10 things to do at the Jewish Ghetto of Rome
Rome's Jewish quarter is one of the treasures of the Eternal City: I tell you how to discover it and what to do to make the most of it.
Visiting the ghetto or Jewish quarter of Rome is one of the things to do in Trastevere. Why? Because it is the oldest in Europe and throughout its history it 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. Every corner and every nook and cranny 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
Tiberina 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 through two bridges, the Cestius Bridge and the Fabricius Bridge, one of the oldest in Rome. In its surroundings you will find cafes, restaurants, food stalls and open-air cinema.
Tiber Island is a place that was historically avoided because of its dark legend and bad omens (the islet is said to have been formed from sediment accumulated over the corpse of Tarquinius 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 3rd 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, which housed two temples dedicated to Jupiter and Juno, as well as a library and a school. It is located in the rione de 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.
In the adjoining church sermons were given and the Jewish community of the quarter was forced to attend, until the eighteenth century when freedom of worship was decreed in Rome.
3. Stop by the Teatro Marcello, the little brother of the Colosseum
If when you see this building you can't help but think of a visit to 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 stop by the area as the lighting is usually very special at nightfall.
4. Take the opportunity to eat in the area
In case you want to organize your experience a bit more, in addition to booking a tour you can make a reservation at a restaurant or cafe if your plan is to have lunch or dinner in the Trastevere area. Many restaurants are closed on Friday nights or even Saturdays, so I recommend visiting the Jewish quarter during the week.
As in the rest of Rome, in the Jewish quarter there are restaurants designed for tourists that I recommend you avoid at all costs and the really good ones fill up quickly, so I recommend you book a table in advance.
5. Contemplate the Fountain of the Turtles, one of the most curious in Rome
From Via d'Ottavia, where the portico is located, you will reach Via di Sant'Ambrogio and from there to Piazza Mattei. There you will find the Fountain of the Turtles, one of the most curious in Rome, and in its surroundings you will 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 here that you realize that the days of 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 the Jewish community of Rome were forcibly taken away. What remains today is just a reminder of an earlier era.
Before continuing your walk, I recommend sitting in Mattei square to watch the people go by and try to imagine what this neighborhood used to be like in the last century.
6. Visit the Synagogue in the Jewish quarter, the jewel in the crown
Rome's synagogue is one of the largest in Europe, and was built to commemorate the moment when the Jews of Italy gained citizenship status.
Its square dome distinguishes it from any other religious building in Rome, and the art nouveau decorations on its exterior make it a distinguished and beautiful temple, 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 playing 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 through the entrance to the Jewish Museum.
7. Stroll along Largo di Torre Argentina, site 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 Theater of Pompey.
Emperor Augustus ordered the construction of a monument to commemorate the site of Julius Caesar's assassination while presiding over the Senate meeting in the Curia of Pompey. Today, you can see the ruins of this building at the Torre Argentina archaeological site.
And if you love cats, this site will become one of your favorites in all of Rome because of the shelter for abandoned cats in the area. You'll see them wandering and playing among the ruins, which gives Torre Argentina a mystical and somewhat unreal aura.
8. Take a guided tour of Rome's Jewish quarter and Trastevere
An alternative to preparing this tour on your own, is to take one of the best guided tours of Rome' s Jewish Quarter and Trastevere, in which you will not miss a single point of interest: the Portico of Octavia, the Marcello Theater, the Fountain of the Turtles and the ruins of Torre Argentina, as well as places like Piazza Farnese and the famous Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere.
For a very affordable price you will have a tour of almost two hours; 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.
9. Taste the pastries 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. From the outside you will not be struck by its small shop window, but I assure you that it is worth entering and choosing one (or more) of its delicatessen.
It is ideal for a snack if you are walking around the area and want to kill your appetite between meals. You will find it on Via del Portico d'Ottavia.
Alex's Traveller Tip
The perfect place to rest from your stroll through the Jewish Quarter is by the Fountain of the Turtles in Mattei Square. There is no place to sit, but the atmosphere of this tiny square and the sound of the water are enough to calm the mind before continuing the visit.
10. Visit the 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 have written a guide that you may find useful: Rome Capitoline Museums Tickets: how to buy and what to see.
On the other side of the Tiber River, across from the Jewish quarter, is the Trastevere neighborhood, one of the most frequented areas by tourists and locals alike in the city of Rome. Before you go there, I recommend you take a look at our guide to Trastevere: 14 things to see and do in the Trastevere neighbourhood.
How to prepare 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. Read on and I will share with you all the tips that will help you to enjoy the experience to the fullest and spend a great afternoon in this area of the city.
Where is the Jewish Quarter of Rome
The great thing about the Jewish quarter is that it is actually part of the center of Rome, even though it may seem like it is 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 Vittorio Emanuele monument. The Jewish ghetto is the area 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?
To complete the itinerary I have given you in this article, it took me about three hours. 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 Rome's Jewish quarter in an hour and a half to two hours.
My recommendation, especially if you go in summer, is to set aside an afternoon to walk around here and have a drink in the Tiber Island area and sit and enjoy the sunset reflecting on the river.
This, of course, changes if you decide to book a guided tour of this area, as this experience will take you on a slightly different and shorter tour.