Illuminated manuscript proclamation of Doge Francesco Erizzo of Venice, in reply to a petition from the syndics of the Jewish community of Corfu for protection against vandalisms and other anti-Semitic acts. Venice, between 1642 and 1724. JMG Collection.

In 1387 Corfu fell under Venetian domination. In 1492 expelled Jews from the Iberian Peninsula arrived to the island, while in 1494 more came from Naples. The population significantly decreased during the Ottoman siege of 1537, when thousands of prisoners were carried away. In 1540 Jews hailing from Italy formed the majority and imposed the Apulian dialect. Two separate communities emerged, the Greci (Greeks) and the Pugliesi (Italians and Spaniards), each with their own synagogue. In 1589 Marrano newcomers from Portugal augmented the Apulian community. In 1622 a decree established the boundaries of the neighbourhood that is, up to this day, known as the Evraiki (Jewish) or, previously, the “Yetto”. The neighbourhood, however, was not a closed ghetto, but more of a natural agglomeration of Jewish dwellings that had developed in a specific area over time.

Particularly noteworthy was the difference in the treatment of the Jews of Corfu compared to those of Venice itself. Any jealousy was outweighed by the necessity to conciliate the financially very strong community on an island that would serve as a bastion of Venetian commercial interests in the Mediterranean and the trade routes to the East. A fortnight after the surrender of the island to the Venetians, the doge issued a decree confirming all the preexisting rights and forbidding any kind of discrimination. Thus, when in 1571 the expulsion of all the Jews of Venice and its dependencies was proposed, the Jews of Corfu were exempted. It is also noteworthy that minimal restrictions were imposed on Jews in terms of real estate ownership or professional activity. There were, for example, Jewish lawyers on Corfu, which was absolutely forbidden in Venice itself. On the other hand, the preexisting obligation of Jews to wear a distinctive yellow mark was maintained.

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