1492: the first ghetto

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue, right? But who rembers that the king of Spain, Columbus's patron, expelled 300,000 Jews from Iberia the same year that his adventurous sailor, Cristobal Colon, set foot in the Carribean?

Ferrara castello.JPG Ghetto street.JPG Plaque outside synagogue.JPG
Ferrara's Castello, medieval street, commemorative plaque outside Sephardic synagogue

Enter the Duke of Este, nominally the Vatican's colonial administrator in Ferrara, who, on his own initiative, issued a historic invitation to the Jewish refugees: come here, come to Ferrara, settle in my town here on the banks of the Po in northern Italy.

There was already a thriving Jewish community under the Duke's tolerant and enlightened rule. No dummy, that Este. He knew that the Jews were educated: to undergo Bar Mitzvah, a Jewish lad has to read and write. His Catholic subjects, by contrast, were largely illiterate. Out of Ferrara's population of 30,000 in the 15th century, 2,500 were Jews who maintained six synagogues.

So the Iberian Jews came to Ferrara, started a seventh, Sephardic synagogue and prospered for almost 500 years. An establishment that lasted until the shameful betrayal of Italy's Jews in the 1930s. (Bassani's 1965 novel and De Sica's 1971 film The Garden of the Finzi-Contini are set in Ferrara.) Parenthetically, the Jews who settled in nearby Venice were required to live in a dingy industrial neighborhood, Cannaregio, site of the city's foundries. The local term for slag-heap: ghetto. Today? Well, Ferrara's historic medieval "ghetto" is its liveliest neighborhood.

More food & wine dispatches from Ferrara shortly.

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This page contains a single entry by Cornichon published on December 8, 2006 8:50 PM.

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