The Jewish Cemetery
"Four furlongs of ground, within this wall, licence to eternity,” so reads the epigraph of the Rabbi Leone da Modena (1571-1648). It can be seen at the entrance to the old Jewish Cemetery, located in a tree lined road looking out over the lagoon and near the church of San Nicolò.
It was made into a cemetery in 1389 after the Venetian Republic along with the Magistrates of Piovego, conceded land for Jewish burial to two representatives of the community, Salomone and Crisante near the Benedictine monastery in 1386. The establishment of the cemetery is the first sign of the Jewish community putting down roots in Venice. They were forced into ghettos in 1516.
The first tomb to be laid was that of Samuel den Shinshon, in 1389 (5150 of the Jewish Calendar).
The cemetery continued to be used from then on and reached its full capacity in 1641. In the following years, because of the fortifications of defences on Lido to protect the city from the Turks, the cemetery was changed and then fell into disuse. Then followed a series of foreign governments to take over Venice and vandalism. In the 19th century during Lido’s golden era of growth and planning, a part of the land was taken and put to different uses. It reached its height in 1938 with the growth of anti-racial laws in Italy and was then abandoned definitively.
Fortunately toward the end of the ‘80s, the Jewish Committee from Venice, under Professor Cesare Vivante, undertook the restoration of the cemetery in memory and as a witness of the centuries of Hebrew presence in the city. The work presented many difficulties. There was the eastern part of the cemetery that needed inspecting and work where ground water had been discovered, the wall between the Catholic and Jewish cemetery needed fixing, the grounds were densely covered with bushes and trees and needed clearing and finally the tombstones needed fixing and posing again.
In 1999, the work came together thanks to public and private, Italian and international financing (from the region, the city city council, Save Venice, Steven H. and Alida Brill Scheuer Foundation, World Monument Fund, Venice in Peril Fund).
More than one thousands tombstones were recovered dating from 1550 to the beginning of the 1700s. The work has given dignity back to this place rich in history and memories. It has given an identity back to the entire Hebrew community.
The tombs of Bet-Hayyim, the house of the living, are made up of simple tombstones covered with little stones as the Hebrew tradition dictates. They rest now in a peaceful place, surrounded by Cypresses that inspired the poets of the 19th century like Goethe, Byron and Shelley and recently the writer from Ferrara, Giorgio Bassani in his book, Giardino dei Finzi Contini (The Garden of the Finzi Contini).
From the main wrought iron gate, the first thing that one sees is an obelisk in the centre of the cemetery. It is inscribed with the words: “25th September, 1386, House of the Living, ancient from the year 5.149.” Lido’s cemetery is in fact one of the oldest in Europe after Prague’s famous Hebrew cemetery.
Guided tours: bookings only
Hours: closed Saturday and Jewish feast days, the 25th December, 1st January, 1st May.
Telephone: 041 715 359
How to get there: boat lines ACTV n. 1-51-52-61 boat stop Lido S. M. Elisabetta, 10 minutes walk from the boat.