The Jewish Quarter, or the Ghetto, is one of the most famous places in Rome. Very little remains to remind of the area’s somber past in this bustling neighborhood known for good restaurants, art galleries and quaint cobbled streets.
The Ghetto was established in 1555 on a seven-acre patch of marshy land on the banks of the Tiber River. Walled for almost three centuries it housed thousands of impoverished Roman Jews. The Ghetto was opened at the end of the 19th century and most of the crumbling building were knocked down to give way to new palazzi. Only a small section of the old wall, a reminder of the quarter’s past, remains in one of the courtyards on the Piazza delle Cinque Scole.
The neighborhood continues to be part of the modern day Rome’s Jewish community with its Synagogue, the Jewish Museum and kosher grocer’s still run by Jews. The main street in the area, Via del Portico d’Ottavia has a lovely village atmosphere with small shops and restaurants busy serving locals and tourists. The passageways and narrow streets around it remind of the days gone by: via Costaguti and Tribuna di Campitelli still have houses built by local noble families in the 14-15th centuries, before the Ghetto was established. The Portico of Octavia (Portico di Ottavia) built by ancient Romans housed the city’s fish market where Jewish women collected discarded bits to feed their families. In keeping with traditions, local trattorie still have fish soup on their menu.
Another famous Roman- Jewish dish that is much in demand these days is carciofi alla giudea, Jewish-style deep-fried artichokes. Many eateries in the Ghetto sell delectable kosher food. In Yotvata, a favorite among Roman foodies, you can order kosher Roman style pizza and made on the premises cheese. Nonna Betta serves delicious pasta amatriciana alla giudia with salted beef. The tiny shabby Il Boccione bakery (Via del Portico D’Ottavia, 1), that has been making bread and pastries for 200 years, is famous for its “Jewish pizza”, little cakes with raisins, candied fruits and almonds. There is no sign outside, just follow the wonderful smell of cinnamon that floats down the street from its open door.
Photos by: Giuseppe Moscato, Patrick Rasenberg, Boccione l’antico forno.