Hidden in the heart of Trastevere is the Jewish quarter of the city, the oldest in Europe, which throughout its history grew to house a very important Jewish community.
Today, Rome's Jewish quarter is an area of boutiques, kosher restaurants, and pastry shops, and home to the city's synagogue. At every corner of this neighborhood, there is a place to lose yourself in, with ancient markets, fountains, and theaters, which you can discover on one of the best walks in all of Rome.
Here are all the must-see sites in Rome's Jewish quarter:
1. Cross to Tiber Island, a place to enjoy the summer
The Tiber Island is a great place to spend a summer afternoon in Rome. This boat-shaped island is located in the middle of the Tiber River and is connected to Trastevere and the Jewish Quarter by two bridges, the Cestio and Fabricius bridges, among the oldests in Rome. In its surroundings, you will find cafes, restaurants, food stalls, and an open-air cinema.
In fact, the best time of the year to visit Tiber Island is the first Saturday after July 16, when the fiesta dei Noantri is celebrated in honor of the Madonna del Carmine, and the surrounding streets are filled with magic, in a celebration for Catholics and atheists alike.
Tiber Island is a place that was historically avoided because of its dark legend and bad omens (it is said that the islet was formed with the sediments accumulated over the corpse of Tarquinio the Superb, the last Etruscan king of Rome) and where a temple to the Roman god of Medicine was built to stop the advance of the plague in the third century. This is something I love about Rome: every place holds a story you don't expect.
2. Admire the Portico of Octavia, a historic building.
The Portico of Octavia is a building from ancient times, built by Octavia the Younger, sister of Emperor Augustus. It housed two temples dedicated to Jupiter and Juno, as well as a library and a school. It is located in the rione of Sant'Angelo, which is considered the main street of the Jewish quarter of Rome, and what today looks like a ruin is actually a building full of history.
Sermons were given in the adjoining church, which the Jewish community of the neighborhood was forced to attend until the freedom of worship was decreed in Rome in the eighteenth century.
3. Stop by the Teatro Marcello, the little brother of the Colosseum
If seeing this building makes you think of the Colosseum, you should know that the Teatro Marcello was something like the sketch of the most important building in Rome. It is an open-air theater from the time of Augustus, where musical and theatrical performances were held.
Today, the theater houses an ancient palace converted into private residences, and popular shows are still held in the surrounding area, especially in summer. If you are traveling to Rome during the summer season, I recommend you to visit the area because the lighting is usually very special at nightfall.
4. Contemplate the Turtle Fountain, one of the most unique fountains in Rome
From Via d'Ottavia, where the portico is located, you will reach Via di Sant'Ambrogio and from there piazza Mattei. There you will find the Turtle Fountain, one of the most unusual fountains in Rome, and in its surroundings, you can see remnants of the history of the people who lived in this neighborhood, with golden plaques that remember the Jews who were killed in concentration camps.
It is at this moment that you realize that the days of hustle and bustle that filled the neighborhood with life ended in 1943, when in a single day about 2,000 of the 7,000 people who were part of Rome's Jewish community were forcibly taken away. What remains today is only a memory of an earlier era.
Before continuing your walk, I recommend you to sit in Mattei square to watch people passing by and try to imagine how this neighborhood used to be a century ago.
5. Visit the Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter, the jewel in the crown
The synagogue in Rome is one of the largest in Europe, and was built to commemorate the moment when the Jews of Italy obtained the status of citizens.
Its square-shaped dome distinguishes it from any other religious building in Rome, and the art nouveau decorations of its exterior make it a temple of notable beauty, especially when the sun shines on its columns and stained glass windows.
If you are lucky, you will pass by the synagogue in the Jewish quarter when music is being played inside on its impressive organ. If you have time to spare, I recommend going inside and admiring the colorful interior of the building, which you can only do on a guided tour included in the tickets for the Jewish Museum.
6. Stroll along Largo di Torre Argentina, the place of Julius Caesar's death
To end your tour of Rome's Jewish quarter, you will find Largo di Torre Argentina square to the north. Here you can see ruins from the time of the Republic: four Roman temples and what remains of the ancient Curia of Pompey.
Emperor Augustus had a monument built to commemorate the place of Julius Caesar's assassination. Today, you can see the ruins of this building at the archaeological site of Torre Argentina.
And if you love cats, this place will become one of your favorites in all of Rome because of the abandoned cat shelter found in the area. You'll see them wandering and playing among the ruins, which gives Torre Argentina a mystical and somewhat unreal aura.
7. Take a guided tour of Rome's Jewish Quarter and Trastevere
An alternative to preparing this tour on your own is to take a guided tour of Rome's Jewish quarter and Trastevere, in which you will not miss any of its points of interest: the Portico of Octavia, the Marcello Theater, the Fountain of the Turtles and the ruins of Torre Argentina, as well as places such as Piazza Farnese and the famous Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere.
With a price of $ 4 and a duration of 90 to 120 minutes, it is a very good option if you are making a shorter trip to Rome and do not have time to organize your visit but do not want to miss the Jewish quarter.
8. Don't miss the spectacular food of the Jewish Quarter
I suggest you make a reservation in a restaurant or cafe if your plan is to have lunch or dinner in the area. Many restaurants are closed on Friday nights or even Saturdays, so it's best to visit the Jewish quarter during the week.
As in the rest of Rome, in the Jewish quarter, it is easy to fall into tourist traps disguised as quality eateries. It's hard to find a table at the most authentic restaurants in this area, so I recommend you do some research and book a table in advance.
9. Taste the sweets at Pasticceria Boccione
In the narrow streets of the Jewish quarter, you will find more than one local store with typical products of Jewish heritage, but my favorite is undoubtedly the Pasticceria Boccione. Its small shop window may not seem like much, but I assure you that their mouth-watering delicacies will blow your mind away.
It is ideal for a snack if you are walking around the area and feeling hungry. You will find it in Via del Portico d'Ottavia.
Alex's Traveller Tip
The perfect place to rest from your stroll through the Jewish Quarter is by the Turtle Fountain in Mattei Square. There's no place to sit, but the atmosphere of this tiny square and the sound of the water is enough to calm the mind before continuing the tour.
10. Visit the Jewish quarter's surroundings
Rome's Jewish quarter is close to Piazza Venezia and Piazza del Campidoglio, so a visit to the Capitoline Museums can be a perfect way to spend the day. If you want to read more about this experience, I've written a guide that you may find useful: Capitoline Museums tickets.
On the other side of the Tiber river, across from the Jewish quarter, is the Trastevere district, one of the most frequented areas by tourists and locals in the city of Rome. Before you go there, I recommend you to take a look at our guide to Trastevere: Trastevere Tours.
11. How to prepare for a visit to the Jewish Quarter of Rome
You already know what you have to see in the Jewish Quarter of Rome, now you just need to know how to do it. Read on and I will share with you all the traveler tips and tricks that will help you enjoy the experience to the fullest and have a great afternoon in this area of the city.
Where is the Jewish quarter of Rome?
The nice thing about the Jewish quarter is that it is actually part of the center of Rome, even though it may seem like a separate area that you need to prepare for and set aside a whole day for. Not at all: the easiest way to start exploring the Jewish quarter is to get to Piazza Venezia or the monument to Vittorio Emanuele. The Jewish ghetto is the area to the southwest of this location, bounded by Via delle Botteghe Oscure (to the north), the river (to the south), Via del Teatro di Marcello (to the east) and Via Arenula (to the west).
How long does it take to visit the Jewish quarter of Rome?
It took me about three hours to complete the itinerary I have indicated in this article. Considering how much I stopped to admire details, get a little lost, and explore what caught my eye along the way, I'd say you can even visit the Jewish quarter of Rome in an hour and a half to two hours.
My recommendation, especially if you go in summer, is to set aside an afternoon to stroll around here and have a drink in the Tiber Island area and sit and enjoy the sunset reflecting on the river.
Of course, if you decide to book a guided tour of this area, it will take you on a slightly different and shorter tour.