The Ghetto



city map
Ghetto Vecio,Novo Jewish MuseumAccess from the Canale di CannaregioSchola LevantinaSchola PonentinaPlease use the mouse to display captions

The teren del Geto (foundy area) is located in the sestiere of Cannaregio. In the 15th century, at least fourteen copper foundries were to be found in the area which is today called Ghetto Vecchio (the im Plan das trapezförmige Gebiet zur Linken). Several Germans (todesci magna lonza) were among the workers. The Ghetto produced cannons for the so-called Stato da terra, i.e. the expansion of Venice on the mainland, and was administrated by the Casa del geto o Officio del geto del rame - a state institution like the Casa del canevo ot the Casa dell'Arsenale, both reorganized during the 14th century. Like the Arsenal, the Ghetto was a military institution, located at the periperhy of Venice and isolated from the city by walls. The Ghetto was accessed through a gate on the Canale di Cannaregio (bottom-left on the map).

The marshy pentagonal island, which later formed the Ghetto Nuovo, was stabilized during the first two decades of the 14th century and covered with wooden barracks (Casone). In 1434, the Venetian State sold the entire Geto del rame to the patrician Marco Ruzini, who rebuilt it. In 1455, the Ghetto Nuovo island was acquired by Costantino und Bartolomeo da Brolo, two merchants from Verona who lived in a palace (casa grande) in the nearby parish of San Geremia. Their offspring still possessed parts of the Ghetto in the 18th century, when the da Brolo died out with Giuseppe, who put the Ghetto under the administration of the Procuratori de Ultra. In 1455, the Da Brolo acquired the right to build two bridges to connect the Ghetto Nuovo with the Ghetto Vecchio and the Fondamenta San Girolamo on the north. From 1459 to 1465, the island was covered with 25 houses arranged around a court (corte di case) and was called Geto niovo or novo. From then, the Ghetto Novo was defined as a contiguous complex. One of the wellheads preserved on the Campo has a da Brolo crest, and several houses still show traces of gothic pointed arches.
In contrast to the modern gothic housing of the Ghetto Novo, the Ghetto Vecchio was in decay. In the meanwhile, it had been sold to the nobleman Zuan Antonio Muazzo, who let it to several craftsmen for a sum of 150 Ducats per year. In 1504, the value of the Ghetto Vecchio was estimated with 2700 Ducats.


Ghetto um 1500
The Ghetto around 1500 with the gothic housing possessed by the da Brolo (right) and the Ghetto Vecchio (left).

From gothic housing to a isolated jewish quarter

Many jews fled to Venice due to the prosecutions in Spain and Portugal in 1492. The numerous jews (zudei ... stanno in questa terra di gran numero) formerly lived in several parishes (in diverse caxe et contrade), especially in those like San Boldo, Sant'Agostin, Santa Maria Mater Domini, San Cassian and San Polo which are located near the economic centre of Venice, the Rialto market and bridge. Jews had to pay higher rental fees and were seen as a debris that did not belong to Venice (come persona non è per stanziar in questa terra - Domenico Capello, patrician and possessor). At the beginning of the 16th century, several efforts were made to isolate the jews - or deport them entirely. Giorgio Emo suggested in 1515 to resettle all the jews on the Giudecca island. One year later, Zaccaria Dolfin proposed to di mandarlo tutti a star in Geto nuovo [...] ch'è come un castello, e far ponti levadori et serar di muro; abino solo una porta la qual etiam la serano e stagino lì (send them all to the Ghetto Nuovo [...], which is like a castle, with draw-bridges and walls, and with a single gate that can be closed when they are all inside).
On March 29, 1516, a decree finally forced all jews to move into the Ghetto Novo. Additionally, all water gates had to be bricked up, and two gates, opened only from sunrise to sunset, were built. The banker Anselmi, one of the new involuntary new inhabitants of the Ghetto, pointed to the lack of space from the beginning. Due to the continued growth of jewish community, in 1541 the Ghetto Vecchio became a jewish quarter as well.
Due to necessary subdivisions, the da Brolo complex became fragmented. Towards the end of the 16th century, the substance of the Ghetto was already much detoriated. In 1633, the Ghetto Nuovissimo (on the right) was created. Especially four-storey building on the Rio di San Girolamo is a noteworthy example of upper-class housing with allusions to contemporary palace architecture.

Campo Gheto Novo
Campo Gheto Novo in 2005

Although the Ghetto gates were demolished when Napoleon occupied Venice in 1797, it was not before 1818 that the Jews gained full rights as cittadini ordinari, ordinary citizens of the Lombardo-Venetian Kingdom. From the beginning of the 19th century, the Ghetto suffered a massive loss of inhabitants, and the buildings completely decayed. In 1834, a group of six-storey houses on the Rio di San Girolamo and Campo Ghetto Nuovo was pulled down. During five years, the canal side of the Ghetto Nuovo changed radically. Still today, the urbanistic situation is unsatisfying. The Ghetto has lost its character as a enclosed quarter

Scola TedescaScola Spagnola
Schola Grande Tedesca and Schola Spagnola

Among the five synagogues of high artistic value, the Schola Grande Tedesca, built in 1528/1529 and recognizable by its five-light renaissance loggia, and the Schola Canton are the oldest. In the late 17th century, two new synagogues, the Schola Levantina (1683-1700) and Schola Spagnola (Ponentina) (1660) finally explicitly express the dignity of their function. The builder of the Schola Levantina used forms developed by the great baroque master Baldassarre Longhena. Affinities to Longhena's Collegio Flangini (1658-1660) are evident. It is no concidence that the Scuola Levantina, the most emancipated building of the entire Ghetto, is aligned in the lane leading from the entrance gate at the Canale di Cannaregio to the Ghetto (see map above). Contrary to the decided baroque attitude of the Schola Levantina, the Schola Spagnola's facade is of a sober monumentality. Note especially the contrast with the adjacent seven-storey residential house.

Scola LevantinaFacade detail
Schola Levantina

The Ghetto has been subject of a extensive, yet not always unproblematic restoration campaign for several years. See my chapter on problems of plaster preservation in Venice. Especially the facades on the Rio del Gheto have now modern plasters that may fulfill the requirements of modern heat insulation, but are otherwise dissatisfying.


Concina, Ennio: Storia dell'architettura di Venezia, Milano 1995, pp. 265ss
Concina, Ennio; Camerino, Ugo; Calabi, Donatella: La città degli Ebrei. Venezia 1991
Curiel, Roberta, Dov Cooperman, Bernard: The Ghetto of Venice. London 1990


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