A neighborhood created to contain the city's Jewish population is now one of Rome's most characteristic quarters. The "ghetto" was a walled district on the banks of the Tiber River built in the 1550s; the gates were closed at night to control the Roman Jews and was in use until the unification of Italy. Rome has oldest Jewish settlement in Europe; at one time there was a thriving community of more than 30,000, mostly in the Trastevere district. During the years of the ghetto, about 16,000 Jews lived there. Today, only about 500 remain in the district, though it continues to be the cultural center of Roman Jewish life.

The main monument here is the prominent synagogue, which was rebuilt on the site of an older one that had been torn down. The distinctive dome is square to identify it as a non-Christian worship place. Hourly tours available to see the interior (but closed to visitors on Saturdays, the Sabbath). The adjacent museum features historic and religious artifacts, including 2nd century BC reliefs, and also has a film about the Nazi occupation of Rome during WW II. They offer walking tours of the Ghetto daily (except Saturdays).

The most interesting street in the ghetto is Via San Ambrogio, one of the oldest lanes, where you can more easily imagine what life was like in the quarter. Piazza Mattei is home to the beautiful Fountain of the Turtles by Bernini. The Portico d'Ottavia was built by Roman Emperor Augustus; it was once a cultural capital of ancient Rome, then one of the enclosing gates of the districts. The Via Portico d'Ottavia is the main drag of the ghetto, lined with kosher shops and restaurants and some galleries.

The ghetto was a place of persecution, pride and cultural tenacity for decades. It's an interesting quarter to wander while you're in Rome.

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Portico d'Ottavio.

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