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The "Home-towers" and the tragedy of the Jews

home towers piazza Erbe Verona


They could also be of eight floors. Why? In the six-eighteenth century the Jewish quarter was overcrowded by a large community.
The "skyscrapers" of piazza Erbe are the last witnesses of centuries of discrimination and of the existence in the two ghettos. 

At the beginning of via Cappello, in a widening between via Mazzini and piazza Erbe, on the right hand side, there are two tall and narrow buildings: the highest is of eight floors, with ghibelline battlements and a clock, and it is called Home Scalabrini. A few steps away, in piazza Erbe, just in front of the medieval tower of the Palazzo del Comune, along the side that towards via Cappello leads to the House of Merchants, we are seeing other similar buildings. Their history is not to be traced to medieval palaces , but they need to take other directions.
The houses-tower that belonged to the two Jewish ghettos of Verona are high buildings, and they can be considered the forerunners of "skyscrapers". They have reached this considerable height in the course of the Six, Seven, Nineteenth Century, when the Jewish ghetto in Verona was highly overcrowded due to the presence of a very large community . So, since they could not expand as the perimeter reserved to the Hebrews was limited, they rose up the existing constructions to accommodate all the families. 
On the ground floor there were the shops, the main activity of the Jews. It is worth carefully observe these highest buildings in piazza Erbe. In a few meters, you can find nine: tall and narrow, all with the same type, meaning two windows per floor and a room on each floor.
The first on the corner has five floors, attached to the other two of six, with close to another building of seven floors, then another six, and then one of eight: this is the tallest and the most poorly maintained of all. Another modest building, which stops at four floors, is next to two buildings both with six floors. 
All the towers have the ground floor higher than the other, to host the shops.  These curious constructions in piazza Erbe, from via Mazzini to Casa dei Mercanti, were the only ones remaining to remind us of the "new Ghetto". Since 1585, the Council and the "Provvisore" of the town began to separate the Jews from the rest of the population: after endless discussions the issue was resolved only 19 years later, in 1604. According to some historians, their first settlement in Verona took place in 522, at the time of Theodoric, after an uproar with the Christians, which broke out in Ravenna. There are, however, documents on their presence in the city, up to the X century, i.e. , when, in 978, the bishop Raterio obtained permission to kick them out the town. The first names in Jewish documents is on the  archive of San Giorgio in Braida, XI century.  In 1200 the presence of the famous rabbi Rabbi Eliezer prove it definitely. On the banks of the Adige a good number of Jews devoted themselves to trade. 
The Scaligers treated them with tolerance, but only in 1408 some of them were authorized to be officially in the city exclusively to loan money at interest, an activity forbidden to the Christians. Before the construction of the ghetto, the Jews were scattered, but for the most part they stayed in blocks between piazza Erbe, via Cairoli and alley Crocioni and along  via Cappello. The creation of the Monte di Pietà was, perhaps, one of the reasons for their expulsion from Verona in 1499. Many of them relocated especially in the province, but a decade later, they returned to the city and their activities flourished: they became merchants for wholesale, shippers, antique, professionals, tailors and many of them occupied a high position in local society. 
At the end of the Sixteenth Century, the then Bishop Augustine Valier obtained from Venice and from city council that the Jews were relegated to a closed place as it was Venice. The authorities in Verona decided to assign a district called "under the roofs", between via Mazzini, Via Pellicciai, piazza Erbe and via San Rocchetto.  In the Seventeenth century, the Jewish population had a considerable expansion, as there were three immigration: that of renegades, jews forcibly converted; that of the Spanish Jews or Sephardic Jews, in 1638, and finally, in 1665, the most important of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews .  In the middle of the century, the community was about 900 people and so, since they could not expand, they lifted the houses.

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