Rome is home to the world’s oldest continuous Jewish community in all of Europe! Capital of Italy and previously the Roman Empire, it is also referred to as the ‘Eternal City’. Jews have lived in Rome for thousands of years, and have always played a vital role in its vibrant history.
One begins to explore Jewish Rome at the Portico di Ottavia, built by Emperor Augustus as a tribute to the Roman gods Jupiter and Juno. The impressive ruins of the gate served as boundary for the Jewish ghetto established in the 16th century by Pope Paul IV. Another of its boundaries is the romantic Tiber River and overlooking the river is the Great Synagogue, founded in 1904. Pope John Paul II is the first Pope known to have made an official visit to this house of worship. Next to the Great Synagogue is the Museo Ebraico di Roma, the Jewish Museum of Rome. Opened in 1959, it is one of the oldest Jewish Museums in Europe. Most impressive is the collection of Torah covers made with fabric dating back to between the 16th and 18th centuries.
Meander through the winding, narrow streets of the ghetto to get an idea of what life used to be like for the Jews who lived there and how that compares to life today, where the ghetto, no longer walled, is the modern heart and gathering place of the Jewish community. The Spanish Synagogue (Tempio Spagnolo) houses some of the original furnishing of the Cinque Scola and previous Sephardic synagogues. You will see the famous Fontana delle Tartarughe (The Turtle Fountain) a whimsical find in the middle of the ghetto, designed by Giacomo della Porto. The turtles were later added, and are attributed to Gian Lorenzo Bernini, designer of the famous Colonnade in St. Peter's Square. In the central square of the ghetto, members of today’s community congregate daily. In the Jewish Bakery one may sample the Roman specialty, “Jewish Pizza,” a must try on any trip to Rome!
The Roman Jewish Ghetto may be small, but it is packed with history and the vitality of the present-day community. Your Milk & Honey Tours guide is ready to take you on a fascinating journey through over 2,000 years! A longer Jewish and main sites tour, told from a Jewish perspective, will include the most famous outdoor sights of the Eternal City including Campo dei Fiori, Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, the Column of Marcus Aurelius, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps as well as some intimate, less known sites. The Jewish Vatican Tour covers selections from the world’s largest museum – over 2,000 rooms filled with masterpieces! Herein one finds Jewish gravestones (not always open) and sarcophagi dating back 17 centuries. Naturally the highlight is the Sistine Chapel where Michelangelo's frescoes hide Jewish messages! During the tour we will also visit the Greek and Roman sculptures that inspired the great Renaissance artists, the galleries of candelabras, tapestries, and maps, the Basilica of St. Peter, and finally St. Peter’s Square where the Swiss guards stand at attention. Attend an Itaiki – Italian rites – service at the Great Synagogue of Rome (Tempio Maggio) because in Rome one should do as the Jewish Romans do!
Rome is also one of our many port destinations. If you plan to come to your guided tour(s) by cruise ship, we would be more than happy to arrange for your transfer and arrival!
Day Trip to Ostia
Visit this 2,000 year old town to learn about port city life in ancient times. See apartment buildings, a theatre, a laundromat, and more from the period in this beautifully historic seaside town. The second-oldest synagogue in the world is also not to be missed.
Travel east from Rome to visit Tivoli’s Villa D’Este Gardens. Built 450 years ago by a Cardinal with a desire to impress his guests, the lush gardens and hundreds of fountains – true feats of engineering since they work using gravity and pressure but no pumping systems – are simply beautiful.