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Hidden in the heart of the city, Rome’s Jewish Ghetto is one of the best attractions in Rome and also one of the most beautiful hidden treasures of the city. Here you can find an amazing combination of old and new, with great food and breathtaking history.
A little bit of history
In 1555, Pope Paul IV forced all Roman Jews to live in what is now referred as the Jewish ghetto Rome (Ghetto Ebraico). Located alongside the River Tiber near the Island of Tiber, this area of Rome was susceptible to constant flooding and malarial outbreaks. Jews were literally walled into this area until the year 1870.
In 1943 the Germans occupied Italy. Nazis surrounded the neighborhood and caught over 1,000 Jews by picking them by force from their homes. Two days after the prisoners were loaded on wagons of a train to Auschwitz: of 1,023 deportees only 16 survived the extermination.
Despite its not so happy history, this district is today a bustling and fancy neighborhood, very famous for food and restaurants, but the highlights of this area are the synagogue, built in 1905, with its Jewish museum and the Jewish high school.
What to see in the Jewish ghetto
The Synagogue (Tempio Maggiore di Roma in Italian) is one of the most popular tourist places of the Jewish ghetto of Rome, also the largest synagogue in all of Rome and possibly all of Italy. The synagogue is a remarkable structure - beautiful from outside and hiding even more amazing treasures inside. You can also have a chance to check wonderful museum inside of Synagogue and they are also offering tours.
The Mouth of Truth (Bocca della Veritá) is an enormous marble mask, which carries a legend behind it, was said to bite the hand of those who lied. The huge legendary sculpture has a diameter of 1.75 meters and is dedicated to the God of the Sea, represented by a male bearded face with holes for the eyes, nose and mouth. Note, that's it's very common to see large numbers of people lining up to be photographed with their hand inside the Mouth of Truth, so going during the week, in the morning, is a good suggestion.
If you are fans of the 1953 movie – ‘’Roman Holiday’’, with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. The "Mouth of Truth" features prominently in once scene of the movie.
Fontane delle Tartarughe(Fountain of the Turtles), it adorns the small Piazza Mattei, which is named after the powerful family who owned all the palazzos in the piazza. Arriving from the narrow and shaded alleys of the historical center of Rome, coming up to the city’s Jewish quarter, the sight of such a beautiful monument comes as a surprise. The turtles, after which the fountain is named, were actually added at the last minute, during a 1658 restoration. Those turtles that we see here today are unfortunately copies. In 1979 one was stolen in the middle of the night, and the three surviving turtles are kept at the Capitoline Museums.
Teatro Mercello - named after the Emperor Augustus’s nephew, Teatro Marcello or Theatre of Marcellus is an ancient open-air Roman theatre, once home to splendid performances of music and drama. Teatro Mercello can be also called ‘’Colosseum on a slightly smaller scale’’. The Colosseum may have been the biggest, but the Teatro di Marcello was there first, and it served as the model for the Colosseum.Private apartments have been built at top of the theatre and magnificent concerts are still held in the dramatically lit up surroundings in the summer months.
Portico di Ottavia or Porticus Octaviae is an ancient Roman structure that shares grounds with Teatro di Marcello. An entrance gate and 5 columns are all that remain of the 300 columns that once stood here. There were originally the entrance of a massive colonnaded square (portico) containing temples and libraries, Emperor Augustus dedicated it to his sister Octavia. Unlike some of the more famous ruins in Rome, it is quiet, uncrowded, and free, but still filled with fascinating history. It is a perfect spot to explore with young children, who are still too small to be able to handle to Colosseum or Forum because of crowd.
Pay attention to small brass plaques embedded in the streets in front of doorways in the Jewish Ghetto. There are 84 these kind of stones in Rome (There are now more than 40,000 of these stones in cities all across Europe). They are small but powerful memorials to those who once lived in these houses. Each plaque represents a neighbor, friend, family member, people who lived in this place and made it a community. There are names, birth dates, the day of deportation and in most cases, a date and place of death - far from home in a concentration camp.
Roman-Jewish dishes were born out of limited ingredients and a good dose of creativity: because of the ghetto’s proximity to the river, fish dishes are common. Artichokes were also plentiful and cheap, and thus feature prominently. Below you’ll find a quick guide to eating in the Jewish quarter and antother good restaurants that you can't miss to go.
Roman-Jewish specialties — planked and fried artichokes, tripe, oxtail, abbacchio (lamb) — served indoors in an attractively restored 16th-century palace, or outdoors in a quiet back garden or on the festive terrace near the Portico d’Ottavia. Not kosher, but open on Friday night and Saturday.
This is the ‘’grandaddy’’ of artichoke restaurants in Rome. Located at the edge of the Roman Jewish Ghetto, Piperno prepares and serves artichokes all year round. There Carciofi alla Giudia are more homestyle, served kind of squooshed and flattened, with more soft andtender leaves, and only the edges crisped.
Fonzie The Burger's House Kosher
Via di Santa Maria del Pianto,13
This is a fast food with high quality burgers. It's perfect for a take away fast lunch.
Forno Campo De'Fiori
Vicolo Del Gallo, 14
This is a very nice Forno where they make bread, stuffed pizza or normal pizza to take away and all homemade baked food.
Here you can have a wonderful breakfast with a very special italian dessert like cannoli and cappuccino!
Remember that almost all the restaurants and shops in this area will be closed every Friday evening and Saturday because of the Shabbat (from the sunset of Friday till the sunset of Saturday).
Hopefully it’s clear by now why a visit to the Jewish ghetto is well worth inclusion on your Roman itinerary. This amazingly well preserved ghetto is the oldest Jewish quarter in all of Europe, and its people are extremely proud of their unique heritage. Although it might not be as grand as the Vatican City, the Jewish ghetto holds a special place in the hearts of those who live, work, and visit La Città Eterna.
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