Naples is a city rich in history and culture, shaped by diverse communities throughout its past. The ancient Jewish quarter stands as a fascinating repository of memories, where the stories of the ghettos intertwine with modernity.
The Jewish history in Naples dates back centuries, with the Jewish residents concentrated in three distinct ghettos. The first ghetto, likely from the Middle Ages, known as Vicus Iudeorum, is now present-day Vico Limoncello, situated between Decumano Superiore and Via Della Consolazione, behind the Ospedale degli Incurabili. In this area stood the Church of San Gennaro Spogliamorti, named for the ancient tradition of “stripping” the deceased of belongings and selling them at the Jewish market along the same street.
The second ghetto in Forcella, established possibly during the time of Frederick II, was peripheral and lasted about a century. During this period, a significant part of the Jewish community resided in Salerno, as evidenced by trade during the Fiera Di Salerno, held twice a year. When the Angevins decreed Naples as the economic and political center, the Jews relocated closer to the port.
The last ghetto, called “new,” no longer exists due to urban redevelopment when the medieval quarter was demolished. In its final years, it was referred to as “Via Giudecca Grande,” extending to Borgo Degli Orefici, strategically located near San Marcellino and the port, enlarged by Charles of Anjou. Additionally, it provided easy access to the new Piazza Mercato, which became the city market.
During the Viceroyalty, under Pietro di Toledo’s rule in 1540, all Jews were expelled from Naples, accused of usury and robbing corpses, contrary to religious beliefs. During exile, the Neapolitan Jewish community sought refuge in more tolerant territories. In 1734, with the Bourbon dynasty’s ascent under Charles III, Jews were permitted to return, reflecting a shift in religious policies and a desire to stabilize society after years of conflicts. However, this reprieve was short-lived. Despite the temporary reopening of the city to Jews, political and social pressures once again altered the course of events. Throughout the 18th century, the Neapolitan Jewish community faced new restrictions and discrimination, culminating in the enactment of the so-called “Jewish laws” in 1747, severely limiting their economic and social activities and prompting their departure once more.
During World War II, Naples endured heavy bombings, and the Jewish community faced Nazi persecution. Many Jews either fled or became victims of the Holocaust. After the war, the Jewish community in Naples endeavored to rebuild, preserving its identity and contributing to the city’s reconstruction.
Currently, although numerically smaller than in the past, the Jewish community in Naples continues to exist and play a significant role in the city’s cultural and social life. The restored Sinagoga Scola Grande stands as a tangible symbol of resilience, preserving the rich history and tradition of Jews in Naples. Today, the community strives to keep alive the memory of its past, promoting intercultural understanding and contributing to dialogue in contemporary Neapolitan society.