The Republic obliged the Jews to live in an area of the city where the foundries, known in Venetian as “geti”, had been situated in ancient times, to wear a sign of identification and to manage the city’s pawnshops at rates estabilished by the Serenissima. Many other onerous regulations were also included, in exchange for which the Community was granted the freedom to practice its faith and protection in the case of war.
The first Jews to comply with the decree were the Ashkenazim from mid-eastern Europe. Their guttural pronunciation mangled the Venetian term “geto” into “ghetto”, creating the word still used today to indicate various places of emargination. The “Gheto” was closed during the night, and the boats of the Christian guards scoured the surrounding canals to impede nocturnal violations. This is how Europe’s first ghetto was born.
Known as “Scole”, the synagogues of the Venetian ghetto were constructed between the early-sixteenth and mid-seventeenth centuries. Each represented a different ethnic group that had settled here stably and obtained a guarantee of religious freedom: the German and Canton “Scole” practiced the Ashkenazi rite; the Italian, the Italian rite and the Levantine and Spanish, the Sephardic rite. Despite a few later interventions, these synagogues have remained intact over time and testify the importance of the Venetian ghetto. The unusual tall buildings found here were divided into floors of sub-standard height, demonstrating how the density of the population had increased over the years.