An Island in the Island
By Rachele Callegari
The presence of a Jewish community in Venice has been attested since the beginning of the Serenissima Republic, but the city’s relationship with it was fluctuating: tolerant at first, intolerant later, for fear of Jewish interference in the Republic’s commercial business.
In 1516, the Maggior Consiglio recognized the Jewish community as dominating the activities of usury lenders and doctors and allowed them to settle in an area of the Cannaregio district, isolated from the rest of the city, which took the name of Ghetto Nuovo. The term “ghetto”, which then spread throughout Europe to indicate the urban area intended for the confinement of Jewish communities, originates from the Venetian verb ghetar (to throw). Since before the creation of the community the area was occupied by foundries, where metal was thrown to create guns.
Between the 12th and 16th centuries, a witch-hunt against the Jews took place in Europe and many of them found refuge in Venice. During the 1500s, the ghetto area was enriched with several synagogues, five in total, such as the Schola Grande Tedesca or the Schola Canton, still visible today. To cope with the important demographic growth that was affecting the Jewish community, in addition to the construction of buildings up to eight stories high, unique in Venice, the Ghetto Vecchio was created and subsequently the Ghetto Novissimo, adjacent to the original nucleus.
Even today, the Venetian Jewish community, much smaller than the original one, resides in the area of the Ghetto Nuovo, which looks just like an island, accessible only via two bridges. Two of the five synagogues are still places of worship, while the other buildings house the Jewish Museum and other community institutions.
Discovering Venice just through the 5 senses
SCALA CONTARINI DEL BOVOLO
Visitors are struck by the extraordinary architecture of this spiral staircase (bovolo in Venetian), from the top of which it is possible to admire Piazza San Marco and its Basilica. Built in the fifteenth century, commissioned by Pietro Contarini, the staircase is probably the work of the Venetian artisan Giovanni Candi: tradition has it that the Venetians were so fascinated by the innovative construction that soon the nickname “bovolo” began to be used to indicate a branch of the Contarini family.
In more modern days, the staircase is linked to several illustrious names, including the German astronomer Ernst Tempel who, scanning the sky from the terrace at the top of the tower, discovered the comet C / 1859 and the Merope nebula of the Pleiades.
Venice Soundmap is a project created to tell the city from a different, more intimate perspective, usually overwhelmed by a visual dimension. The curator of the project is Paolo Zavagna, professor of Performance and Interpretation of Electroacoustic Music at the Benedetto Marcello Conservatory of Music, who, thanks to the help of his “sound hunters” (students of the Academy, Conservatory and University), has been going around the city to collect the most characteristic sounds. First of all water, in its many forms present in Venice: from the ripples in the canals to the sound of high water. These and many other sounds can be listened to on the website www.venicesoundmap.eu: a sound archive of the city of Venice.
At the sight they look like bruschetta, in reality they are biscuits made with sourdough, ideal for being dipped in wine or coffee; they were once eaten by sailors on ships. They take their name from small mullets, as stated by Giuseppe Boerio, editor of the Dictionary of the Venetian dialect in 1829: «sourdough seasoned with sugar that is spongy, toasted. It is called baicolo for similarity, albeit rough, to the figure of the very small mullets, called Baicoli ». Today, the typical packaging is a tin box with the drawing of a young man who gives a biscuit to his beloved; also reported the words of Boerio, who describes how the baicoli were consumed at the time, dipping them in a cup or glass.
A BLIND GUIDE
Anna Ammirati, a true Venetian, is one of the many guides who accompany tourists around Venice, but with a particularity that differentiates her from all the others. Indeed, Anna has been visually impaired since birth and blind since 1992: this condition has led her to know Venice in detail but from a different perspective and today she guides visitors on a journey made of olfactory sensations, allowing them to appreciate the city in its entirety. deeper essence. Precisely from her example, the city of Venice has developed the “Venice that cannot be seen” project since 2017, which allows blind and visually impaired visitors to enjoy the wonders of Venice through a series of initiatives and multimedia tools, such as example a mobile app.
GOOD LUCK ANCHOR CHARMS
A must for the most superstitious are the anchors found in San Canciano, in the Cannaregio district. In front of the church dedicated to the saint, there is a portico called “the ferry”, because in ancient times it was the landing point for boats that travelled to Burano, Murano and San Michele, at the end of which there is a pillar with two small anchors of iron. These were the hooks where the bodies of those condemned to death were hung as a warning to the rest of the city; originally there were four, but the other two have now disappeared. Tradition has it that anyone who passes in front should touch the anchors as a superstitious sign, to hope to not end as the death row inmates who were once hung there.
DID YOU KNOW THAT…
The lion of San Marco has several representations: with an open book it symbolises the sovereignty of Venice, with a closed book and sword it indicates a period of war.