Tuesday, February 20, 2018 /
Ancient Jewish Cemetery

The Ancient Jewish Cemetery

In 1386, the Republic of Venice made available for use as a Jewish cemetery, a parcel of land at San Nicolò on the Lido. Over the centuries the area was enlarged and the cemetery accorded some protection by law and convention. A high hedge was grown around the area to discourage violation of the tombs and to beautify the cemetery.

Further embellishments included the custom of inscribing in the simple stones the names of the deceased, their titles, religious and family symbols such as the blessing hands (symbol of the Coens ) , the jug and basin (the Levi's), candelebra, various coats of arms, and friezes of animals. The tombs are of interest both historically and artistically. Those of the 17th Century are vertical tomb-stones with architectural style, surmounted by a triangular or curved tympanum and flanked by simple lintels or small but elegantly grooved columns. The inscriptions and decorations are in an excellent state of preservation. The solemn, 18th Century sarcophagi are decorated in a heavier, more elaborate manner.

Inscriptions on some tombs are in Hebrew, only. On others they are also in Spanish or Portuguese and are surmounted by a lion rampant on a shield (the lion of Judah, or that of Castile?), or by coats of arms corresponding to the titles many Jews had received before being expelled from Spain in 1492.

From the second half of the eighteenth century some areas were expropriated for the necessities of the military until the cemetery ceased to function and for reasons of space was abandoned. And this is why it is covered by that dense vegetation which, with its cypresses and stones mirrored in the Lagoon, make this holy ground an unreal place that set Shelley, Goethe, Georges Sand, Alfred de Musset and many others such as Giorgio Bassani in our own days, to dreaming.

There were many tombs in the expropriated land and the gravestones saved from there were placed in the neighbouring New Cemetery. It has an austere, pure Liberty-style entrance, the work of the architect Guido Costante Sullam in 1924, and it is here that the Venetian Jews have buried their dead since the end of the eighteenth century.

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