Highlights of this tour

  • Historical survey of 22 centuries of Jewish presence
  • The old  Ghetto & surrounding areas
  • The Great Synagogue
  • The Jewish Museum

Rome & the Jews

Rome & the Jews – Jews have been living in Rome uninterruptedly for 22 centuries.

At the times of Julius Caesar they came to the capital of the Empire mostly for business.

Later, when Jerusalem was destroyed by Titus many were brought to Rome as prisoners. The Jewish Community had peaks of some 40,000 people – many living in the Trastevere area, working as shopkeepers, artisans and peddlers, but others  became poets, physicians and actors.

Evidence has been found that twelve synagogues were functioning during this period, but none of them survived. We find more documents of this period in the catacombs, where Jewish symbols and inscriptions are common.

The attitude of the Roman emperors was in general very tolerant towards the Jews until when, with Constantine, Christianity became the official state religion. During the 4th and 5th centuries Jews lost many of their rights as citizens, and in general the situation deteriorated.

At the same time, however,  Rome became an important center for Hebrew studies. A number of well-known scholars contributed to Jewish learning and development. Roman Jewish traditions followed those practiced in Israel and the liturgical customs started in Rome spread throughout Italy and the rest of the world.

The condition of the Roman Jews became even more uncertain when, after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Popes became the political rulers of what was left of the great metropolis.

From this moment until the unification of Italy, the life of Rome’s Jews was to depend  on the personality of the pope himself.  Your guide will  stress the accent on the Renaissance period, when some Popes were very friendly to the Jews and, as humanists and scholars, has a profound interest In Hebrew.

The figure that shines most is that of Pope Leo X Medici, under whose protection Hebrew printing flourished in Italy.

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Unfortunately this golden age did not last long. With the Protestant Reformation the Roman Catholic Church inaugurated a terrible age of intolerance and censorship that swept away all dreams of freedom and tolerance for the Jews. In 1553 we assist to the burning of the Talmuds in Campo dei Fiori. In 1555, under Pope Paul IV Carafa, the institution of a compulsory Jewish Quarter, later known as the Ghetto of Rome (second in time to the Venetian Ghetto, established in 1516).

The quarter will continue to exist as a forced Jewish quarter until 1870, and was almost totally demolished because of the disastrous hygienic conditions. The 16,000 Roman Jews live spread all over the city.

Our ‘Rome and the Jews’ tour will explore what’s left of the old Ghetto, a curious mix of ancient Roman ruins (Portico d’Ottavia, picturesque old narrow alleys and squares, a variety of bakeries and restaurants, and you’ll happen to see some elderly members of the community that sit by the ‘piazza’ as in the old days.   Today the Ghetto is amply gentrified and it is hard to imagine without the help of a guide or visual documents the old times of segregation.

You will hear the old Judaic-Roman dialect spoken by the inhabitants of the Ghetto and you’ll savor some of the traditional gastronomic specialties.

On our Rome and the Jews you’ll learn about the precarious living conditions, the floods, the scarce hygiene and the absence of light and space. Your guide will point out the Hebrew and Latin inscription on the façade of San Gregorio, encouraging the Jews to convert. It will be also of interest to stress the accent on differences and similarities between the life in the Roman Ghetto with respect to Florence, Rome and other Italian cities.

With Rome and the Jews you’ll visit the imposing early 20th century Great Synagogue, whose familiar shape (Romans call  it ‘Square Church’) is visible from a big distance. It testifies the desire of emancipation of the Roman Jews, and it is in this Synagogue that Pope John Paul II Wojtyla met Chief Rabbi Ariel Toaff in 1986. First time ever that a Pope entered a Synagogue!  In 1982 a terrorist attack had killed a two year old boy and wounded many people.

At the Jewish Museum we will admire the precious silver objects and textiles, reminding us of the existence of five small but beautiful synagogues in the Ghetto, three of which celebrating in the Sefardic rite, while two belonged to the ‘Italian’ congregation. Your guide will also sketch the events of the last century, from the ascent of Mussolini and the subsequent discriminations to the tragic days of World War II and the deportations.

If there’s still time we will cross the Tiber River and continue, past the Tiberine Island, into Trastevere, one of the most picturesque areas of Rome, that still bears many traces of the Jewish presence here along the centuries.

If you are interested in our Rome and the Jews tour you might also book our similar tours in Florence and Venice.

Cost of this tour

  • This tour lasts three hours and costs 330 euros up to six people (not per person), only private parties.
  • For larger parties send us an email
  •  Admission to Great Synagogue & Jewish Museum:  11 euros per person
  •  Closed on Saturdays & Jewish High Holidays

Dress Code and advice

  • No shorts and no sleeveless garments.
  • Knee high and short sleeves are ok
  • Comfortable shoes or sandals and a hat in summer.