Many of my followers know the map of Venice, her winding streets and watery ways, better than I do. You can look at a photo and name the location, or hear a bridge name and tell me where it is. But do you know where in Venice is the Contrada dell’Unione?
“Thanks be given to the immortal Bonaparte who has broken the bonds of Italian servitude. Thanks to the unvanquished Italian Army, which has blazed our path to freedom. … Thanks to the fervent Municipalists, who have destroyed the sign of that most unjust division, by having those infamous Gates, Trophies of ignorance, torn down” (p. 254, Calimani’s The Ghetto of Venice).
When the city removed the Ghetto gates and declared equal freedom and treatment for the Jewish citizens, some felt that the Ghetto should be renamed to honor that change. Samuele Romanin said, “One sign of progress was the recognition of the Jews as the equals of other citizens. Not only did three of them sit among ex-noblemen and churchmen in the municipal government, but on July 11 the ghetto gates were torn down, and that name, a reminder of barbarous times, was abolished and replaced by that of Contrada dell’Unione.”
Another name was also proposed: Contrada dell’Reunione, offered by Pier Gian Marie de Ferrari (252). Here is a portion of his account of the day the gates came down: “Later there were several popular addresses worthy of mention…. Meanwhile the Ghetto Gates were borne in triumph by the crowd of People that had rushed up to the Gates to snatch them from the Citizens and the ordained Workmen, and were broken into pieces in the New Ghetto Square before the National Guard, where in the sight of all, and with exultant cries of joy, they were consigned to the flames, which rapidly consumed them. Then it was moved by Citizens Goldoni and Momolo Grego, suggested by their patriotic sentiment, that a Liberty Tree would be appropriate in that Square, and no sooner did the idea catch on, than all impatiently responded by searching for the object. The National Guard went off and, entering a nearby Garden, in a moment cut down a Tree which was carried in triumph with Patriotic Hymns to the middle of the aforesaid Square, where it was set up, and a virtuous Citizeness sacrificed the adornment of her National Cap from her Head to crown the Liberty Tree. The Patriotic Dances were repeated, with democratic disposition” (251-52). (Sorry for the long quotes, but their words capture it better than I can recreate it!)
Venice’s ghetto was the first such-named enclave in the world, the word being taken from “gettare,” to forge iron, because the neighborhood used to house the city’s iron foundries. We’re coming up on the 500th anniversary of Venice’s ghetto in just a couple months, so this seems like a good time to share some tidbits of its history. Who knew that it wasn’t always called the Ghetto? Alas, the name didn’t stick, and despite these Patriotic Dances, the virtuous Citizeness, and all the running around in triumph, the original term of ghetto was returned quickly to the neighborhood.
(The photos are mine, but the map of the Ghetto gates comes from here: https://depts.washington.edu/hrome/Authors/kayanna/JewishGhettoandtheSynagogue/pub_zbarticle_view_printable.html) Calimani’s book is the best source I’ve found for a comprehensive history of the Ghetto.