Rome’s Jewish Ghetto, A Beautiful Little Secret

Jewish_Ghetto
Rome Jewish Ghetto
Rome’s Jewish Ghetto, a Beautiful Little Secret

A few years ago, Pete and I were visiting Italy and chose as our accommodations a charming little apartment in Rome’s Jewish Ghetto.

Finishing our trip there was ideal. After running all over Southern Italy it gave us pause and left us with a nice taste in our mouths like the perfect after dinner mint after a perfect dinner.

Air BNB
Our apartment

One of the main factors that made it so perfect was that we stayed in a lovely little apartment overlooking the main piazza.

Air BNB overlooking the main piazza
Air BNB overlooking the main piazza; Jewish Ghetto

The Jewish Ghetto has a long and unpleasant history. It was created back in the 1500’s at which time all Jews in Rome were required by Pope Paul IV to live in the walled portion of the city.

The Jews were not allowed out at night and were only allowed into the city proper during the day.

SPQR
Roman plaque; SPQR Senatus Populusque Romanus; The Senate and People of Rome; Designates the area an archeological site

Because Rome was a Christian city under papal rule, the Jews were treated as less than second class citizens. They were not allowed any skilled labor position and were subject to base humiliation regularly by Christians.

Additionally they were not allowed to own property and were forced to listen to compulsory Christian sermons every week.

When the Jews did venture outside of the gates, the men were forced to wear a yellow cloth and women had to wear a yellow veil.

Roman Sparrow
Roman Sparrow

The Jewish Ghetto was the poorest and worst real estate in the city. Every year the Tiber River which bordered it flooded filling the streets with water and mud. This made the area a breeding ground for the plague which ravaged the Jewish population in 1656.

Over time, the population of the Ghetto grew and since there was nowhere else to build, the inhabitants built up creating high density housing that further subjected the population to decimation by virulent illnesses whenever one came through.

This deplorable state went on intermittently until the Italian Risorgimento (the final unification of the Italian Papal States which resulted in the papacy losing its power and the power being established under the Kingdom of Italy in the 1800’s.) and the Ghetto walls were torn down.

At that point, Jews were allowed to live anywhere in the city and the Ghetto, as a ghetto ceased to exist.

Much has Changed
Much has Changed

Much of the Ghetto was demolished and new apartment houses were built in its place. What remains of the Ghetto today is a tiny area where Kosher foods dominate and a small slice of Jewish culture remains to be savored and enjoyed by those passing through and who stop to experience it.

Our visit there started with a BnB rental that advertised itself as a cute Jewish Ghetto Apartment.

It was indeed cute and very centrally located. The apartment is located in the Sant’Angelo neighborhood in a small piazza right across from the oldest Jewish Bakery in Rome.

Pasticceria Boccione
Pasticceria Boccione

This bakery alone is reason enough to stay in the Jewish Ghetto. Pasticceria Boccione has sat in the same place and had the same family running it for the last 200 years. It has seen poverty, slavery and humiliation as well as final freedom and notoriety for its fabulous creations.

Pasticceria Boccione is known for its pastries, such as ricotta cake and cinnamon almond biscotti. The star in this line-up however is the Jewish Pizza.

Jewish Pizza
Oh. My. God. This is Jewish pizza, the most buttery, crumbly, sweet and delicious thing you will ever eat short of actually going to heaven.

This is not a pizza at all but a cookie type confection which is obviously stuffed with butter and filled with almonds, pine nuts and candied fruit (not the hideously dried out stuff you get in Christmas fruitcakes, this is not too sweet and it is very soft and chewy.)

The angels who bake this serve it up warm and fresh from the oven. It falls apart in your mouth and is a swirl of sweet nuttiness that I simply cannot picture life without after having tasted it.

The piazza containing Pasticceria Boccione leads off into a wide street, the Via Del Portico D’Ottavia. If you click on this link you can see a photo of this street. Above the white umbrella on the right, the second window up is the apartment in which we stayed. On the right hand side in the ancient building with the white awning is Pasticceria Boccione.

Ruins in Rome's Jewish Ghetto
Ruins In Rome’s Jewish Ghetto

The Via Del Portico D’Ottavia extends in both directions and is designated an area pedonale (Area where cars are not permitted.)

Therefore the restaurants have seating outside under the incredible Roman sun where you can have your perfect cappucino and a piece of Jewish Pizza that will hold you over until lunch.

The restaurants in this area are good but pricey. That said, I did have a spectacular antipasto of mussles and clams in an out-of-this-world broth containing garlic butter and tomatoes at G. Spizzichino a few steps from the apartment.

Although my dish was an appetizer, it was enough food for me as it came with bread to sop up the ecstasy-inducing broth that accompanied it. And the portions were almost too hearty as is the norm with Italian restaurant portions in my experience.

Restaurants Jewish Ghetto
Restaurants Rome’s Jewish Ghetto

The next day we ate at the restaurante Al Portico where I ordered Carciofo ala Guida. This is an artichoke that has been trimmed and chucked into the deep fryer. It comes out all brown and crispy.

I had never had a deep fried artichoke quite like this so I asked the waiter how to eat it. He said you eat it with a knife and fork and unless I misunderstood, I was supposed to eat the leaves and choke as well as everything else. Of course I tried it but the leaves were too chewy and fibrous so I ate it like a normal artichoke.

It was fantastic. Once out of the deep fryer it was dressed in olive oil and salt which tastes spectacular on a hot Roman day after sightseeing.

There is something about deep frying anything that brings out the natural flavors which is the only explanation I can see for the recent America craze of deep frying Snicker’s bars.

The artichoke’s natural nutty flavor was beautifully enhanced and it was a perfect opening act for my main course which was grilled lamp chops all in a pile with  a delightful sauce drizzled sparingly over the top.

(Click here for a Google Street View tour of the Jewish Ghetto and you will find these restaurants as you pass through)

Toward the end of the Via Del Portico D’Ottavia, there is an archeological site where you can walk off your fattening artichoke and view ancient Roman columns being excavated.

Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona

Situated very close to the Jewish Quarter are most of the famous monuments and attractions that one looks for in Rome.

On a three day visit to Rome and while staying in the Jewish Quarter, my husband and I did not have to take one bus or metro ride because everything we wanted to see that trip was within walking distance.

Click this link to see a map of Rome. Zoom in on the bend in the Tiber River between  the Castel Sant’Angelo and the Piazza Navona. The Jewish Ghetto is right there. You can also type in Via Della Portico D’Ottavia and you will find it.

Spice Campo Dei Fiori
Spice mixes at Camp Dei Fiori, Rome

From the apartment on the Via Del Portico D’Ottavia, the Campo Dei Fiori ,or Field of Flowers, named for its flower market which now includes stalls for any gastro-gnome (my word, I made it up) was a short walk.

The morning market there is quite lovely and after passing the fruit and vegetable stalls along with the obligatory T-shirt and tourist stalls, we were able to purchase some beautiful prosciutto for lunch and in the stall next door, spices specifically blended for well known Italian dishes.

From the Campo Dei Fiori, the Piazza Navona is only a block or so. The walk is not made through crowded streets filled with cars but through tiny winding alleyways with shops and beautiful architecture around every corner.

Do wear good shoes because the alleys are paved with cobblestones and the ground tends to be uneven. If you are wearing heels or shoes with no support, it could be dangerous as well as simply annoying.

My recommendation is Sketchers Air Walks. My chiropractor recommends these to all his patients as they have great padding and support.

Tiber at night
Tiber River at Night

Also nearby are the Colosseum, the Forum, the Trastevere neighborhood, the Tiber River with its famous bridges, The Vatican and many other attractions.

Bridge Sculpture Rome
Bridge Sculpture, Rome

At night, in Summer, the Tiber river has shops and restaurants set up along the Lungotevere (The walkway that extends along the Tiber River). You can go there and have a meal, watch the soccer match, shop or just wander.

There are marvelous street musicians along the way and the weather is generally really warm and nice.

Happy Travels
Happy Travels

All in all I can’t say enough wonderful things about this area and our recent trip there.

Contact your Super Savvy Travelers team, we would love to book you the perfect trip to Italy or anywhere in Europe. 

Take Rome Off Your Bucket List and Put It On Your To Do List

Italian Roman super savvy travelers
Via Veneto, Rome, Italy
Via Veneto, Rome, Italy

Why is Bella Roma so internationally loved?

Rome is wild, loud, beautiful, and always unpredictable. There is honestly so much to love about Rome that I am doing her a disservice listing only 5 things to be crazy about.

Go to Rome armed with these 5 things and make up your own list of favorites. 

Michelangelo's Pieta, Rome, Italy
Michelangelo’s Pieta, St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, Italy

1) The Vatican Art Museums

Rome is a city filled to the eyeballs with art. It is everywhere. 

A trip to the Vatican Art Museums is a must when visiting Rome because it is the greatest collection of fine art in existence. Much of it is Renaissance Art.

The Vatican Museums were originated by Pope Julius II in 1506.

At that time, Michelangelo was working at the Vatican for Pope Julius and the pope had Michelangelo go and look at a sculpture that had just been found and unearthed in a roman vineyard.

Michelangelo confirmed that this sculpture was the original Laocoon and his sons which had been praised in the writings of Pliny the Elder centuries before.

Based on the recommendation of Michelangelo, Pope Julius purchased the statue and placed it on display in the Vatican.

Since that time, different popes have added art to the museums and have had to add new wings to accommodate it all.

A tour through the Vatican Museums is like taking an art bath. You see it, breathe it and take it in through your pores.

Like a perfect bath, it refreshes you and gives you new life. 

Make sure you avoid the lines and headaches by booking yourself a tour. I like Through Eternity Tours in Rome because their tour guides are well trained, personable, entertaining and professional.

Book months in advance because they fill up, especially in Summer.

The museum contains paintings by Caravaggio, Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael and, the entire Sistine Chapel ceiling painted by Michelangelo between 1477 and 1480.

The museum tour includes a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica which contains the amazingly beautiful Pieta sculpture, sculpted by Michelangelo from white Carrera marble when he was only 24 years old.

Michelangelo was such a prolific artist and you will see many of his pieces on this tour. You will see why he is still the most beloved artist ever born and so cherished by Italians.

Cafe in Rome's Jewish Quarter Super Savvy Travelers
Cafe in Rome’s Jewish Quarter

2) Café

Or Café Macchiato or Café Latte, or Cappuccino.

When ordering coffee in Rome, understand that if you order coffee (or café) you will get a tiny cup filled with fiercely strong and biting espresso.

The Italians don’t fool around with their coffee. It is a source of pride.

If this is too much for you, you can order a café latte.  Don’t confuse a cafe latte at Starbucks with a cafe latte in Rome.

Both cafe latte and capuccino are perfectly blended combinations of milk, coffee and in cappuccino, chocolate. 

Don’t order a “latte” as we do here in the states or you will get a glass of milk.

Having heard that ordering coffee with milk in it after lunch was taboo all over Italy, I put this to the test in Cremona one afternoon.

My friends and I  entered a small café and a tiny Asian lady attended us.

My friends ordered their café and I looked at her and asked for a café latte. Her perfectly crafted eyebrows shot up into her hairline in surprise.

She covered it well and brought me my café latte but I am sure I was forever branded a tourist in that shop.

A café macchiato in Italy is espresso with a small amount of milk in it but still  strong. I have ordered this after lunch and the eyebrows rose minimally so I think it is ok.

If you like your coffee a little weaker, you can order a café lungo which is an espresso with a small amount of water in it.

The Italians, recognizing that Americans drink our coffee differently, have created a café Americano which is espresso with more water.

The coffee in Italy is, to my mind, the best in the world. Great care is taken to make it perfect and bar staffs are well trained.

Even the ground coffee you purchase in the supermarket is top notch even though it is inexpensive.

Order a cafe,  dump a packet of sugar in it and stir. You are rewarded with a couple mouthfuls of the sweetest, bitterest, most fragrant and coffee-est sip you can imagine.

You digest your food better and you are wide awake for several hours. 

Via Veneto, Rome, Italy
Via Veneto, Rome, Italy

3) Shopping

Rome has several fine shopping districts including the Via Veneto, which is a street dedicated to shopping and outdoor cafes.

It is a beautiful tree lined street and an afternoon spent in a sidewalk cafe watching the beautifully dressed Italian businessmen and women go by is a treat.

Italy is well known for fine Italian leather goods. Italian leather crafting goes back centuries. 

The Via Veneto has many fine leather emporiums however I have found that going a few streets over can save you money.

Aside from the shopping that you would normally expect from a large city, Roman streets are a riot of colorful outdoor markets.

Rome Outdoor Market
Rome Outdoor Market

Every day you can purchase fresh produce and other delectables at the Campo De Fiori  (literally, The Flower Market). This market has been going strong since medieval times.

Chicken, gravy and potatoes in Rome
Chicken, gravy and potatoes in Rome
Cornetto with Friends
Cornetto with Friends

 4) The Food!

The Italians have raised cooking to a fine art form and almost every restaurant I tried has been amazing! A similar meal here in California would be ruinously expensive.

I never go hungry in Rome. Even when I have just eaten I am eagerly looking forward to my next meal. 

Even those with dietary restrictions can relax as vegetarian cuisine is always available and I had no trouble finding gluten free meals that were unbelievable. 

Gluten Free Pizza in Rome
Gluten Free Pizza in Rome

Only once have I had a bad meal in Italy and that is when Pete and I unadvisedly ducked into a restaurant right next to Termini Station, the main train station in Rome.

Pete’s pizza was hard and burnt and my Roman artichokes hung their heads limply as if they had a severe case of erectile dysfunction.

It was sad.

Whenever possible, stay away from any eating establishment close to the train stations, the monuments or any of the touristy areas.

If you find yourself in a touristy area and you are hungry, walk a few streets away from the attraction and you will likely find a great place.

In my experience, you are not taking much of a chance as most restaurants are operated by people who have pride in what they serve you. I can guarantee you that when in Rome you will eat well if you look for restaurants not geared for tourists. 

Roman Ruins
Roman Ruins

5) The history!

Rome was the seat of the entire Roman empire which encompassed all of Europe, a big chunk of the Middle East and the United Kingdom and then some. It was HUGE and Rome was the center of it all.

Everywhere you look in Rome are ancient ruins dating from different times and civilizations in the past.

Sweeping your eyes from one side to another at any raised point in Rome presents a dizzying array of structures each with its own history, people and civilization.

Any of these magnificent structures generally has a tour associated with it. You can learn so much history here in a few days. And the history itself is standing right in front of you.

Italian Roman super savvy travelers
Wonderful Romans

6) Lastly and bestly, The Italians!

I know I promised you five great reasons but I am including my favorite one as a bonus reason.

The Italians I have met in my travels have been the most amazingly wonderful people. 

But what would we expect from the descendants of the greatest ancient empire in the world?

Go and visit them. Visit their cities and revel in their art. There is a reason that the great artists wound up in Italy. And Rome is where it all begins.

Start planning your trip to Rome.  Contact us. We have some of the most radical travel pros standing by and we can craft a perfect vacation for you. 

The Stadium of Domitian

Stairs at Stadium of Domitian

No trip to Rome is complete without a visit to the Piazza Navona, one of the largest public spaces in Rome and a favorite gathering-place for visitors and local Romans alike.

Piazza Navona

It is the home of several famous fountains including (my favorite) Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, or Fountain of the Four Rivers, built between 1647 and 1651. The fountain glorifies the four major rivers of the Old World – The Nile, Ganges, Danube, and Rio Plata.

Fontana Dei Quattro Fiumi

This particular fountain is featured in Dan Brown’s 2000 thriller Angels and Demons, where it is highlighted as the fourth Altar of Science.

But to me, the most fascinating part of Piazza Navona is what cannot be readily seen, unless you know exactly where to look. Hidden below the surface of the piazza are the remains of an enormous stadium having a seating capacity of 30,000 spectators. It was even larger in area than the Colosseum!

In 86 AD (right after Emperor Titus completed the Colosseum in 80 AD), Emperor Domitian built a new stadium to provide a venue for competitive athletics.  It was patterned after similar Greek stadiums and used brick and concrete for the first time in its construction.

The stadium was built in the area shown under the red circled “1” on this map of ancient Rome:

Map of Ancient Rome

The ancient Romans went to the Stadium to watch the agones (games) when it was known as the Circus Agonalis (competition arena). This name was gradually corrupted into in avone, then to navone, and eventually to navona, the current name of the piazza.

The Stadium was eventually abandoned in the 4th century.  In 1477 Pope Sixtus IV relocated the city market to the stadium area and built over the seating area of the old stadium, keeping its original shape and transforming the arena into the present-day Piazza Navona.

Site of the Stadium of Domitian
Site of the Stadium of Domitian

You can still see the remains of one of the main entrances of the Stadium of Domitian at the northwestern end of Piazza Navona. Discreetly tucked away behind a building is an archway of the Stadium set back below street level:

Entrance to Domitian's Stadium (Google Street View)
Entrance to Domitian’s Stadium (Google Street View)

It turns out this is part of a newly-excavated area that you can now visit.  In 2014 the restoration of the archaeological area of the Stadium—now a Unesco World Heritage site— finally opened to the public. The entrance to the associated museum is just past this archway. Here you can descend below street level  and walk amongst the remains of the great Stadium built in 86 AD.

Stairs at Stadium of Domitian Stadium of Domitian Underground

You can even see stamps from the original builders on the masonry!

Masonry Stamp at Stadium of Domitian

The museum has much information on the history of the stadium and has some models of its original design.

Stadium of Domitian Placard

Stadium of Domitian Scale Model

You really get a sense of the layers of Rome as you look back up at the present street level from the Stadium:

Stadium of Domitian Entrance

You can also see a diagram of historical ground surface levels showing the surface of the stadium about 3.5 meters below the current level of the cobblestone pavement of Piazza Navona:

Strata at Stadium of Domitian

Be sure to visit the Stadio di Domiziano Museum the next time you’re in Rome!

Stadio Di Domiziao, Piazza Navona
Via di Tor Sanguigna, 3
06.45686100
stadiodomiziano.com

Tickets: 8 Euro, 6 Euro for ages 12-18, free for under 12 or over 65