A short itinerary focused on the history of Europe's oldest ghetto
(by Giovanni Dall'Orto, Wikimedia Commons)
Although there were some restrictions, such as mandatory residency and the obligation to wear distinctive signs, the Jewish community in Venice was still guaranteed certain privileges. Among these perks were: protection in case of war, freedom of worship, and freedom of enterprise through the management of the Banchi Dei Pegni or Pawn Bank (at a maximum interest rate set by law, varying from 5% to 10% and controlled by a representative of the Republic). The three main pawnshops survived until 1797 and were named according to the colour of the bank bills or banknotes issued, respectively the Banco Verde (Green Bank), Banco Nero (Black Bank) and Banco Rosso (Red Banks). The ancient signboard can still be seen. The famous Italian expressions “andare in rosso” (which literally can be translated to “be in red”) and “essere al verde” (“be in green”), both meaning “to be broke”, would seem to have originated here in connection with these institutions’ activities.
The community was also allowed to buy land for the burial of relatives, dyeing, weaving and trading, particularly in used objects of fair value. Let us now explore the places that still tell the past of the existence of the ghetto: the Synagogues.