A part of Venice’s history that is rather shameful. The Jewish or
Hebrew ghetto of Venice was the first ghetto for Jews in Europe and was
the place where the word first originated.
This once run down and rather remote area in the Cannaregio Sestiere, a short distance from Venice's train station, was where Venice’s Jewish population were forced to live from the 16th century until the late 18th century when Napoleon lifted the restrictions on their movements.
The ghetto was guarded, living conditions were cramped and uncomfortable, but despite this, the Jewish population grew to a peak of around 7000 before declining to only 500 after World War II and the Holocaust.
Now enjoying something of a revival, the Jewish Venice Association encourages Jews to return.
They have a Jewish school in the area—the first Jewish school in Venice in over fifty years—bookshops have started to open, and there is even a kosher restaurant. Then there are the five absolutely amazing old synagogues.
You'll find that a lot of the stores in the area cater to the local Jewish community too, with many selling traditional Jewish foods. So if you're craving a bagel, you might well find it here.
Cannaregio's ghetto is not a very touristy district of Venice. Apart from the many Jewish people, from the USA in particular, who make the journey to see an important part of European Jewish history, few visit. That is a mistake.
Even if you are not Jewish, it is still well worth visiting, you will find it a moving experience. The overriding impression here is of cramped buildings; because the area was small, the inhabitants were forced to live one on top of the other, but you can still feel the sense of community here.
The closeness brought people together then and still does today. This is one of the last authentic neighborhoods in Venice. Stroll around, and the sense of community still seems to be tangible. In fact, it is one of the few areas where you don't feel that Venice is primarily designed to cater for tourists. It's also lovely to wander around shops that aren't all selling tacky souvenirs.
Visit the Jewish Museum for a better understanding of what life must have been like here in previous centuries. Entrance to the museum is 4.50 euros.
The ghetto walks, undertaken by an expert on the history of the ghetto, are excellent, providing insights into life here both from an architectural and a historical point of view.
If you want to visit the synagogues, you will only be allowed access with the guided tours, which cost 9 euros. They take an hour, with the first one starting at 10.30 a.m. and the last one at 4.30 p.m. Information is available at the museum.
There is only one place in the Venice ghetto area that I can recommend. It is the Cannaregio Residence. The location is right on the edge of the ghetto and in a part of Venice where tourists seldom venture. By staying here you get to experience something 90% of tourists to Venice miss - the real Venice.
The Cannaregio Residence used to be a monastery and now the cloisters are an oasis of green and tranquility - a great place to return to after a day out in the hustle and bustle of the city.
Need a hotel elsewhere in Venice? I'd not hesitate to recommend these.