Jewish history and Regatta!

I didn’t sleep well at all last night so this morning was a bit rough. I powered through the day, but now, at 9:40pm, I’m pretty near exhaustion. I’ll do my best to relay our day, in part because it helps me remember. Each day of travel has so many aspects that writing every night is the only way I can keep track. Even here in Venice, on my 6th visit, there is so much to learn and to experience!

We made our way to the Ghetto, the original “Ghetto” from which all others are named. In Venice, the  rather small island where Jews were allowed to live was originally the site of a foundry, or “geto” in the Venetian dialect. Sometime before 1500 there was a small population of Jews living in the area. After the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal starting in 1492 thousands of Jews fled to other areas of Europe and the Middle East. Many settled in Turkey among the Moslems ,some went to England, and some to Venice. Venice was an independent city, there was no “Italy” until the mid 1800’s. Somewhat like San Francisco, Venice has a history of diversity as it’s trading reach was enormous- across the Mediterrean and into Asia as well as Europe. Jews were useful as commercial go-between screens and as bankers since they had developed systems of currency exchange to facilitate the flow of goods from different parts of Europe. In Venice they were allowed to have one of 4 “professions”- pawnbroker, sales of cloth( schmatta), commerce and medicine.

By 1516 the New Ghetto was established in Venice and the population had reached around 4000 people. The space was small, so building owners added extra stories to their apartment buildings. A the top of several of the buildings are the synagogues, 2 Ashkenazi, 2 Sephardic and one Italian. We were allowed to visit 3 of them, the two Ashnenazi and one Sephardic, the “Levantine ” one. The Spanish synagogue was open yesterday for prayers, but not today for tours. It was a hot afternoon and climbing up to the top floor of these really old structures required some stamina. There were fans going in the sanctuarys, but it was hot!

The synagogues all shared a similar format, more typical of Sephardic than of Ashkenazi synagogues. The “Bima” or speaking area was separate from where the Torah’s are kept, the “Ark”. In most Sephardic synagogues the Bima is a raised platform in the middle of the synagogue space. In each of these, it was at one end of the room, opposite the Ark. Ashkenazi synagogues generally have the Ark on the Bima, but not here. As the tour guide pointed out, these synagogues were designed and built by Gentiles,not Jews.  There were no Jewish architects or craftsmen, so local people,more familiar with the construction of Christian churches were hired. And, as people became successful, the congregations wanted to display their status with the most popular styles of stone and wood carving. In all of the synagogues we saw the elaborate decorations are unlike an other Jewish structures in Europe. Gorgeous marbles, gilded wood and silver hanging lamps along with carved wood pews give these places a formal and incredibly elegant feeling.

After the tour we stopped briefly for lunch outside at a simple cafe run by an Egyptian (right across from one of the synagogues!),then we headed for the Grand Canal to find a place to watch the ceremonial passing of the Doge’s barge along with many others. A great many people were in Renaisance era costumes. Others were rowing standing up on long narrow boats. After the formal procession there were to be races in different categories of boats.

We found a spot right at the vaporetto stop, in front of a church which appeared to be abandoned, hard to tell. There is a raised area, perfect for sitting. On my Facebook page I have tried to post photos. The Internet connection here is very slow and I’m still not seeing the pictures.

There was a long long wait before anything happened. And it was hot, in the direct sun. I drank all of the water I had with me, and Bill offered to go and find me some more! Such a gentleman! I was worried that I might miss the beginning of the procession if I left and Bill is faster than I. The event was supposed to start at 4pm, but we weren’t sure which end of the canal was the beginning. Finally at around 4:30 music blared out from somewhere and the magnificent barges carrying th Doge of Venice and his attendants, floated by. These were unlike any watercraft I’ve ever seen! Gilded, carved with fantastic animals( darn this internet, I do have pictures  and I’ll work on adding them as soon as I can). The people were all in Renaissance costumes waving at the crowds of people lining the long Grand Canal. Then there were lots and lots of other boats mostly rowed by groups of people from clubs, all standing up to row!  Many were in costumes of one sort or the other, some period some related to a profession. Some boats were decorated with fishing related stuff,like traps and nets.Others were featuring produce , and some were kind of pirate-like.

It was a great event, and then we had to walk all the way across Venice to our apartment since the vaporetto service was suspended until  about 7:30pm. Thanks to Bills’s excellent navigation, we arrived back on Calle Lunga de San Barnabas in about 45minutes. That included quite a few bridges (up lots of steps and down lots of steps) and my knees are registering serious complaints. Dinner was at a lovely place outside on the near-by Campo San Barnabas, really about 2 flat blocks along a narrow “street”. Watching people pass by is great dinner entertainment.

Tomorrow we may start to visit some of the famous churches in Venice.  They have amazing art as well as general decoration. One day we will visit Murano, the glass island and little Burano( famous historically for lace, now for being lovely) and then to Torcello, one of my favorite places.

And then there is so much to do and only 4 more days!



Published in: on September 4, 2016 at 8:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

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