There are 22 modern-day districts in Rome called RIONI. The Jewish Ghetto is not an official rioni but a commonly referred to neighborhood. This is unlike Monti or Trastevere, which are both modern-day neighborhoods and official rioni.
The boundaries of the Jewish Ghetto are arguable at best but most would agree that Jewish Ghetto extends from Piazza Largo Torre Argentina to the west side of Piazza Venezia, even all the way down to the Temple of Hercules.
It’d be safe to say that part of the Tiber Island could also be considered the Jewish Ghetto all those staunch Romans might say the island is an entity in itself. To hold up on a bigger map, you’ll see the Vatican City in the top left, then the Spanish Steps there in the top center, on the bottom right you’ll see the archeological site known as the ancient city, the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, and then smack dab in the middle you have the Jewish Ghetto. It’s about a 15 to 20 minute walk from the places I’ve listed here.
I urge you to walk as it will unlock Rome’s beauty, but transportation options are listed in our blog, which you can find by clicking the link below in the description. The Tiber Island is home to the oldest standing walking bridge in Rome. It’s called Ponte Fabricius and dates back to 62 BC. That’s over 2,000 years old. Undoubtedly, there have been multiple repairs and updates to this bridge, but you can still read the original inscriptions. Lucius Fabricius, son of Gaius, superintendent of the roads, took care and, likewise, approved that to be built.
The Tiber Island is home to two main attractions: the Church of Saint Bartholomew of the Island and the Hospital of Fatebenefratelli. A hospital may sound like a strange place to call an attraction, but the Tiber Island hospital has been a place of healing for over 500 years. It is also local bragging rights be born here. Many Romans say you are not truly Roman, if you are not born on Tiber Island.
If you head to the Jewish Ghetto, you must stop by Via Portico D’Ottavia. You can sit here and enjoy a coffee to people watch or have a great kosher meal. The authentic mix of ancient-new makes this area very special and, when I say new, I mean 500 years old. The road is named after the ancient structure at the end of it Portico D’Ottavia. Historians say this was once the largest market for fish in ancient Rome.
It makes sense for a few reasons: One. It’s just across the street from where the main port was in ancient Rome. Imagine fishermen bringing their daily catch from the Mediterranean Sea.
The second reason was a nearby Temple of Portuno. Portunus, the temple is named after, was considered a river god and amongst the 12 Roman dieties. That means he was kind of a big deal. The Romans could stop and worship him before and after fishing trips to ensure safety.
The jewish ghetto is also home to the famous Teatro Marcello. If you pass by this your first visit to Rome, you might confuse it with the Colosseum. It’s much smaller holding between 11 and 20,000 spectators. It was also host to a much more refined array of spectacles, mostly theater and dramatics.
An obvious attraction the Jewish Ghetto, which we have not yet mentioned, is the Great Synagogue. It was built just after the unification of Italy in the 1870’s. A beautiful building known for its square dome, differentiating it from all the other churches of Rome.
The Jewish Ghetto is also known for their food, most famous of all are the Jewish style artichokes, which are served fried. They’re served throughout the city, but Nonna Betta is one of the most famous places for this irresistible dish. The dish is called Carciofi alla Giudia, which means Jewish style artichokes. To order it, you’d say: Posso avere un carciofo alla giudia.
A must visit place for a drink and a snack is Da Beppe. Like Nonna Betta, it’s on the main drag Via Portico D’Ottavia Here you can enjoy an extensive range of cheeses, meats, and wines to pair. They offer pastas and other warm dishes as well.
I recommend it! You can’t leave the Jewish Ghetto without visiting the little bakery called Boccione. It’s known for making a cake particular to the area called pizze. A delicious treat you have to try for yourself. It’s loaded with different flavorful ingredients that will quench any hunger. Hop in and ask for their specialty.
A note that everyone should take into account is not to visit the ghetto on Saturdays. Most shops are closed as it’s the Shabbat. The culture mandates that the sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday no work can be conducted. This means that a great time to visit the ghetto is friday evening before sunset. You’ll see people scurrying around to do all the last-minute shopping preparing for the weekly religious holiday.
A great place to hang out and people watch is Fontana delle Tartarughe. An amazing little fountain by Giacomo della Porta in 1588. Bernini was also said to have added small additions to it later in the 17th century. The fountain, like all fountains, was originally built to supply drinking water the area, as well as bathing water. It was and still is powered by the Acqua Vergine Aqueduct. The same duct the powers the Trevi Fountain and many, many other fountains in Rome. The fountain is located in Piazza Mattei, named after the family that commissioned it to be built.
You will notice a few localities for food and beverage here.
Pane, Vino e San Daniele is a great restaurant to visit if you’re looking for a snack. You’ll find all the typical Roman and Jewish dishes served here.
Bartaruga is also a local favorite named after the fountain. You can come here to have a craft cocktail or glass of wine and some excellent chatter from different bar goers or the owner.
From here be sure to walk over to Palazzo Mattei. You’ll find yourself stumbling into a beautiful open courtyard that will introduce you to what life looked like in a sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteen century for the nobles of Rome Next on our list is the famous Largo di Torre Argentina. This is where you’ll find the four oldest temples of Rome. On top of that, you’ll see Rome’s famous cat sanctuary. Rome is known for its stray cats and they find hommage on the steps of these ruined temples of the early republic of Rome.
Julius Caesar was also murdered nearby here. Shakespeare has tricked us all into thinking that it happened in the Roman Forum on the steps of the Senate building, but it’s happened outside the theater of Pompeii which stood two blocks from these ruins.
While in Largo Argentina, you might as well grab a gelato from La Corona. From first glance, it looks a little touristy, I’ll admit, but this is a real deal. An amazing organic artisanal gelato. Why haven’t you heard them until now? These guys focus on making gelato and not press relations or marketing.
Trust me when I say that gelato is freaking awesome! There are tons more to see, but these are some top highlights of the Jewish Ghetto. Hurry up and get exploring!