A Star of David Above a Shop in the Jewish Ghetto near a hotel in Venice.

Visit the World’s First Ghetto..in Venice

The Jewish Ghetto is a small island in the Cannaregio section of Venice, located among the maze of canals and waterways that crisscross Venice and just a short walk from the main train station and the famous Grand Canal. There are lots of nearby hotels within walking distance, such as the popular Hotel Antiche Figure.

Today Venice has a small Jewish population of about 500 people, and only a few dozen still live in ghetto, but it remains the religious and spiritual center of Jewish life in Venice. Remarkably, this tiny area is home to five synagogues, a museum, a yeshiva, a kosher restaurant, and a handful of shops, art galleries, and businesses. Tours of the unique synagogues are available through the museum.

The Jewish Museum of Venice provides a compelling overview of the ghetto’s history and offers guided tours of the synagogues and other significant buildings. The museum, founded in 1953, offers visitors a multifaceted perspective on the history of the city’s Jewish Community. Displays range from everyday objects of daily life to centuries-old books and manuscripts.

One section of the museum focuses on religion, and includes a collection of historic items used for religious purposes. Another section chronicles the history of Venetian Jews with images and historic objects. The museum also has an eclectic gift shop.

Another important site is the Renato Maestro Library and Archives, which houses more than 8,000 books. The collection also includes an archive of more than 2,500 rare Hebrew books, some dating back to the 16th century. The library can be visited by appointment, so plan in advance if you want to visit.

The most important site in the main square, on both sides of the Casa di Riposa home for the aged, is a Holocaust memorial. The memorial, designed by sculptor Arbit Blatas, underscores the Nazi brutality that topped off centuries of persecution. Two of the walls enclosing the square are topped with barbed wire and adorned with haunting bronze sculptures that bear witness to the horror. One is a bronze wall panel depicting the Last Train, and the other features bronze reliefs depicting the death of Venetian Jews at the hands of the Nazis. An Italian army guardhouse, which protects what is left of the Jewish Ghetto, is also part of an almost surreal scene.

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