Nestled behind Teatro Marcello is the charming Roman Jewish quarter. Today this is a modern and vibrant area of the city, but once it served as a ghetto for the Jewish population.
Build in 1555 on the flooded parts of River Tiber this walled and crowded area was the home to the Roman Jewish population until 1882 when the segregation was abolished. The Jewish community in Rome is considered to be the oldest in the whole of Western Europe and its history is still very present in modern Roman Jewish life. Today, this beautiful and thriving neighbourhood is one of the coolest in Rome, filled with a vast variety of ancient, medieval and Renaissance architecture. There are many restaurants, churches and a synagogue that show off the integration of Jewish culture and the impressiveness of Roman architecture.
The Great Synagogue is the largest one in Rome, and possibly in all of Italy. Very characteristic in its design, this is a place that can be spotted and recognized from the most panoramic views in the city. This impressive building was built in 1904 and inside it holds the Jewish Museum, that has seven rooms for displaying Roman-Jewish art and antiquities which include silverware, textiles and marble sculptures. The Jewish Museum tells the history of the Jews and the Roman Jewish Ghetto. This is one of the most visited museums after the Vatican and the Capitoline Museum, definitely worth the visit.
As you continue to explore the Jewish quarter you will come by The Portico d’Ottavia, the heart of the Jewish neighbourhood, a street that dates back to the 2nd century BC and represents one of the most interesting sights to be seen. Where the present ruins are, there was once a library, a school, and then a fish market and today next to the ancient ruins there is still a church attached to it. A walk down this street will present you with many medieval houses, kosher food stores and several restaurants serving Jewish specialities; a truly authentic experience. You should certainly try Jewish style deep fried artichokes, salt cod fillets, fried zucchini flowers, anchovies with endive and stuffed fish. As there are many excellent restaurants in the neighbourhood and it is impossible to visit all of them, we have selected some for you to try while taking a break from your tour of the Jewish quarter.
A place famed for its deep-fried artichoke in olive oil is an authentic and elegant Roman-Jewish(although it is not kosher) restaurant “Piperno”. Even though artichokes are at their best in early spring and can be still found on the menu somewhat in later spring/summer months, there are other things excellent at this restaurant such as their fish and pasta dishes. All of this is topped up with great service.
“Ba’Ghetto” is a charming restaurant that offers both kosher Roman-Jewish traditional specialities as well as Middle Eastern cuisine. Whether you try their delicious fish or maybe a falafel dish you won’t be disappointed. Down the street is the restaurant's sister restaurant “Ba Ghetto Milky” serving fresh dairy dishes, so if this feeds your appetite make sure you check it out. "Boccione" bakery is a place dessert enthusiasts will most likely find to be their favourite. This secret spot is a hole in the wall kind of place that serves delicious Jewish sweets. Their specialities include Torte di ricotta e visciole (ricotta and sour black cherries cake), Pizza Ebraica ( sweet crunchy small cakes with raisins) and Torta di Mandorle (almond tart).
Moving along the charming streets of this neighbourhood you are bound to come by a beautiful little fountain on Piazza Mattei, “Fontana delle Tartarughe” (the fountain of the turtles). This fountain was built in the 16th century, during a course of only one day, and it used to be a drinking fountain. Today it stands as a very important and beautiful decorative piece with little turtles sitting on the edge of the fountain.
Finally, while in this neighbourhood don’t miss walking near Tiberine Island, the smallest inhabited island in the world. The island is situated in the middle of the Tiber River with bridges connecting Trastevere with Roman Jewish quarter. The island was originally an ancient temple of Asclepius, the god of healing. Today there is still a working Hospital, which was founded in the 16th century and a church of St.Bartolomeo. If you catch the evening approaching while still on the island, you can grab a drink and enjoy a marvellous view of Rome from the island.