A short itinerary focused on the history of Europe's oldest ghetto
Bridge delimiting the "Ghetto Nuovo" (by Didier Descouens, CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)
The structure observable today is actually the product of various modifications over the centuries. As the island designated as a ghetto in 1516 was very small, the growing Jewish community needed a solution to host every single inhabitant. This necessity prompted the creation of new floors in each building, pushing the construction vertically. To this day, in fact, the buildings of the Ghetto represent a unique case in Venice and are characterised by their considerable height, up to eight floors. In the following decades, the Venetian authorities also found themselves forced to expand further the “Ghetto Nuovo”: in 1541, the “Ghetto Vecchio” was added, granted to the so-called Levantine Jews, who had arrived from the Iberian Peninsula and the Ottoman Empire. Finally, in 1633 another “Ghetto Novissimo” was opened and comprehended a small area to the east of the Ghetto Nuovo.
Connecting the entire complex to the surrounding islands are still present the two bridges, once the border of the Ghetto and demarcated by large gates. These were closed and guarded at night, as the inhabitants were only allowed to leave the neighbourhood during the day and with distinctive signs painted or sewn on their clothes.