Discover the history of the former Jewish ghetto of Rome. Follow your private guide along an itinerary that will explore the area from the Tiberine Island to the Portico di Ottavia, the Piazza Campitelli and the Piazza Margana, to the Crypta Balbi, the Piazza delle Cinque Scole, to end at the Monte de' Cenci.
Throughout the tour, you will be guided by an expert in History or Art History, Archeology or Architecture, who will help you discover the history of the Jewish neighborhood of Rome.
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The Jewish ghetto of Rome was established as the result of a Papal decree in the summer of 1555. It required the Roman Jewish community – who at the time numbered about 2,000 – to live in the ghetto. The area of the ghetto was located in an area close to the frequently flooding river Tiber, near the Tiberine island. Today, this historically rich part of Rome can be found between the Via del Portico d'Ottavia, the Lungotevere dei Cenci, the Via del Progresso and the Via di Santa Maria del Pianto close to the Tiber and the Theater of Marcellus.
Along with forcing the Roman Jewish population to live in the restricted area, the papal decree also imposed a variety of other restrictions – members of the Jewish community were not permitted to own property or practice medicine on Christians, and a compulsory Catholic sermon was to form part of the Jewish shabbat. However, parts of the Jewish community welcomed the building of the ghetto, hoping for protection from antisemitism and assimilation.
The ghetto had initially two gates, a third was added in the 16th century, and the number increased to eight gates as the ghetto grew. The gates were opened at dawn and closed every night, one hour after sunset between November and Easter, and two hours during the rest of the year.
Your guided visit of the area of the former Roman ghetto will include various sites that reflect the history of the Jewish community in Rome as well as the fact that Rome's rich history cannot ever be considered from only one point of view or point in time.
The Tiberine Island is connected to the mainland by two bridges – the first one is the Cestio Bridge raised in 46 BC by Lucio Sestio, and rebuilt in the 19th century using the original stone. The second is the Fabricio Bridge, also known as the “Bridge of Four Heads" because of the statue of Hermes with four heads set at the far end. Built by Lucio Fabricio in 62 BC, the bridge was known as the "Bridge of the Jews" during the Middle Ages, as it lead into the Jewish ghetto of Rome.
Portico di Ottavia
The ghetto came to be identified with the Portico of Octavia which, although it dates back to the 2nd century BC. It was constructed by the Emperor Augustus in honor of his sister, Octavia. A cultural hotbed of ancient Rome, the area houses a large number of magnificent statues. Among these, the famous sculptor Lisippus cast 34 equestrian statues of Alexander and his generals in bronze. Here too was the first statue of a woman put on public display – the bronze statue of Cornelia, mother of the Gracchi.
After the 10th century, the portico and the theater of Marcellus became commercial and craft centers, many of which were managed by Jews who moved here as Trastevere became progressively impoverished during the Middle Ages. Here they were protected by powerful Roman families, the Matteis, the Cencis, and the Pierleonis.
One of recent history's bitterest events took place in the Roman ghetto: on the night of October 16th, 1943, the Nazis rounded up and deported 1,000 men, women, and children. Only 16 of these returned from the concentration camps.
Until 1871, this square was called Piazza di Santa Maria in Campitelli, taking its name from the homonym church. Before that, it was called Piazza Capizucchi, after the palace this Roman family had here. The church was rebuilt by Alessandro VII on the ruins of an older one, consecrated in 1217, in celebration of the city's survival of the 1659 plague. You'll discover three of the Piazza Campitelli's palaces – the Palazzo Cavaletti, the Palazzo Albertoni Spinola, and Palazzo Capizucchi.
The complex built around the ruins of a tower developed between the 14th and the 16th century and belonged to the powerful Margani family. The origins of this noble Roman family date back to the 12th century.
Originally a large courtyard annexed to the theatre which Lucio Cornelio Balbo built for Augustus at the end of the first century AD, the Crypta Balbi illustrates the development of Roman society and the urban landscape from antiquity to modern times. Twenty years of excavation and research have revealed a series of transformations and diverse uses of the structure.
Exhibitions include artifacts recovered from excavations on the site, such as ceramic objects and tools, as well as items from the National Roman Museum proper. Certain objects found at the site of excavations near the theater have been opened to public viewing only recently.
It is also possible to the visit the cellars where one can see the actual crypts and the historical layers of the building structure.
Piazza Mattei and courtyard of the Palazzo Mattei-Caetani
One of the gateways to the ghetto was located at the end of Via della Reginella. This street is typical of the area and ends in Piazza Mattei, named after an important family from the Middle Ages. The Mattei controlled the Isola Tiberina, the island in the Tiber River, and so had hegemony over the entire left bank. This family used the site and the material of the Theater of Balbus to construct the first of a series of buildings, known in the mid 16th century as the Isola Mattei.
Buildings such as these indicated great economic power deriving from trade and commerce. The family used the experience and ability of the Jewish population to construct these buildings and, in return, offered them whatever protection they needed. One of Rome's most elegant fountains is located in the center of this piazza – the Fontana delle Tartarughe, the Tortoise Fountain. The fountain itself was designed by Giacomo della Porta at the end of the 16th century, but it was Bernini who added the tortoises in 1658.
Piazza delle Cinque Scole
The name comes from the Palazzetto delle Cinque Scale (Five Stairs = cinque scale, and cinque scole = five Synagogues), that was placed here and disappeared with the reconstruction. The law prohibited, at the time of the ghetto, to have more than one synagogue, no matter the number of people and their origins. The Jewish community worked around this difficulty by including inside a single palace several places of worship for the various groups (from Catalonia, Aragon, Sicily, and others).
Monte Cenci is a little artificial hill derived from the ruins of the theatre of Cornelius Balbus. Here, first the Crescenzi, then the Cenci built their fortresses. The side towards Piazza delle Cinque Scole with the Chapel of San Tommaso was built in 1575, whilst the side towards what is today Via Arenula shows some 18th century additions.
Price (per group): € 224.66
This is a private, guided tour, for parties from 1 to 20 people.
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