Via Giudecca Vecchia and the history of the Jews in Naples

by Federico Quagliuolo

In the background a torn poster: “Forcella is here!”. Around us the classic chaos of the popular districts of the historic center. This is Via Giudecca Vecchia, the last street that in the name testifies to the presence ofancient seat of the Neapolitan Jewish community.

Actually the Jews in Naples, until the end of the era medieval, they were pretty much everywhere in the city as well they were divided into three giudecche, that is, the streets where the communities were concentrated. And then they were all driven out in 1540, from Peter of Toledo, and they returned only with the Bourbon.

Even today we find many traces of their history in street names of the city.

Jews in Naples

When did the Jews arrive in Naples?

That of Forcella was one of the three Giudecche of Naples. However, we must not imagine them as ghettos where they were relegated, but as streets where all the exponents of various communities were gathered. This thing was common in the Middle Ages, at the time of the Angevins, and for this we note numerous roads with the names of cities or towns (such as Loggia dei Pisani, via dei Fiorentini, Rua Catalana and the like), which were usually also divided by craft.
The Jews kept theirs corporate social structure even in more modern times: this is the reason that makes us find the Jewish quarters several times even in the following centuries, when instead the guilds of arts and crafts began to lose their "aggregative" characteristic.

We don't know exactly when the Jews came established in Naples, but most likely already in Roman times there was a strong community settled in the city, while we are more than sure that a Pompeii they were already present for a long time, thanks to the inscriptions found in the excavations and explained in the book "The Jews in Pompeii ", by Carlo Giordano and Isidoro Kahn.

Other studies, on the other hand, trace it back the arrival of the Jews in Campania to the fundamental role it played Pozzuoli in ancient times, as the most important port in mainland Italy.

The first Giudecca of Naples

There first Giudecca of Naples it was not that of “Via Giudecca Vecchia”, as the name might suggest.
In fact, Gino Doria explains to us that it was most likely in what in the Middle Ages was called "Vicus Iudeorum". Today is the current Vico Limoncello, which is located between Decumano Superiore, known today as Strada dell'Anticaglia, e Way of Consolation, which is located just behind theHospital of the Incurables.

Here was also the church of San Gennaro Spogliamorti, dating back even to VIII century, so called precisely because there was the custom of "stripping" the dead of their precious goods and then reselling them to Jewish market, which not surprisingly was located right along the road.

According to other scholars, as the detailed article by Claudia Campagnano on the site of the Neapolitan Jewish Community, the first settlement of the Jews was in the parts of Colle Monterone, where there was also one synagogue which no longer exists.

Via Giudecca Vecchia
Via Giudecca Vecchia today, photo by Federico Quagliuolo

Via Giudecca Vecchia, the second community

There Giudecca di Forcella we find it later in time, probably at the time of Frederick II. We know for sure that it was in a quite peripheral point of Naples (if we think that the walls of the time ended more or less at the height of Via Duomo) and was the second settlement in the city, which it actually lasted a little over a century.

In this period, actually, the most lively Jewish community in Campania he was in Salerno. We discover this thanks to lots of traffic made in the markets on the occasion of Salerno Fairs, which they took place twice a year in the city. Then the Angevins they completely changed the cards on the table, establishing Naples as the center of the kingdom also economically, as well as politically. And the Jews again moved, this time a lot near the port.

Giudecca Grande Jews Naples
An engraving representing a warehouse of the Giudecca Grande

Via Nova della Giudecca and the expulsion of the Jews

The last Jewish Giudecca was the one identified as "new“, Which today no longer exists due to the Remediation, when it was completely razed the medieval quarter of Naples to the ground. She was known in her later years as "Via Giudecca Grande" and it was a Jewish quarter that reached as far as the church of San Giovanni in Corte, in Borgo degli Orefici.

It was probably populated by the community under the reign of Robert of Anjou and was in the parts of San Marcellino, indicatively at Piazza Portanova. The place was strategically perfect: it was indeed located near the port, that the dynasty of Charles of Anjou enlarged and strengthened. To the east, however, the new one could be reached in a few minutes Market Square, which became the city market ousting the "Old Market", which we know today as Piazza San Gaetano.
Another ancient synagogue near Portanova it then became the church of Santa Caterina Spinacorona, as told in the German book “L'Ebreo di Napoli” by Ernst Munkácsi.

The eye for business, in short, it never fails. Moreover we know that during the Aragonese period there was one of the most favorable historical moments for Jews in the city, also due to their expulsion from Spain. Isaac Abrabanel, very famous Portuguese philosopher and rabbi of the sixteenth century, was for example one of the closest collaborators of Alfonso II of Aragon.

Then came the Viceroyalty and under Peter of Toledo, in 1540 all the Jews were also expelled from Naples. They had actually been there for several years episodes of intolerance towards the community, as Giovanni Antonio tells us Summonte in the history of "Seven C of Naples".
The decree of expulsion of the Jews he explained, in his motivation, that they were all Jews usurers, in addition to the fact that they used to rob corpses, which goes against religion. These activities "abject" And "cursed by God"Were leading to the ruin the Neapolitan citizens. Most likely it was just a pretext, as many historians have shown that, in fact, usury was not a common practice for Jewish traders.

Carl Von Rothschild Jewish community in Naples
Carl von Rothschild, the progenitor of the Rothschild family of Naples

The return of the Jews to Naples

We will have to wait two centuries to find them in the city: in this case he will think about it Bernardo Tanucci, who invited them to return on the advice of Charles of Bourbon in 1740. Then, however, there he thought again and 6 years later they were again walk away.

Naples and the Jewish world yes met again in the 19th century: in fact, i Rothschild, one of the oldest and richest banking families in the world. It was bought Villa Pignatelli and, from that moment, the Riviera di Chiaia became a new meeting point for the reborn Jewish community of Naples, even if it was no longer the times of the streets that took their name from popular customs. In the final decades of the 19th century they will arrive numerous names that marked the life of the Campania region: from Matteo Schilizzi, the very strange banker from Livorno, to Giorgio Ascarelli, the most loved president of Napoli. Coming to the tragedy of Luciana Pacifici, there youngest victim of racial laws.

And today, in new and free times, it remains survivor just that name of "Via Giudecca Vecchia“, Which recalls the history of a people with an ancient culture who has never really abandoned the streets of Naples, even in all intense and complex events that characterized Jewish history in the city and in the world.

-Federico Quagliuolo

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