La Giudecca

For Sestiere of Venice, see Giudecca.

La Giudecca [la dʒuˈdɛkka] was a term used In Southern Italy and Sicily to identify any urban district (or a portion of a village) where Jewish communities dwelled and had their synagogues and businesses.

Unlike the compulsory ghettos of Northern Italy and elsewhere, in some Southern Italian hamlets and cities Jewish families and their members voluntarily chose to live in certain areas but were free to travel and even contribute together with their Christian neighbours to the success or commercial, cultural and artistic progress of a region. A very few Sicilian Giudeccas were unhealthy and declined, in fact, the majority included many craftsmen, doctors and tradesmen.


Judeca and Giudecca are the corrupt or jargonized medieval versions of the Latin female adjective Judaica, meaning Jewish or Judaean. The Jewess or The Jewry are other plausible meanings.

It is not known why the Venetian island of Giudecca acquired that name, as there is no evidence of Jewish settlement there.

The word Giudecca is also used in Dante's Inferno for the lowest circle of Hell, in which Judas resides.

Jewish neighbourhoods in southern Italy

Italian Region Southern Italian cities, small towns, villages with their Hebrew districts

Historical events: On 15 August 1474, the Christian community of Modica wreaked a brutal havoc on the Jewish dwellers of Cartellone, the so-called "Strage dell'Assunta".

This episode has been the first and most horrible antisemitic massacre to the detriment of the Sicilian Israelites.

During the evening of Assumption's Day, with a single collective raptus numberless citizens (fomented by fanatic Catholic preachers) slaughtered about 360 innocents causing a total and fierce devastation.

The incitement that echoed through the streets was: "Hurrah for Mary! Death to the Jews!" (Viva Maria! Morte ai Giudei!)

  • Naples: Monterone and San Marcellino, Patrizzano, Giudecca Vecchia di Forcella, Giudecca Grande di Portanova, Giudechella del Porto.
  • Sorrento
  • Amalfi
  • Salerno: Giudecca
  • Melfi
  • Cagliari: Giudaria di Castello
  • Oristano
  • Alghero

Some names and their meanings

  • Meschita derives from Arabic Masjid meaning Mosque through the Castilian "mezquita".[2]
  • Guzzetta is the altered name Achuzzath, a Jewish word that means "possession, property, estate".
  • Cafarone, corruption of Cafarnao or the local Hebrew dialectization of "Kefar Aharon", namely "The Hamlet of Aaron" (maybe a Jewish religious leader, a rich or prominent Jewish personage from Catanzaro or the simple respectful eponym to remember Moses' brother).
  • Rabato (or Rabbato) is the Sicilian Arabicized translation of Rabāṭ (literally a Stronghold or a Fortress). The ancient fortified zone of Erice was mainly populated by Jews.
  • Cartellone should not be explained by its literal Italian meaning notwithstanding a local legend asserting that a "big placard" was placed in the quarter's main entrance to make easily manifest to Christians the Jewish presence in it. Nowadays, visible traces of such "large signboards" or "showy signposts", if any, have completely vanished or been removed. According to another folk legend the houses' doors and their outer facings were adorned with little tablets reproducing the Mosaic Laws or a few precepts of Torah. That might be the simple result of Christian misinterpretation of the mezuzah, where little scrolls are kept in the doorposts. The most likely explanation is related to a typical Modica's craftsmanship. Cartellone is the male augmentative of medieval Latin word "cartallus, cartella" that qualified a "woven hamper" or more precisely, in this case, a "big woven hamper" (to identify an entire specific category of workingmen and workingwomen). Aforetime, in that area, the production of wicker baskets was chiefly monopolized by Jewish basket-makers and today many craftsmen of Cartellone still practise this kind of patient traditional handiwork. A last surmise would be a likely dialectal mangling of an Hebrew toponym called "Qiryath Alon" or "Qiryath Aloni" (The Village of the Oak or The Village of Alon).

Notes and references

  1. Balarm was the Arab name of Palermo.
  2. In Saracenic Sicily the Synagogue or the Temple were commonly called Mosque , since synagogues were sometimes established in abandoned Muslim places of worship. The words Meskita, Moschetta, Muschitta, Moschella are the Siculo-Arab variants for Little Mosque. After 1492, Moschetta, Muschitta and Moschella were widely adopted as surnames by several Southern Italian Neophytes. Nowadays, they are three very common last names highly diffused in all the southern regions of Italy.
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