VENICE AND THE JEWS… AND SHYLOCK OF SHAKESPEARE
On the 29th of March 1516, the Senate of the Republic passed a law that had no precedent in the history of the city; the new law allowed Jews to reside in Venice as permanent residents. However there were restrictions. The Jews were only allowed to live in a segregated area. Before the Jews settled there the Venetians called this area the ‘getto’ (in reference to the word for foundry in Venetian) because it had been a place where foundries for the construction of cannons for Venetian ships were located. It is believed that the first Jews from Northern Europe and of Ashkenazi origin coined the term ‘ghetto’ because they pronounced ‘getto’ with a strong ‘h’. Thus the first ghetto in history was formed.
In Venice, a city of commerce, it was necessary to be able to borrow money.
Initially the Christians of the Monti di Carità carried out this activity, but soon the loaning of money was considered contrary to the Christian dictates and thus the Monti di Carità was closed. And it is for this reason that the Republic officially allowed the Jews to do the necessary job of lending money. However history tells us that the Jews were, in fact, already money lenders in the fourteenth century. So the Venetian Republic legislated an activity that was already in practice. The new law established that the loaning of money would be allowed with taxes and rates fixed by the Republic.
This money lending activity was carried out above or around three pawnshops in the Campo del Ghetto. These three stalls, which survived until the end of the republic in 1797, were identified by red, green and black signs. Until recently, it was possible to visit the restored Banco Rosso. However, it is now closed to the public. The Banco Rosso is considered to be one of the first Jewish pawnshops in the world. The name of the bank comes from the red receipt that customers received when they left an object at the shop in exchange for some money. It is thought that the banking term ‘in the red’ comes from this ancient Venetian pawnshop.
The theme of our Venice escape room is the famous comedy ‘The Merchant of Venice’ by William Shakespeare. In this story, the Jews are seen as usurers full of money and greed. In reality, they were usurers because the Church and the laws of the countries in which the Jews resided attributed this trade only to them.
Sources: “Maybe Not Everyone Knows That… in Venice” by Alberto Toso Fei.
VOTIVE BRIDGES: THE MADONNA OF HEALTH AND THE REDEEMER
Do you know why, even today, Venetians built floating votive bridges (and still they do) for the most important festivals?
The answer is simple. Apart from the Rialto bridge in the Grand Canal, there were no fixed bridges! The tradition began because only one bridge – that of Rialto – served the Canal. It was a hinge for the entire structure of the city and most of the movements were by boat. Even today there are only four bridges over the Grand Canal (including the last one in 2008, the controversial Ponte della Costituzione). This fact contributes to keeping the tradition alive.
In 1631 the Serenissima had to thank the Madonna for saving the city from the plague and it was certainly not possible to ferry the whole city along the Grand Canal to reach the new Votive Temple of the “Madonna della Salute”. Then Venetians built a bridge with floating boats. The government decided to repeat every year, as a sign of thanks, the procession in honor of the Madonna called since then “Health”. The Feast of the Madonna della Salute, still very much felt by the Venetians, is on 21th November.
But did the Votive Bridge of the Madonna della Salute or the Redentore Festival in the Giudecca Canal (which is on the third Sunday in July) come first?
The oldest bridge is the Votive Bridge of the Redeemer. Built after the plague of 1577 and was 310 meters long! So for the Venetians, building the Ponte della Salute, much shorter, was by now a joke. The Ponte del Redentore wins therefore also for dimensions. The bridge currently built is 311 meters long and weighs 500 tons, in 14 spans supported by boats (see also the post https://www.escapevenice.it/2018/07/13/feast-of-the-redeemer-the-feast-of-the-venetians/)