Padua is famous as a center for Talmudic studies and has had a continuous Jewish presence since the 11th century. Padua was the only university city in Europe to accept Jewish students in the school of medicine way back in the 15th century. The ghetto is in the heart of the historic center near Piazza delle Erbe. The main artery was Via San Martino and Solferino. At the junction with via Roma we find the first of four large doors. Above each was a marble plaque with a carved lion of San Marco, the symbol of Venice. Via san Martino e Solferino has buildings with the original Romanesque layout (see no. 31 for a fine example). The Italian synagogue of 1548 still survives and the Spanish rites synagogue of 1617 is now used as a lecture hall.
The Italian synagogue at 9 Via San Martino e Solferino was built in 1548 and houses the Community offices. The prayer room has a rare arrangement with the Holy Ark and the Bimah facing each other. Padua has always been famed for its Talmudic studies. Evidence is provided by visiting its cemeteries, where we find that tombs of illustrious rabbis have become the destination of pilgrimages, as is the case with Rabbi Meir Katzenellenbogen (1482-1565) who is visited by pilgrims from Eastern Europe. The old Academy building has now become a hotel, but detail-oriented visitors will pick up subtleties in the interior which hint at its former use.
The rabbinical academy here started in the mid 14th century and the Rabbinical College in 1870. Jews here were moneylenders and merchants. In 1405 there was a political change from the tolerant policy of Da Carrara rulers to the discrimination of the Venetian Republic. The community suffered plundering by Austrian troops under Maximilian of Austria in 1509 which also destroyed their burial grounds at the time. In 1603 the community was forced to live in a ghetto which turned out to be an easy target for the plague, which hit in 1631, killing 431 of the 721 ghetto residents. Life here was difficult as Jews were continually ridiculed and pressured to convert. In 1797 the invading French pulled down the gates of the ghetto here, although segregation returned when the Austrians regained possession of the city.
At 20, Via San Martino and Solferino we find the entrance to a courtyard named after the family that owned the buildings in the 16th century. The lecture hall synagogue can be found on the fifth floor of the synagogue building and was the former Spanish rites synagogue. It is now a lecture hall whose entrance is at 14. Via delle Piazze. During the Mid 14th century, the Rabbinical Academy was on the corner of Via San Martino e Solferino and Via Arco, and was later moved to Via Barbarigo. During the Mid 14th century, the Rabbinical Academy was on the corner of Via San Martino e Solferino and Via Arco, and was later moved to Via Barbarigo.
The Volto degli Ebrei at Via Arco and Via Marsala are of non-porticoed streets and have preserved its medieval layout. Visitors will notice that 19-21 and 16-22 are higher buildings than the others, this due to having to extend upwards in order to accommodate growing numbers of inhabitants. The building at the fourth door (Via San Martino e Solferino and Via dei Fabbi) still has a Hebrew inscription on it.
Since 1384 there have been seven Jewish cemeteries. In the 14th century cemetery of San Leonardo we find the above-mentioned Rabbi Meir Katzenellenbogen (1482-1465). In the 1450 cemetery Contrada Codalunga we find the grave of Isaak ben Jude Abrabanel (1437-1508), chancellor to Alfonso of Portugal. In the cemetery dating from 1862 at no. 124, via Sorio we find the grave of Samuel David Lazzatto (1800-1866) and Rabbi Dante Lattes (1876-1965) one of the founders of Jewish publications here. The 19th century cemeteries are located in Via Zodio and Via del Campagnole.