate the both the history and the culture related to the Ghettos. The main social event that the Jews participated in was the building of synagogue therefore a great part of this study would be revolving about the economic and social aspects surrounding the construction of the Jewish synagogues in the city of Venice. The study on the synagogues is also very significant since it is through these synagogues that the ghettos attained their unique nature. It is also very important to study the various circumstances and objects that affected the construction design of the city of Venice (Benjamin, 1975). This paper will also examine the measure that have been put in place to see to it that the various historical sites of the city of Venice are well preserved for the future generation, the main historical sites to be addressed will be the ones in the ghettos
The city of Venice is a combination of various small islands which are situated in a lagoon. The city is situated outside the northern coast of Italy in the Adriatic Sea. The land mass is about five to ten kilometers in width and 40 kilometers in length, the city is able to withstand any force which comes from the movement of water currents. The city is a geographic masterpiece with natural mechanisms which prevent water from flowing to the city, for example there is certain way in which the city prevents tides from the sea (Benjamin, 1975).
The city of Venice can be traced back to the year 330 AD. During these times the city served as a capital for on sea trades taking place between both the eastern and the western side of the globe. The eastern and western side emerged due to the separation caused by the Roman Empire. The original inhabitants of the city of Venice were fishermen and they also used to acquire minerals from water such as salt. However with time the inhabitants developed new skills of survival. This is trade soon became the aim economic activity in the city. To meet the requirements of the changing times the inhabitants developed new skills such as construction of ships which made navigation as a form of transport to grow by a very great margin. At this point the city of Venice became self reliant and remained an important trade point for people from the western and eastern side of the globe. By the time te power of the roman empire changed the city of Venice had obtained the function of a major trade negotiator between different communities.
The first presence of Jews
The earliest presence of Jews in Venice can be traced back to the late stages of the tenth century. At this point the scholars point out that the captains of ships from Venice sanctioned Jews from entering the Venetian ships. By the 14th Century,, Jews were given the go ahead to stay in the city of Venice the major problem was that, the venetian republic could not allow them to interact with the other members of the communities and so they were confined in a small area which was easy to prevent them from interacting with the rest of the people. In the year 1508 there was an eminent attack threat from the league of Cambria and hence they were forced to run away.
The Jews ran away and found themselves in Venice the other people who ran away with the Christian Jews from the mainland to the island were venetians who were held as slaves and were termed as refugees in the main land (Vasco, 2000). The main aim of the Venetian government was to have the Jews returned their original homeland (Benjamin, 1975). However, the republic realizes the importance of the Jew money lenders amidst them. The republic had two options with regard to this matter, it is either they could have the Jews pay tribute to the treasury at the end of every year or they could force them to increase the money lending scheme. Some money lending scheme which the government was advocating for is pawn breaking (Vasco, 2000). The republic saw this as very resourceful because the funds generated from such money lending activities could greatly assist them in ensuring that they reduce the number of the needy people which had escalated during the war period (Vasco, 2000).
The government of Venice very much worried by the interaction between the Jews and the original inhabitants of Venice this is because the government saw that the Jews had started influencing the natives in some of their cultures including the catholic religion (Vasco, 2000). The influence of the Jews in the city of Venice was becoming so great and so the government had to intervene to see to it that the influence is reduced. One main influence of the Jews on the venetians was the Catholic Church which displayed their entrance in the city of Venice without ay problem. In the year 1516 the Venetian government through the senate agreed to a report which had been proposed by a scholar Zaccaria Dolfin, which stated that its high time that the Jews are restricted from having exclusive access throughout the city.
The Jews were required to limit their residence therefore they were not allowed to live throughout the city at places of their own choice. However, the report was not very general but it was specific and stated the Jews should be given their specific areas of residence known as Ghettos, these were also referred to as Ghetto Nuovo. Which was a Latin phrase to mean ‘new Ghetto’ (Umberto, 1988).The government built gates on bridges leading to the ghettos and the gates were locked between morning and evening and ensuring that the Jewish residents do not leave the premises. The government had set a directive that any Jew found out of the ghetto in the hours that they are supposed to be inside the ghetto punishment will be administered. The punishment would take different dimensions and sometimes it could include a fine (Vasco, 2000).
The origin of the word ghetto has several stories surrounding its origin; the piece of land in the city of Venice was referred to as el ghetto. Who’s meaning according to the venatian language have the same English meaning of a fireplace (Umberto, 1988). According to a fourteenth century history, written by a scholar known as Curiosita Veneziane the place was called el ghetto because there were twelve huge fires and bronze was processed there (Vasco, 2000). The Jewish ghetto in Venice was the place in Venice city where the Jews were restricted by the then Venetian government. The Ghetto was based in an area in Venice known as Cannaregio sestiere, the ghetto was divided into two i.e. the Ghetto Nuovo which means new Ghetto and Ghetto Vecchio which is a Latin word meaning Old ghetto. The words are use do not really reflect the correct age of the Ghettos since according to history the one being referred to as new Ghetto is older than the one being referred to as Old Ghetto (Umberto, 1988).
The Ghetto Nuovo
This ghetto was completely surrounded by large water mass, the main access points to the Ghetto were two bridges where one was located at a position close to the Old Ghetto and the other bridge was located on your way to the San Girolamo. The new ghetto is found in a place near Fortunato, San Geremia and the Santi Ermagora parishes (Vasco, 2000). There was a directive upheld which would see to it that the Jews are identified, the Jews who were not inside the ghetto, i.e. those Jews who are moving around were required to put on some kind of identification that will make it easy to know who they are, the wearing of a sign by the Jews in order to identify them from the natives was known as siman. This was a mode of identification introduced by Pope Innocent the 3rd at the beginning of the 13th century (Vasco, 2000). The ghetto was also served with passageways which went through buildings these passages were known as sotopórtegos (Vasco, 2000).
The major group of Jews who resided in the new Ghetto was the Ashkenazim who were also referred to as Central European Ashkenazim’. They drew their name from the Hebrew word, Ashkenazim, which means a German. This type of Jews initially resided in the Rhineland Valley, they lived near France. They later migrated to the Eastern of Europe, history has it that in the 13th century they migrated from their initial settlement and moved in the west direction to the northern parts of the Italian territory (Umberto, 1988). The Jews were scattered and sparsely found in Trieste and Lombardy. However, a great number of them lived in the region around Venereto, the regions were they settled included the lagoon district, Bassano, Ceneda, Treviso and Mestre, this is where they ran away to Venice when they received threats of an imminent (Vasco, 2000).
The other group of the Jews is the one which comprised of Jews who had come from the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) this group of Jews was known as the Levantines. This group of Jews is believed to have been staying in the Iberian Peninsula for a very long time. The history says they have been staying there since the middle ages (Umberto, 1988).The Jews had to move from the Iberian Peninsula because of the mistreatment they received in form of religious torture and banishments which they experienced majorly in the 15th century. The group is said to have splinted into several groups during their migration for example, some of them settled in France, Others in the Netherlands and England and finally others in Italy (Umberto, 1988). The Levantines even though their original settlement is traced to the Iberian Peninsula they are believed to have settled in areas around the Mediterranean sea, this place is also known as the Levant region. The Levantines are believed to have resided in this region for a very long period of time, since the Levant region was located in the eastern side of the sea, the Levantines had a cultural heritage which made them a little special than the other groups of Jews who stayed in Venice (Umberto, 1988)..
This was the smallest part of the Venetian Ghetto. This Ghetto was formed in the year 1633, the founding process was rather money motivated, this is because Cinque Savi developed this ghetto so as to attract Jewish Merchants with great financial capabilities, and the ghetto hosted the richest banking family in the Ghetto history (Benjamin, 1975). Even though the ghetto was beautifully constructed, it was set as side for a group of wealthy people only. This introduces a new feature of the Venice government; they were discriminative in nature (Benjamin, 1975).
The Jews started being welcomed into the city of Venice in the year 1835; the residents of the city mainly welcomed the Jews because they needed their assistance. The city of Venice had been destroyed after a war therefore the venetians needed funds to rebuild the city. The venetians welcomed the Jews in the city because they were to act as money lender to facilitate the process of building the destroyed city after the war. The Jews were not given a guaranteed assimilation into the City’s population and by the year 1516 the Jews were pushed to a small portion of the city (Benjamin, 1975). The Jews were not given the absolute power to trade in the city; they were only allowed to conduct small businesses around the city. The situation became serious that when night falls the Venetian government had armed soldiers guarding all the access points to the place where the Jews were confined (Benjamin, 1975).
In the event that the Jews needed to leave the area which they were confined in, i.e. the area referred to as the Ghetto they had to identify themselves in a manner that will differentiate them from the native venetians (Benjamin, 1975). The most common form of identification was that the male Jews had to wear a small yellow circle attached on the left shoulder through a stitch whenever they left the Ghetto area. The women were required to have a yellow scarf whenever they leave the ghetto area (Benjamin, 1975). The initial Jews to reside in Venice were known as the ‘Central European Ashkenazim’ these group of Jews built two synagogues in Venice (Umberto, 1988). The first synagogue was build in 1528 and was known as Scola Grande Tedesca and the other one was known as Scola Canton which was build in the year 1532. The architecture and construction mechanisms used to construct these synagogues were of high quality since the two still stand strong at the present day (Umberto, 1988). Due to the lack of enough space the Jews were forced to construct the synagogue on top of the actic storey’s since the culture of the Jews clearly states that there should be no object between their temples and the sky, i.e. someone standing on top of the synagogue building should be able to see the sky (Umberto, 1988). The next slot of the Jews to arrive in the city of Venice were known as the Levantines, this slot of Jews were granted a new residential area in the year 1541 as an initiative to increase the size of the ghetto by the venetian republic, this expansion is what gave rise to the current new ghetto (Umberto, 1988). Due t their financial stability, the Levantine Jews managed to construct their synagogue on the ground. The synagogue also had very expensive decorations including gold decorations. This aspect made the synagogue constructed by the Levantines very unique (Vasco, 2000).
The other group of Jews which joined the Levantines and the Ashkenazim were the Italian Jews whose origin is traced in the southern parts of the globe (Vasco, 2000). The Italians joined the league of building synagogues and constructed their own synagogue in the year 1575 which was known as Scola Italiana, this was very fascinating since the synagogue was built on top of residential houses (Vasco, 2000)..
In the year 1650, a great population increase was noticed, the ghettos had grown and the ghetto had almost 4000 (four thousand) residents. This is a very amusing figure since the ghetto was barely three city blocks long (Umberto, 1988). The Jews resided in these ghettos for a very long period this is because before the stat of the First World War there were about one thousand three hundred Jews who still lived in the ghetto. During the war the Nazi’s took around 290 of the people staying in the ghetto, sad enough only 2% percent returned from the deportation which is around seven people. Currently the ancient city of Venice is estimated to have around 600 Jews with the ghetto remaining capital of all activities. A very small number of the Jews still live in the ghetto. However there are still ancient structures which prove their presence in the ghetto. The structures include stone remains which still proves that the mighty Jews who used to live in lavish mega structures were once living in a congested 3 square block ghetto in the city of Venice (Umberto, 1988)
The confinement of the Jews in the Ghettos ended with the powerful invasion of Napoleon (Umberto, 1988) Bonaparte with his troops in the year 1797. The napoleon troops went forward to destroy the ghettos by firs tearing down the gates which prevented the Jews from moving freely for all those years (Umberto, 1988). This invasion brought about equality in the city of Venice, after the invasion in the year 1866 the Venetian Jews at least had the joy of tasting what is called freedom and equality. The Jews who were financially better off moved from the ghettos and relocated to places with better living standards and reputation. (Umberto, 1988)
Other forms of migration of the Jews from the city of Venice was brought about by the two world wars, the Jews migrated from the city mainly because of political factors. One of the reasons for migration is tension brought to the world peace by the two world wars (Umberto, 1988). The Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini also contributed greatly to the migration of the Jews from the city of Venice, even though the Jews continued residing in Venice during a certain period of Mussolini’s reign, the situation became worse when the dictator formed an alliance with the German, this made it worse and intolerable by the Jews hence they chose to migrate (Umberto, 1988).
These are the synagogue developed by the Jews who resided in the Venetian Ghettos (Anthony, 2001). The synagogues have a very important historical significance to the city of Venice. This synagogues help in showing the diversity of the various cultures of people who have resided in the city of Venice (Anthony, 2001). The beautiful ancient architecture used to develop both the interior and exterior of these synagogues make them not only a symbol of connection between the people and their pas but also a perfect tourist attraction. In the present day only five of the ghettos built by the Jews is the Venice ghettos still exist, they include (Anthony, 2001).