Travel – The Jewish guide to Italy

NOTE: This guide is for Verona, Rome, Florence, and Venice ONLY.

Roaming around Rome and one of my fellow Jewish traveling companions turns to me and says: “They really love Jesus here?” Yes, the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church dominate the city, however the country also has its hidden Judaic gems.

Cathedrals are scattered throughout Italy’s capital, however, whilst standing atop Capitoline Hill, a fellow Jewish traveller approached us informing that Jewish symbols can be found within the Vatican. These artefacts, collected from Roman catacombs, are located in the Pio Christian Museum collection.

Conveniently located along the Tiber River in Piazza Gerusalemme are the Museo Ebraico di Roma (Jewish Museum of Rome) and the Great Synagogue. The museum displays artifacts representative of the Roman Jews, who have been around for more than 2000 years.

The Arch of Titus, located in the Roman Forum next to the Colosseum, bears a carving of the Romans triumphantly parading the menorah they stole from the Second Temple they destroyed in Jerusalem.

Romans parading the menorah
Romans parading the menorah

Despite this image, the positive Jewish presence in Italy is still apparent.

In Florence, located on Via Luigi Carlo Farini is the lavishly decorated Greater Synagogue, where the public can attend the Shabbat prayers each Friday. You can’t help but look around at the colourful, mosaic interior, as the service goes on. The synagogue’s strikingly green domed roof is easy to spot amongst the sea of red roofs when viewed from atop the Duomo cathedral.

View from atop the Duomo
View from atop the Duomo

At the conclusion of the service, the Rabbi’s wife introduces herself and invites attendees to join in at the Chabad next door for a free dinner. Travellers from around the world share a meal and drinks as the Rabbi bestows words of wisdom upon them.

Unfortunately, Jews weren’t always so welcome, especially following the Spanish Inquisition. Thereafter, many Jewish people were forced to live in ghettos.

Venice, famous for the Grand Canal, now houses several hundred free Jewish residents. But between the 16th and 18th centuries, Jews were forced to live under guard (where the term ghetto originated from). Occupation choices were limited, and restrictions were placed on those wanting to venture out of these designated areas.

The maps for this island are extremely hard to navigate, so the best way to find the Ghetto is to ask for directions. To the left of the entrance to the Ghetto is Gam Gam, Venice’s first kosher restaurant where they serve traditional Israeli food with an Italian twist.

First Kosher restaurant in Venice
First Kosher restaurant in Venice

The Jewish presence in Verona however is not as prominent as the aforementioned cities.

Located on Via Rita Rosani, the city’s synagogue is hidden amongst the tourist shops and café’s. Even when using a map, it’s easy to walk straight past. The Magen David’s situated in the archway on either side of an entrance are barely visible, as they are half cut off.

Can you spot the hidden Magen David's?
Can you spot the hidden Magen David’s?

Nearby, a park bears a plaque with the names of Holocaust concentration camps in honour of the Resistance.

English translation: "To the martyrdoms of the nazi death camps in the thirty-year period of the resistance"

– Photograph taken by Lillian Altman

What other Jewish gems have you found in Italy?

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