The Venice synagogue at the heart of the world’s first ghetto

May 3, 2016

The 16th-century Schola Grande Tedesca is worth a visit for its extraordinary interior but, as the arts writer discovers, also for what it reveals about the history of the Jewish community in Europe

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This is one of the oddest spaces I’ve ever been in. The geometry is unique: it is a trapezoid tapering toward two windows, softened above by the elliptical women’s gallery which Silvia, our guide, tells us was added in a later restoration.

I’m on a tour of some of the five synagogues remaining in the city’s former Jewish ghetto, given by the Jewish Museum of Venice, which occupies the lower floors of the same building in the Ghetto Novo in the city’s north-west corner. This year marks the 500th anniversary of the founding of the ghetto, the first community anywhere to be so described. In 1516, the Venetian Republic granted Jews the right to settle, under strict conditions, on the site of a former geto, or iron foundry, a word whose soft “g” the German-speaking Ashkenazim could not pronounce, obliging orthographers to adopt the spelling we have today.

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