October 06, 2014

Rome's Jewish Ghetto and Pantheon Neighbourhood

While visiting Italy this summer, major restoration projects on the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain altered a planned walking tour, taking us instead through Rome's Jewish Quarter and then on to the ancient Pantheon. 

Theatre of Marcellus

We began at the open-air Theatre of Marcellus, built by the Emperor Augustus and completed in 13 BC. Its circular design served as a model for other structures across the empire, like the Colosseum in Rome. In the 18th century, the Orsini family built a palace on the top level of the structure. In 2012, the Palazzo Orsini was put up for sale with an asking price of $42 million.

Palazzo Orsini

From the Theatre of Marcellus we began our walk through the Jewish Ghetto which was established in 1555. As a security measure, a row of large concrete planters has been placed in front of the modern synagogue.

The Great Synagogue of Rome (left)

The Synagogue's Concrete Planters

The adjacent square, Largo 16 Ottobre 1943, was named in commemoration of the date the Nazis deported over 1,000 Roman Jews to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Only 16 survived.

Largo 16 Ottobre 1943

Today, kosher restaurants and Judaica stores line the neighbourhood's lively main street, Via del Portico d'Ottavia.

Kosher Restaurant Ba" Ghetto Milky

Narrow Streets of the Jewish Quarter

Turtle Fountain on Piazza Mattei

Not far from the Jewish Quarter is Largo Argentina, where Julius Caesar was assassinated. The ancient ruins are now home to stray cats.

The Ruined Temples of Largo Argentina

The Stray Cats of Largo Argentina

The shops along Via de Cestari specialize in clerical apparel and supplies.

Shops on Via de Cestari

Santa Maria sopra Minerva is Rome's only gothic church. In the square fronting the church is an elephant sculpture by Bernini supporting an Egyptian obelisk.

Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva

Bernini's Elephant Sculpture and Egyptian Obelisk

The Nave of Santa Maria sopra Minerva

This was my second visit to the Pantheon but I was still excited when I spotted its rounded dome between these two modern buildings.

The Back of the Pantheon

Street Performers in the Pantheon Neighbourhood

Built 2,000 years ago by the Emperor Hadrian, the Pantheon sits on a small square, Piazza della Rotonda, along with a fountain and yet another Egyptian obelisk. (There are a number of obelisks scattered across the city from both ancient Rome and Egypt.)

Piazza della Rotonda

Pantheon Fountain and Egyptian Obelisk

The Pantheon Portico

When you first walk inside the building, your eyes are drawn up to the oculus in the centre of the dome. Drainage holes have been made in the floor to handle rainfall.

The Dome and Oculus

Drainage Holes in the Pantheon Floor

Pantheon Altar Apse

The Pantheon's dome is so impressive that Renaissance architect Filippo Brunelleschi was given permission to cut out a piece to analyze its composition. He then went on to design the impressive red dome of the cathedral in Florence, Santa Maria del Fiore.

Section of the Dome Cut by Brunelleschi

Brunelleschi's Cathedral Dome, Florence

The first two kings of Italy chose to be buried in the Pantheon, along with Renaissance master Raphael (1483-1520).

Tomb of Raphael

Bust of Raphael

Raphael's Madonna of the Goldfinch
Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Next:  A Taste of Rome on Piazza Navona

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