Narrating Over theGhetto of Rome
L. Scott Lerner
or three centuries a walled ghetto separated the city’s Jews fromthe rest of the population, its gates opening at dawn and closingat dusk.
In the form of a rectangular trapezoid, the ghettocontained two main streets running parallel to the Tiber, several smallstreets and alleys, three
that together occupieda third of the seven-acre enclosure. The space was densely populated,and extraordinary measures had followed population growth: addi-tional stories perched atop row houses with annex constructions pro-truding every which way. (See Figure 1.) Except for interludes underNapoleon and the Roman Republics (1798–99, 1808–15, 1849), theghetto operated under papal control until the unification of Rome with Italy in 1870.
Even under the new regime, the quarter remainedthe center of Jewish life in the city. Shops lined the streets, and many Jews, especially the poor, continued to reside within the old confines,together with a religious school, a rabbinical college, benevolent aidsocieties, and five small synagogues in a single edifice called theCinque Scole.
(See Figure 2.) Then, in 1885, 330 years after Paul IV ordered local Jews into the ghetto, the City of Rome ordered them out.Rome was now the capital of the Third Italy, and city officials hadbegun to worry about its appearance. Major public works wereannounced; after centuries of neglect, whole districts were slated forface-lifting. At the top of the list appeared the ghetto, whose
was deemed “indispensable before any other urban initia-tive.”
As a bureaucratic term, “risanamento” is unusually evocative.
means healthy; risanamento connotes a return to health. When