I recently had an AMAZING tour of Rome with a 65 year old chap. He’s a friend of a French colleague at work and has lived in Rome all his life. He sometimes takes groups of tourists out for sightseeing around Rome but prefers to take one person only. And he prefers it if that person is into history, architecture, churches and old Roman houses. Bingo – that’s me!

So I met Franco on a Sunday morning at 9.00am and we spent until 6.00pm walking around Rome. No visit to the Colosseum. No visit to the Vatican or Trevi Fountain. This was a tour with a difference. I was told stories about fountains that were built because of the love a young man had in the 15th Century for a beautiful Italian girl. I saw the hole in the wall near the Pantheon where Roman citizens would place the name of foreigners on a piece of paper, quietly letting the Vatican know who was in Rome and where they were staying. I was told why a sculpture of Moses by Michelangelo has horns on it. And I was taken through the Jewish Quarter and told the story of over 2,000 Jews who were transported to Auschwitz during WWII.

So fantastic was the walking tour with Franco, I’m going out again with him in another week or so. There were so many stories and things to remember I just hope I can bring you a few of them. But let me start with the Jewish Quarter, aka Jewish Ghetto. It is located near the Tiber River between Ponte Sulpicius across from Trastevere and the most ancient bridge in Rome, the Ponte Fabricius. It boasts a beautiful Synagogue and kosher restaurants serving up carciofi (artichokes), which frankly I’ve never liked until I tried them at a restaurant in the Jewish Quarter.

The extremely heart-wrenching thing was to hear Franco tell the story of the Jews transported off to Auschwitz. The Nazis occupied Rome on September 10, 1943 –  following the surrender of Italy to the Allied forces on September 8, 1943 – and the top SS official in Rome, Herbert Kappler, demanded that the Jews pay a ransom of 50kg of gold, to be handed over in 36 hours. Both Jews and non-Jews met the 50kg target but to no avail. Over 2000 Jews were transported to Auschwitz. Only 16 survived and returned to Rome.

One of the buildings in the Jewish Ghetto is a restaurant called Da Giggetto. It’s been owned by three generations of the same family and is considered a classic eatery. It’s located next to the Portico d’Ottavia, which was built by Augustus to commemorate his sister, and was used as a fish market in medieval times. During Augustus’ time, it was a cultural centre with libraries, art works and public meeting spaces. I’ll show you a photo of Portico d’Ottavia in a future post. The ruins of Portico d’Ottavia are now smack bang in the centre of daily life in the Jewish Quarter.

Franco told me that Da Giggetto hid 18 Jews during the awful days of October 1943. On 16 October 1943, the Nazis surrounded the Jewish Quarter and seized 1022 Jews, including 200 children, from the ghetto and dispatched them to Auschwitz. You can’t even imagine the terror that must have gripped these poor people. When you stand there now, you’re surrounded by tourists laughing and eating in the many lively Jewish restaurants. But the ghosts of those long gone walk the streets. There are a number of memorial plaques in the Jewish Quarter remembering the victims of the Holocaust. I plan to go back and get better photos to show you. I also want to really take the time to explore and remember those who lost their lives in the darkest days of World War II.

Some of the many plaques commemorating the Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

Da Giggetto is a popular Jewish restaurant in the Jewish Quarter.

Ba" Ghetto - one of the restaurants I ate in to experience Roman Jewish food. I'll be doing a review soon.

Above the umbrellas, on the left hand side - you will see that part of the building is made from stonework from the Roman Forum.

This is a touching story that Franco told me. To the right of the Bar Toto name - you will just see four figures. These figures are from the tombstones of ancient Rome used in the construction of this building. The second one on the left is a small child holding a dog. Obviously, a family buried together.