21 January 2008

Vatican: Jewish street sellers expelled

There have been Jewish street sellers in Rome since Paul IV (1555-1559). Although the Pope confined the Jews to the Rome ghetto, he allowed them to conduct minor street trades.

This all changed in December 2007, when Vatican city governor Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo banned all traders from the area, and upset the Jewish sellers who claim to have been licensed by a Pope centuries before.

According to this European Jewish Press story, there are 113 licenses for souvenir selling in Rome; 112 belong to Jewish vendors.

The vendors, called urtisti ("those who bump into tourists"), sell small plaster statues, crucifixes, rosaries and pictures of saints and Popes.

Urtisti association chair Lello Zarfatti says, "I have been selling my souvenirs in St. Peter’s Square in the last 50 years thanks to an oral permission then granted by a Vatican prefect."

The souvenir sellers have appealed the decision and three vendors picketed the entrance to St Peter’s Square.

Rome Jewish community spokesman Riccardo Pacifici says, "Of the 9,000 Jewish families living in Rome, at least 400 hundred engage in street selling activities.”

The Vatican prefect pledged to meet with his Rome colleague in order to tackle the vendors’ requests.

When Italy unified in 1870 at the expenses of the Pope’s temporal power on Rome, Jews turned into souvenir sellers after obtaining ad hoc licenses from the Italian civil authorities, while some were granted such right directly from the Vatican authorities.

Rome's Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni is reportedly backing the vendors.

Read the article here.


  1. Dear Schelly,

    the word "urtisti" is not as everybody says "someone who bumps into turists" but comes from (I am sure about this !) the portuguese word "artista" which means "artist, worker".
    They came from Portugal expelled by the royal inquisition.

  2. Hi, Ralf

    Thanks for adding your comment. The article site gave that definition, so it is nice to learn that there's another aspect to this.

    Are you also claiming that all the sellers (back in the 16th century) were Portuguese? None were Romans from that more ancient community?

    I'm wondering if there are lists of the names of the license holders arranged by year. This would be a very interesting database for those researching their roots. Do you know where such a list might be found, other than the Vatican archives?