1- 500. Yil Vakfi Türk Musevileri Müzesi (Quincentennial Foundation Museum of Turkish Jews, or Jewish Museum of Turkey).
Snuck up a small alleyway in Karaköy (look out for the ‘museum’ sign), this was once the Zulfaris Synagogue, founded in 1671 and a museum since 2001, hardly visible from the outside. Its excellent
information boards and exhibits reveal how the Sephardic Jews – those originating from Spain and Portugal – considered the Ottomans as saviors in 1326 when they freed them from Byzantine oppression in Bursa, even more so when forced to flee Spain during the Spanish Inquisition in 1492 and welcomed by Beyazid II (1448–1512). More recently, Atatürk invited many Jewish scientists from
Nazi Germany, and several Turkish diplomats succeeded in saving Turkish Jews during the Holocaust. As well as religious artifacts like Torah scrolls and silver goblets that were used during services, don’t miss the exhibits from Istanbul’s first Ottoman printing house, and Turkey’s first printed book in 1493. The balcony – originally the ladies’ gallery – has temporary exhibitions, and the ethnography section draws parallels with Muslim culture, especially circumcision, marriage and death.
Outside, its first floor shop has some related books in English.
@90 min. Selanik Pasaji, Percemli Sokak, Karaköy Meydani. 0212 292 6333. www.muze500.com
Donations requested. Mon–Thurs 10am–4pm; Fri and Sun 10am–2pm; Closed Sat and Jewish hols. Tram or tunnel: Karaköy.
2- Kamondo Merdivenleri(Camondo Staircase).
This short, curvaceous double staircase (see also Neighborhood Walks p 63) leading up from Voyvoda
Caddesi, the historic banking hub, was built by Avram Camondo (sometimes spelt Kamondo), a leading merchant in the Jewish Persecuted Jews began coming to Istanbul 500 years ago, ever since welcomed by the Ottoman Empire after fleeing the Spanish Inquisition, beginning in the mid-16th century. Pockets of Jewish heritage dot the city, but we start off in Galata and Karaköy (named after the Karaite Jewish sect that once lived there), then move on to Balat, sampling good kosher cuisine en route. Very little remains of the once-flourishing community in these areas, most having moved out to the wealthier suburbs. I love traveling between the two areas by boat – at the time of writing, ferries leave Eminönü for Balat at 50 minutes past every hour. Recent attacks on synagogues and increasing Islamic extremism have made security much tighter (see below). Tram or tunnel to Karaköy. ommunity and head of the prosperous family. The first foreigner given the right to have having real estate in the Ottoman Empire, he built this still much-used staircase in the 19th century as a mark of his gratitude, and more importantly to ease the uphill journey to the family’s home (see below) when baby Moise was born in 1860. @10 min.
From Voyvoda Cad. Tram or tunnel: Karaköy.
3- Galata Residence.
Now a lovely hotel, this was the Camondo’s family home in the thick of things, Galata, once the hub of the Ladino-(Judaeo-Spanish) speaking Jewish community and close to numerous synagogues. The wooden house, originally known as Felek Han, was converted into apartments in 1844 by Gabriel Tedeschie, who also built Ashkenazi Synagogue (see bullet k), and has seen many transformations including a school for Alyans Israelit Universel, a trade center, and finally a hotel. @10 min.
2 Felek Sokak, off Bankalar Caddesi, Galata. y0212 292 4841. www.galataresidence.com. Tram or tunnel: Karaköy.
4- Schneidertempel Art Gallery.
Built in 1894 as one of the city’s few Ashkenazi synagogues, for Jews originating mainly from Eastern
Europe, this well-restored building holds temporary exhibitions relating to Jewish life and culture. Its most striking feature is the simple Star of David stained-glass window, above the area which used to be the ark, the ornamental ‘closet’ that contains the Torah scrolls. (Opening hours can be erratic.) @30 min.
Felek Sokak,Galata. Mon–Thurs 10.30am–-5pm; Fri 10.30am–3pm in winter, 5pm in summer; Sun
12–6pm. Closed Jewish hols. Tram or tunnel: Karaköy.
5- Ashkenazi Synagogue.
Turkey’s only Ashkenazi Synagogue, this was established by tradesmen over 200 years ago for Jews that migrated from Macedonia and Poland. Far from being a flourishing community, its members were poor tailors, many women making a living as prostitutes at the (then) numerous local brothels. These days its congregants trace roots from Baghdad, and Turkish cities Adana, Bursa and Konya. The black wooden ark, holding the Torah scrolls brought by Jews on their way to Israel, is carved with letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and was brought from Kiev. The skyblue painted domed ceiling makes a
striking addition. From here, walk down to Karaköy and either take the tram or walk over Galata Bridge to Eminönü. @30 min. 37 Yuksekkaldirim Cad. By appointment only; Donations welcome. Tram or Tunnel Karaköy; tunnel Tünel.
Carved wooden ark at Ashkenazi Synagogue, a gift from Kiev Jews.
With the high security surrounding all synagogues in Istanbul, increased since the bombing of Neve Shalom synagogue in 2003, forward planning for any visit is essential, even if you simply want to attend a service. Send an email via www.musevicemaati.comat least three working days before your visit, and you will be sent a form to fill in names of all visitors, plus scanned passport page and exact dates of your visit. Don’t forget to bring your passport, even if attending a service.
Fleeing their Spanish-Portuguese homeland during the Spanish Inquisition, when Jews were forced to convert to Christianity or be killed, the Camondo family soon became renowned as Istanbul’s best-known family of bankers, financiers and philanthropists. One of their most famous purchases was Camondo Han, a huge building on the Golden Horn, now headquarters of the Turkish Navy, whichhoused studios of many prominent Turkish artists and a meeting place for luminaries of the world of literature and philosophy. Avram,the patriarch, moved to Paris in his 80s, and when he died in 1873 his body was flown back to Istanbul for a state funeral and burial at his tomb in Hasköy.
One of Istanbul’s oldest kosher (adhering to Jewish dietary laws) restaurants, tucked away from busy Eminönü, enjoy a hearty lunch of traditional Sephardic dishes, mainly meaty stews. Open lunchtimes only. Çavuşbaşi Han 23/10, Tahmis Kalçin Sokak, Eminönü. y0212 512 1196. $.
7- Çifit Çarşisi.
This unassuming daily street-market, covering Lavanta and Leblebiciler Sokaks, is typical of a neighborhood like Balat. It was actually known as Çifit (the slightly derogatory Ottoman name for Jews) Ç[email protected], although only Balat locals would know it by that name. Only about 20 of the original Jewish traders still remain today. When you turn down Köpelbasi Caddesi, look up at #82A to see the galleon on the wall above the door, symbol of the Sephardic Jews. This was the home of shopkeeper Leon Burudo, one of the oldest Jewish traders, who died in 2006. @20 min. Ferry: Balat; or bus 35D from Eminönü.
8- Ahrida Synagogue.
The oldest Sephardic synagogue in Turkey, established in 1430 by Macedonians, still attracts about
100 congregants every Saturday.
The exquisite chandelier suspended from the domed central ceiling was restored in 1991, although its most eye-catching piece is the Bimah, the central raised platform from where the reading of the Torah takes place: Some say it’s shaped like a galleon, the symbol of the Sephardic Jews who sailed here during the Spanish Inquisition. Others think it is based on the shape of Noah’s Ark, representing
freedom. In the courtyard, with a fabulous tree with twisted trunk, is a plaque naming all the Jewish benefactors who gave financial support. For essential information on visiting, please see ‘Practical Matters’ info box p 37. 9 Kurkcucesme Sokak, Balat.
www.musevicemaati.com. By appointment only, Mon–Fri 9.30am–noon. Ferry: Balat; or bus 35D.
9- Çavuş Hamam.
Although you may only be able to take a quick peak inside, this hamam is more interesting for its history than for its architecture – even if it was built by Sinan (see Art & Architecture Highlights p 173). When Jews began to live in Balat from the mid-15th century, they requested of Süleyman the Magnificent to have one built specially for them, as it would also have been used as a mikvah, for women’s monthly ritual bathing.
Permission was granted, and Mimar Sinan built two special hamams, this one (the only remaining one) and one in Fener. @10 min.
Ahrida Synagogue’s exterior, hidden away in Fener.
Istanbul’s top kosher restaurant moved venue but retained its good reputation for great Sephardic dishes like spinach meatballs in tomato sauce.
Beautifully presented. Halaskargazi Caddesi, Uzay Apt 53, Harbiye. 0212 241 8585.$$.