Sunday, August 8, 2010

Jewish Ghetto

Tuesday morning I took Rick Steve's tour of the Jewish Ghetto (not as good as Trastevere, but I think that's mostly because I got a little lost).  I started on the other half of the same bridge as the Trastevere tour did.

It was interesting because Trastevere is where most of the Jewish population was living before a Pope during the counter-reformation decided they were a threat and moved them all across the river into a walled Ghetto.  Another interesting fact, the word ghetto actually was simply a way to describe where the location of the area was.  And it was specifically related to the Jewish population.  Only after a long time did the term come to mean any low-class slum-like neighborhood.  Much the same way the word catacombs came to mean what it does now.

In an effort to convert the Jewish people into Catholics, the Pope had churches placed at the gates to the Ghetto.  This is one of them:

Under the picture of Christ, written in Hebrew, is a quote from the old testament, something about how ye have been a wicked people, etc., etc.,  Apparently this sort of mis-quoting was thought to entice the Jewish people to leave their faith for that of their persecutors. . .

Then the tour went to the Synogogue which is right by the river.  It replaces the one which was built there during their time in the Ghetto.  After the Ghetto was demolished, a different piece of property was offered to the Jewish community to build a new Synogogue on, but they decided to build it in the same place, to remember their time in the Ghetto.

Since none of the Jewish people were allowed to work in artisan or professional jobs during the Ghetto times, all of the work on this Synogogue had to be done by non-Jewish people.  So, the building was designed by Christians and most of the art was comissioned from Christians, too.  But, to differentiate it from a Christian church, a square dome was put on top. . .

Since violence occasionally bubbles over from middle east politics, the whole site is guarded by militia police and heavily armed with security cameras and such.  Even the planters that surround the building double as protection against car bombs.

The next stop on the tour was some Roman ruins (I don't remember what they're all about, though).  I just remember that some little old lady wouldn't sell her house, so part of the ruins are still in private ownership!

These ruins bordered the square where the Nazis rounded up all the Jews of the neighborhood and took them away to concentration camps.  Apparently, during the Nazi occupation of Rome, they had demanded some huge weight in gold as ransom for leaving the Jewish people alone.  So, the whole city came out to donate their gold to the cause and when the demand was met, the Nazis took the gold and the Jews.  Figures.

But anyway.  Enough sad stuff.  The walls of the Ghetto were taken down when the Pope fell as King of Rome, but most of the Jewish people stayed where they were.  Even now, it is still pretty heavily populated with Jewish residents and there are several Kosher restaurants and bakeries around.  Plus, plenty of Jewish shops (which is in contrast to the number of Catholic shops you see everywhere else in the city).

One other interesting thing is that while most of the world's Jewish populations are decended from some place in Europe, Rome's Jewish population is decended straight from Israel, since they were here before the Roman occupation and the subsequent Diaspora.  Pretty cool!

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