Trastevere and Rome Jewish Ghetto Tour
Experience authentic Rome, on this private Trastevere and Rome Jewish Ghetto Tour. Both of these stunning historic neighbourhoods remain as vibrant today as they were 1,000s of years ago!
These two neighborhoods are the areas of historic Rome locals’ love – and you’ll get to know them, on this special Trastevere and Rome Jewish Ghetto Tour. Learn the fascinating history of the Jews in Rome – the oldest Jewish community in Europe – and the story of picturesque Trastevere, and the migrants who made it.
Nowhere else in Rome is as postcard-perfect as these two neighbors. Join this Trastevere Walking Tour with Jewish Ghetto your way across winding, cobbled streets, in the shadows of Ancient Roman monuments and orange townhouses. Skip across the only island in Rome as the wise old Tiber winds below, and stand below gold mediaeval mosaics.
Enjoy experiencing all the romance of the city that named romance, on this remarkable Trastevere and Rome Jewish Ghetto Tour.
Our Trastevere Walking Tour with Jewish Ghetto, includes:
- The history of the Synagogue of Rome
- Ancient Rome’s Portico of Octavia and Theater of Marcellus
- Rome’s only island; Isola Tiberina
- The church of Santa Maria in Trastevere
- Full tour delivered by an expert, local guide
- A personalized restaurant recommendation from our local guide
Your Rome private tour will begin at 6pm, at Cin Cin Bar, Via Cesare Battistini 129, every day except Tuesday.
Trastevere Walking Tour with Jewish Ghetto Itinerary
You will meet your expert, local guide before taking the most incredible, scenic route to reach the Jewish Ghetto. Before entering the Ghetto, you will pass by the Theater of Marcellus. The Theater of Marcellus is the Colosseum’s predecessor, and was once Rome’s major amphitheater, before the Colosseum stole its shine, on this Trastevere Walking Tour with Jewish Ghetto.
Ancient Rome in The Jewish Ghetto
The Theater of Marcellus curves around, and into, the houses of the Jewish Ghetto. The theater was commissioned by Julius Caesar as part of his generous public building program; however, building did not start for many years after his murder. His successor, Augustus, completed the construction in 13BC; the same Augustus who claimed of Rome that he had found a city of bricks, and left, in its place, a city of marble.
If one building could come close to condensing the whole of Rome’s history, the Theater of Marcellus would, perhaps, be it. In the middle ages, it was adapted to serve as a fortress by Rome’s Pierleoni clan. Later, in the 16th century, the Orsini family built their residence atop the theater – and you can still see it today. All the periods of Rome’s history joyfully coalesce on this Ancient Roman amphitheater, that isn’t entirely Ancient Roman anymore.
As you follow the curve of the amphitheater into the Ghetto, you will see ahead of you another truly remarkable Roman ruin: the Portico of Octavia. Emperor Augustus named the building after his sister in 27 BC – and it still bares her name today. In the Roman period, the Portico of Octavia would have housed a Temple to Juno and Jupiter, in addition to a library. Not one to let a good thing go to waste, Romans made use of this remarkable building as the city’s fish market, from the mediaeval period up until the end of the 19th century. The Portico of Octavia marks the mid-point of the Jewish Ghetto, but makes for the perfect entrance.
The Jewish Ghetto and Synagogue
Today, the Jewish Ghetto is a kind of idyll. People spill out from cafés, bars and restaurants, the smell of pastries and bagels wafts from bakeries, and the area has a self-assured confidence in its Roman Jewish identity. Orange townhouses lean on Roman ruins, and it is pleasant and relaxing place to spend your time.
Our expert, local guide, will lead you through the Jewish Ghetto as you discover this charming neighborhood, and the riveting history of the Jews of Rome, on this Trastevere Walking Tour with Jewish Ghetto.
A Short History of the Jews of Rome
Roman Jews can proudly stake their claim as the oldest Jewish community in Europe; Jews have had a presence in Rome since at least as early as 150 BC. Their presence was generally looked on favorably by the Roman state, because the Roman Jews did not proselytize excessively, and were generally regarded as fastidious with paying their taxes. Despite a few minor conflicts, Roman Jews were treated relatively respectfully, until the rise of Christianity. As Christians were causing great trouble for the Roman Empire, all monotheists, including the Jewish people, fell under suspicion.
Roman Jews weathered this rocky period and came out flourishing; from a period spanning the 10th to 14th century, Roman Jews were considered to be among the most learned scholars in Europe. At that time, all the major power players in the Courts of Europe held the belief that, if you wanted a good poet, you should get a Roman Jew. Many Roman Jewish scholars advised Popes; literature, culture, translation and Talmudic studies flourished during this period.
However, as is the case with all Jewish communities in Europe, Roman Jews experienced terrible hardships throughout the city’s history. The forced ghettoization of the Jewish community, which lasted from 1555 – 1870, is a very dark chapter in the history of Rome, and the Catholic Church. While the Papacy ruled Rome, every night, 2,000 people were locked within the walls of the Jewish Ghetto.
Today, the Jewish Ghetto is a beautiful place to spend a few hours, whiling away your time. Then, it was a dark and dirty area of Rome, subject to continuous flooding from the Tiber, ridden with disease. Roman Jews were prohibited from holding a whole variety of professions, which had a significant detriment to the social mobility of the community. However, the creativity of the Roman Jews was not snuffed out during this period of oppression.
The Influence of Roman Jews on Italian Food
During the time of forced ghettoization, the Jews of Rome were allowed to hold one profession; that of street food sellers. In doing so, Roman Jews developed the modern friggitoria, a quintessential Roman street food stop, and dishes that are now staples of Roman cooking.
Romans love frying a variety of dishes in batter, and gobbling them up; including rice, zucchini flowers, anchovies and artichokes – now known as carciofi alla Giudia (Jewish-style artichoke). If not for the innovations of the Jews of Rome, these deep-fried treats would not be on the menu. If you’ve ever enjoyed one of these tasty morsels, like a suppli with your pizza while on your Roman holiday, you have the Roman Jewish street-food innovators to thank.
The Great Synagogue of Rome
On our private Trastevere Walking Tour with Jewish Ghetto, our expert guide will stop outside the Great Synagogue of Rome. The Synagogue was completed in 1902, and is a symbol of the Jewish community’s triumph against adversity. After Italy was unified in 1870, the restrictions on Jews were lifted, and the Ghetto was demolished.
Today, the Synagogue is a remarkable building, which is open to visitors. Inside, you can find a museum with the history of the Jews of Rome. Outside is plaque commemorating the Roman Jews who lost their lives during the Holocaust.
After the Italian surrender, Nazi Germany occupied Rome. On the 16th October 1943, 1,259 men, women and children were seized from the Ghetto, by the Gestapo. Some escaped by climbing over rooftops, and were sheltered by friends. However, 2,000 people were deported in total. At least 1,035 were deported to Auschwitz, departing from Rome’s Tiburtina station. Only 16 people survived Auschwitz; only 200 in total survived deportation.
Today, Rome’s Jewish community has recovered somewhat from the horrors of the Holocaust. There are an estimated 35,000 Jews in Rome, and they account for over half of the Jewish population in Italy. Roman Jews are currently engaged in a war of words with the Israeli Rabbinate, over whether or not artichokes are kosher – and have rejected the suggestion they aren’t outright. We have a vested interest in Roman Jews winning this one, so we can still enjoy a beautiful Carciofi alla Giudia at a café in the Ghetto, with a glass of rosé, so goyisher mazel!
Isola Tibertina is Rome’s only island, and you’ll stroll across it on this remarkable Trastevere and Rome’s Jewish Ghetto Tour. A bridge has connected the island with the two sides of the river bank since the time of Ancient Rome. Today, a hospital sits on the island, where it has been since the 1500s. Isola Tibertina has always been associated with healing; in the time of Ancient Rome a temple to Aesculapius, the Greek God of medicine and healing, could be found on the island. Most of the babies born in Rome are delivered in this special hospital, in the center of the Tiber.
It was in this hospital that, during the Nazi occupation of Rome, a certain Dr. Pietro Borromeo invented a contagious illness called ‘Il Morbo di K’. This deadly, fictional disease kept the Gestapo away from the section of the hospital where Dr. Borromeo was hiding and protecting hundreds of Roman Jews.
The bridge that spans Isola Tibertina will carry you from the Jewish Ghetto to Trastevere, one of Rome’s most beautiful and vibrant historic neighborhoods. Trastevere is quintessentially postcard-perfect Rome. You’ll be able to see vines draped between orange townhouses, caressing lantern lights, above cobbled streets lined with cafés and restaurants, that twist, turn and joyously mystify.
The History of Trastevere
In the early days of the Roman Republic, the neighborhood we today know as Trastevere was known as ‘The Hostile Bank’, because of the Etruscan rivals who occupied it. This imaginary of Trastevere wasn’t really to change – it would remain a kind of hostile bank, a rival to Rome proper, for centuries to come.
Roman slaves were freed after 10 years of service, and where did many of them make their homes? On the other side of the river, in Trastevere. Trastevere quickly became a cultural melting pot of people from all over the Ancient Roman Empire. Outsiders, rejects and rebels occupied the area; it also boasted Rome’s largest Jewish community, before the period of forced ghettoization.
Trastevere remains a vibrant area, lined with cobbled streets and cafés full of interesting characters with strange tales to tell. It boasts some spectacular architecture too, and you’ll see one of the highlights on this Trastevere and Rome Jewish Ghetto Tour.
The Remarkable St. Maria in Trastevere
St. Maria in Trastevere may not be the first church that springs to mind when you think of Rome, but it is surely one of the most remarkable. This church is one of the oldest churches in the city; the floor plan and walls date back to 340 BC.
As you enter, the first thing that will catch your eye are the mismatched columns that keep the roof up. Mediaeval Italian architects were not as obsessed with perfection as their Renaissance counterparts – and to joyous effect; here, we can see how the church’s depended on many former Roman Temples, in the vicinity of Trastevere, being pillaged.
The second thing that draws the eye (especially if you arrive at noon, when the sun is hitting the altar wall and dome, making it glisten) are the remarkable 12th century mosaics. Whoever these great artists were, they certainly lived at an exciting time to be an artist; the technique of painting with gold leaf had recently been developed, and boy, were they eager to use this new craft!
The gold leaf mosaics which adorn the apse still positively dazzle, 1,000 years later. Rome is a city of spectacular visions; but the site of the sunshine bouncing off the gleaming, golden apse is truly up there, as one of the most sublime and heavenly. In front of the gold background are solemn – but not cold – figures of Mary, Jesus and sheep, representing the apostles. You can also find stories from the life of Christ, all glimmering in bountiful, liberally applied gold. The artists even opted to use gold on the clothing of Mary and Jesus – because why mess with a winning formula? You will be hard pressed to find another room in the world where real gold has such a liberal application, to such a joyful and carefree result.
Why Join this Trastevere Walking Tour with Jewish Ghetto?
Rome is not one simple, coherent city; Rome is the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, but also the Vatican. Rome is swirling Baroque fountains across the historic center, the violent executions in Campo de’ Fiori, and the FENDI fashion house basing their headquarters in Mussolini’s Square Colosseum. Rome isn’t simply one thing or another; Rome is maddening and abundant.
Take this private Trastevere and Rome’s Jewish Ghetto Tour to wrestle with the city’s competing narratives. Nothing takes you closer to that quintessentially Roman, and ever-present contrast of refinement and brutality, than the history of the people who lived in these neighborhoods. You’ll encounter vibrant modern Rome alongside Ancient Roman wonders, Mediaeval masterpieces and Renaissance charms, as the past and present intermingle to dizzying, infuriating, but, ultimately, joyous affect.