The word ghetto, from the Latin word gettare, means to pour or to cast. This Italian word was first used by the Venetians, who forced Jews to live behind walls in the most miserable part of the city near an iron foundry. The Ghetto in Venice was not the first, nor the last European restricted Jewish area. As early as 1179, the third “Lateran Council” of the Catholic Church decided that Christians should not live together with Jews. In Italy as in Europe, Jews began being confined in separate quarters in the late Middle Ages. As the Christianization of the European people spread, so did the idea to separate the Jews from the rest of the population in order to avoid the “contagion”, in this case to preserve Christians from alleged Jewish proselytism.
The age of the ghettos in Italy extended roughly from the 16th century with the Counter-Reformation to the19th century, with the Italian Unification.
Throughout the 17th century, the Church increased pressure on the various Italian states to enforce the segregation of the Jewish people. Many new ghettos were created throughout the Italian territory, among others in Ferrara, Urbino, Padua, Verona. In Mantua, where the Pope imposed the construction of a ghetto to the Duke Vincenzo I, the local Jews saw this as a form of protection and financed entirely its construction. In Modena and Reggio the ghetto rules were less oppressive and some merchants were allowed to continue their activities outside the ghetto walls.
Livorno was an exception: here the Grand Dukes of Tuscany granted hospitality to all foreigners- including Jews- in order to transform Livorno into an important commercial center. The large Jewish population of Livorno was concentrated in the area around the Synagogue, but a ghetto was never built.
Ghettos were not confined to cities, they were also present in small towns. The ghetto became the most standard for the daily life of the majority of Jews in central and northern Italy until the arrival of the Napoleonic troops.
Many towns and cities in southern Italy, Sicily and Sardinia had flourishing Jewish communities up to 1540. Often Jews lived in their own quarters, yet there were no formal ghettos.
A partial census of former ghettos in Italy includes the following locations.
Ghetto of Turin (1679-1848), Ghetto of Fossano (1705-1848), Ghetto of Alessandria (1723-1848), Ghetto of Asti (1723-1848), Ghetto of Casale Monferrato (1723-1848), Ghetto of Nizza Monferrato (1723-1848), Ghetto of Trino (1723-1848), Ghetto of Vercelli (1723-1848), Ghetto of Biella (1724-1848), Ghetto of Carmagnola (1724-1848), Ghetto of Chieri (1724-1848), Ghetto of Cuneo (1724-1848), Ghetto of Ivrea (1724-1848), Ghetto of Mondovì (1724-1848), Ghetto of Saluzzo (1724-1848), Ghetto of Acqui Terme (1731-1848), Ghetto of Moncalvo (1732-1848), Ghetto of Cherasco (1740-1848), Ghetto of Savigliano (1774-1848).
Ghetto of Mantova (1612-1798), Ghetto of Iseo
Ghettoof Venice (1516-1797), Ghetto of Verona (1600-1797),
Ghetto of Padua (1603-1797)
Ghetto of Trieste (1684-1784), Ghetto of Gorizia (1698-1784), Ghettoof Gradisca (1769-1782)
Ghetto of Bologna (1566-1859), Ghetto of Ferrara (1627-1859), Ghetto of Cento (1638-1831), Ghetto of Reggio Emilia (1669-1797)
Ghetto of Florence (1571-1848), Ghetto of Siena (1571-1848), Ghetto of Pitigliano (1622-1861)
Ghetto of Ancona (1555-1861), Ghetto of Pesaro (1632-1861), Ghetto di Urbino (1633-1861), Ghetto of Senigallia (1634-1861)
Ghetto di Roma (1555-1870)