The Venetian Ghetto (ghèto) was an area of Venice where Jews were permitted to live under Venetian Republic.
The Ghetto is located in Cannareggio, not far from the train station.
English (and Italian) word “ghetto” derived from the Venetian language, ghèto. Beginning in 1516, Jews were restricted to living in the Venetian Ghetto.
The English term “ghetto” is an Italian loanword, which actually comes from the Venetian word “ghèto”, slag, and was used in this sense in a reference to a foundry where slag was stored located on the same island as the area of Jewish confinement. An alternative etymology is from Italian borghetto, diminutive of borgo ‘borough’.
Though it was home to a large number of Jews, the population living in the Venetian Ghetto never assimilated to form a distinct, “Venetian Jewish” ethnicity. Four of the five synagogues were clearly divided according to an ethnic identity: separate synagogues existed for the German (the Scuola Grande Tedesca), Italian (the Scuola Italiana), Spanish and Portuguese (the Scuola Spagnola), and Levantine Sephardi communities (The Scola Levantina). The fifth, the Scuola Canton, was a private synagogue for the 4 families who funded its construction. One was the Fano family. Today, there are also populations of Ashkenazic Jews in Venice, mainly Lubavitchers who operate one of two kosher foodstores, a yeshiva, and the aforementioned Chabad synagogue.
Languages historically spoken in the confines of the Ghetto include Venetian, Italian, Judeo-Spanish, Judeo-Arabic, French, and German. In addition, Hebrew was traditionally (and still is) used on signage, inscriptions, and for official purposes such as wedding contracts (as well as, of course, in religious services).
Today, the Ghetto is still a center of Jewish life in the city. The Jewish Community of Venice, that counts 500 people, is still culturally very active.
Plaque in the Jewish ghetto in Venice bearing a law (September 20, 1704) forbidding severely any Jewish person converted to Christianity to enter the Jewish Ghetto and to meet any Jews, menacing harsh penalties. Picture by Giovanni Dall’Orto, August 1st, 2008. [Wikimedia]
William Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice features Shylock, a Venetian Jew, and his family.