Ghetto Fabulous

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Tuesday morning began with a group meeting a meeting of anyone who was awake to collaborate on ideas for the final project, and to also come together and draw a larger scaled map of Rome. Though not everyone was able to help out, I think it was another progressive work day for us as we prepare for the deadline ahead.

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Following our meeting we met as an entire group on Tiber Island, where we were greeted by a cool drizzling rain as well as by Antonella, our beloved, vivacious, and brilliant lecturer/guide. On today’s itinerary was a lesson about the Jewish Ghetto, as well as the history of the Island. Not far into her lecture, the clouds above turned it up a notch and forced us to take refuge under a nearby canopy, where she continued to share her endless knowledge of Rome. What struck me the most about this part of the tour was the information she shared about the hospital on Tiber Island. Almost 500 years after its construction, it still serves as a fully functioning maternity ward, despite its incredibly inconvenient location.

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The rain had settled a bit by then, and we began our walking tour of Trastevere and the Jewish Ghetto. Along the way, Antonella showed us countless examples of palimpsest in places like the Theatre of Marcellus, San Nicola in Carcere, as well as residential neighborhoods in the area. These examples further familiarized us with this very common theme within the Eternal City.

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Next, she told us the history of the Roman Jewish Ghetto. Created in 1555, it was to serve as a bounded neighborhood for the Jewish community . People came from all across the continent to be a part of this community. Eventually, the ghetto was home to about 4,000 Jews that were all housed in a sector no larger than four city blocks. This cramped living environment was all a part of Pope Paul IV’s plan for the ghetto. His vision was to create a living space that would initially draw in the Jewish community, but then to make the experience so unpleasant that they would be willing to convert to Catholicism in order to move out. The neighborhood continued to grow – in identity and in the expression of religion and social life.

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The tour ended in front of Antonella’s favorite Jewish bakery, where we were given the homework assignment to eat a fruit brick pastry served inside. If that wasn’t a good enough conclusion in itself, the clouds above had finally surrendered, and the sky was blue for the first time in a long time. The people of Roma rejoiced.

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