Rome is the city of churches. There are 900, including the world's most celebrated – St Peter's Cathedral.
So why am I here in the Italian capital's Grand Synagogue by the banks of the Tiber, doing a guided tour of Jewish Rome? Because there were Jews in Rome long before the Christians arrived.
Rome has one of the oldest, continually surviving Jewish communities outside the Holy Land. In fact, our guide tells us, Roman Jews are neither Ashkenazi nor Shepardic since they were here before the Diaspora split the Jewish nation into two main camps.
So why do we rarely read about the Roman Jews? There are 14,000 living in Rome today – about a third of Italy's total Jewish population and seven times the number who live in Venice, site of the world's first ghetto.
Since this is my fourth trip to Rome in four years, so I've opted to shun the obvious tourist highlights and explore the "Jewish Quarter" – what remains of the original Roman ghetto.
After all, this is a chance to learn how a persecuted minority survived 2000 years of evil Popes, Napoleonic ambitions, red-shirted Garribaldi revolutionaries, puffed-up Mussolini fascists, murderous Nazi gold robbers and 21st century terrorists.
And there's the added attraction of being able to sample the kosher Italian cuisine in the Jewish Quarter, which some consider among the tastiest food in the capital.
Rome's Grand Synagogue (on Lungotevere de' Cenci) takes a bit of locating. But that's understandable given the violent spotlight Jewish Italians have been placed under for 2000 years.
The "new" grand synagogue, with its Babylonian-style roof, was built in 1904. And it remains the largest in Rome. In 1982 it was the target of a Palestinian Liberation Organisation terrorist attack which saw a two year old boy killed and others injured - which explains the high level of security this morning.
I check my daypack at the security desk and book my place on the next tour of the synagogue above, knowing I have an hour to explore the museum beneath.
Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice around 1597. That's eight decades after the Venetian ghetto was formed in 1516. Rome's ghetto was the world's second, established in 1555 in an area close to the present Via del Portico.
Lest we forget, Popes created – and continued to enforce – the ghettos. Jews had lived in Rome, fairly harmoniously next to Christians, since at least 160 years before the first Christmas.
Then the anti-semitic Pope Paul IV declared the Jews had to be segregated, locked up each night at sunset behind steep walls and secure gates, only to be released every morning at sunrise.
(The same Pope had a minor confrontation with Henry VIII, leading to the creation of the Anglican Church).
The land chosen for Roman ghetto was among the worst in the city. Since the Tiber regularly flooded, the lower parts of the ghetto were regularly underwater. And, given the ghetto could never expand width-wise, it just had to grow upwards as each new generation gave birth.
But now, the guide leads the tour up the stairs to the synagogue itself.
"All synagogues in Rome are Orthodox," she says. "That means the men worship down here, and the women are up there."
Napoleon, to his credit, ended the ghettos. But they were reinstated after his defeat at Waterloo. It was left to Garribaldi, after the reunification of Italy in 1861, to end Papal domination of Rome. Finally, after three centuries, Jews were allowed to live alongside Christians.
Fast forward to Fascism. At first Mussolini wasn't as anti-semitic as Hitler, but by 1939 he'd fallen into goose step. And things got infinitely worse for Jewish Italians when the Nazis invaded Italy in 1943. Many Jews (like Roberto Benigni's father, whose plight inspired the actor's Oscar-winning film, Life is Beautiful) were carted off to concentration camps.
However, our guide tells us, "only" 2000 of Rome's Jews ended up in the death camps. What happened to the other 8000 Roman Jews?
They were spirited away, she says. Hidden by other non-Jewish Romans until the end of the war. And on such an uplifting note, surely it is time to eat?
Rome's Jewish Quarter today consists of only four blocks – the dimensions of the ghetto. But the heart of it is taken up by Jewish pasta joints, Jewish bakeries, Jewish coffee shops … even Jewish burger joints.
Where to eat? I take an outside table at Ba'Ghetto with its "speciality Jewish cuisine from the Rome region".
It's all kosher, so what should I choose?
Cervello fritta con carciofi (fried brains with artichokes)? Baccala alla Ba'Ghetto (Cod with pinoles, raisins, cherry tomatoes and potatoes)?
I settle for Risotto alla Pescatora Kosher (rice with mixed seafood, Jewish-style). Scrumptious.
Most of my fellow diners are obviously locals. But the Jewish Quarter is attracting an increasing number of international travellers. There are even organised guided tours.
But a visit to the synagogue and museum will give you all the perspective you need to wander round at your leisure.
Rome is included on a 12-day Luxury Gold Ultimate Italy trip with Insight Vacations from $7325 per person; see www.insightvacations.com/luxurygold.
Steve Meacham travelled as guest of Insight Vacations.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.