Pitigliano’s Jewish Ghetto

In the heart of Pitigliano’s Old Town, at the beginning of via Marghera, just below the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, is the Ghetto, the ancient Jewish quarter.

Built in the second half of the 16th century, after the arrival of the Jewish community in Pitigliano, the Ghetto was the hub of Jewish community life in the Tuscan village.

In the decades following the arrival of the Jewish community in Pitigliano, a Synagogue, ritual bath, bakery, kosher butcher shop and cellar were built in rooms carved in and around the tufa rock cliff.

All these rooms and the Synagogue are now part of Pitigliano’s Jewish museum, which is open every day except Saturdays. Tickets are €5.

Outside Pitigliano is the Jewish Cemetery, but it is closed to the public.

The Jewish Ghetto

The ghetto or Jewish quarter is a place where Jewish citizens were confined to following the enactment of restrictive laws and decrees. The first Italian ghetto was in Venice, originally it was the neighbourhood where the copper foundries were built. In 1516 the government of the Serenissima Republic of Venice forced any Jews who lived in the city to settle in the Ghetto. The Ghetto of Venice was expanded in the following years to accommodate an ever increasing number of inhabitants. The neighbourhood was open during the day but closed from dusk to dawn. The Ghetto stood until 1797, the year the Serenissima Republic of Venice fell.

The example of the Venetian Ghetto was taken up by other Italian and European cities. Until the Middle Ages there were no restrictions for the Jewish population that resided in the Giudecca, the neighbourhoods where Jews lived and did their business. They did not live in these neighbourhood because of any government law, but as a way of protecting their cultural and religious identity.

Only after the enactment of race laws were Jews forcibly confined to ghettos. In 1555 Pope Paul IV issued the Cum nimis absurdum bull, with which he imposed strong restrictions on the Jewish population and asked neighbouring states to establish ghettos. Between the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 18th most of the cities where Jews lived had a ghetto. The same happened in Pitigliano, where Count Niccolò IV Orsini created the Jewish quarter that is now part of an outdoor museum.

Jews could not buy land that was not within the ghetto. Most were not even allowed to buy within the ghetto itself. They were forced to live exclusively inside the ghetto and very often, as the population grew, they became extremely populated and crowded neighbourhoods. At night, the ghettos were closed and no one was allowed to enter or exit until dawn.