Rome is home to Europe's oldest continuous Jewish community, dating back as early the 3rd century BC.
In the 16th century, hostility towards the Jewish community was on the rise, and Pope Paul IV confined the Jews of Rome to the 21/2-acre area now known as the Jewish Ghetto. Built on a frequently flooded bend of the Tiber River, a wall was built around it, a curfew was imposed and living conditions were crowded and unhygienic.
More than 4,000 people remained confined to this small part of the city until Italian unification in the 19th century. Hence, today the Jewish Ghetto is both a source of pride and a reminder of a painful past. Most of the old buildings of the Ghetto were demolished over time; the old synagogue was destroyed by a fire in 1893.
Now that site boasts a school, a new synagogue, and other buildings dating from the turn of the century. Many Jewish families remain in the area; the synagogue is open for services only and an employs an armed guard.