We will spend roughly 3 hours touring the oldest Jewish community in Europe, appreciating the legacy of the first Jewish merchants who traversed the Tiber into ancient Rome, the remnants of the communities they built, and the rich heritage of a neighborhood that has been a center of faith and worship since the Middle Ages. We will stroll the streets of the quarter once designated as the only location Jews could live or work- a neighborhood once boxed in by walls and plagued by the ever-flooding waters of the Tiber river. In this triangular enclave in the heart of the historic center, we will see one of Rome's most beautiful fountain's, the ruins of one of the oldest theaters from ancient Rome, and the center of worship for Rome's Jewish community since the early 1900s. We will walk the narrow streets that wind their way toward the river, where we will explore Isola Tiberina before crossing to the other side and reaching Trastevere. The original home of Roman Jews from ancient times, here we will see the ruins of one of the oldest synagogues in Europe. Along the way w will stop to enjoy some of the tempting delights at the Kosher bakeries and pizzerias in this historically rich section of Rome.
Background: Rome is home to oldest Jewish community in Europe, an one of the oldest continuous Jewish settlements in the world. Since about 140 B.C., Jews came to the fertile banks of the Tiber river and were absorbed into Roman society as traders, merchants, diplomats and slaves. Jewish traders from Israel first settled in the neighborhood of Trastevere , where around 30,000 Jews lived and worked until the fall of the Roman Empire. Today, one can see the remains of the ancient synagogue that once stood in this quaint community that still today is one of the most characteristics in Rome. By the middle ages, the Jewish community shifted to the eastern banks of the Tiber, where in 1555 they were confined to a segregated area called the “ghetto” by Pope Paul IV . Christianity was in its peak during this time of papal rule, and hostility toward Judaism and those who followed it increased. Jews were walled into the ghetto- a 7-acre, river-flooded patch of land on which almost 5,000 Jews lived- and subject to harsh restrictions such as curfews, limited work possibilities and the forced wearing of yellow hats or scarves to identify them as Jews. Though the walls were torn down in the late 19th Century, the Jewish Ghetto remains a distinctive, historic area of Rome still home to many Jews today.
We will explore the narrow cobblestone streets- a maze marked with kosher bakeries and restaurants- where we will find Piazza Mattei , home to one of the most beautiful fountains in Rome. The Fountain of the Turtles is a 16th -Century creation of Giacomo della Porta - one of the great fountain sculptures of the Renaissance period- and later adorned with turtles by the famous Bernini . Nearby Via della Reginella offers a snapshot of what life in the Ghetto was like during the days of confinement. The narrow street is lined with buildings stretching seven stories high- a testament to the tenements Jews were forced to build upwards due to the cramped quarters of the ghetto. Further into the quarter is the piazza between Portico d'Ottavia and Tempo Maggiore , the gathering place for Jews being deported under Nazi occupation. A plaque commemorates this piazza as the location where some 8,000 Italian Jews were taken to become victims of the Holocaust.
Sitting on Lungotevere and overlooking the river is the Synagogue of Rome , a unique and beautiful structure completed in 1905. In contrasts to the Baroque style in which much of Rome was crafted, the synagogue uses Persian and Babylonian architectural design and strikingly ethnic artistic adornments. Inside is a museum chronicling the presence of Jews in the Eternal City, from the time before Christ through the persecution under Hitler.
The Jewish quarter is also home to one of the oldest standing and best preserved theaters of Ancient Rome. Teatro Marcelluswas originally constructed by Julius Caesar and completed after his death in 11 B.C. by the emperor Augustus. The vast amphitheater, named after his favorite nephew and son-in-law, was one of the greatest theaters of ancient Rome.