History of the Turkish Jews can be traced back to 15th century when most of the Jewish population migrated from Western Europe during the Spanish inquisition in 1478. The Ottoman Sultan of the time invited the Sephardic Jews to the Ottoman Empire and since then they have been an integral part of Turkey’s cultural history. Today there is a small but strong Jewish community, mainly settled in Istanbul, İzmir and a few other cities of Turkey.
Our tour, led by a Jewish Heritage expert, offers a good balance of exploring neighborhoods and visiting the prominent Jewish landmarks in Istanbul in one day.
The day starts with a visit to Ahrida synagogue, the oldest synagogue in Istanbul, located in the Jewish neighborhood of Balat. Ahrida Synagogue is also the only synagogue in Istanbul at which Sabbatai Zevi, founder of the Jewish Sabbatean movement, prayed. We then stroll through the streets of Fener and Balat, neighborhoods that were once home to the Jewish and Greek populations of Istanbul. Now on the verge of change, these historical neighborhoods are charming with their cobble stone streets, wooden houses, synagogues, churches and the famous Phanar Greek Orthodox School.
We take a lunch break at Karaköy Lokantası, one of the best restaurants in the city famous for its home cooked style food (if you observe Kosher, we can arrange a Kosher lunch as well, please let us know in advance).
In the afternoon we visit the Quincentennial Foundation (Jewish Museum), the museum which was founded in 1992, focuses on the history of Turkish Jews. You can learn about the Kamondo family, a prominent Jewish family of Istanbul who lived the 19th century. We will then visit Neve Shalom Synagogue -the largest Sephardic synagogue in Istanbul. Today, most of the Jewish weddings in Istanbul are held at the Neve Shalom synagogue. We will end our tour with a stroll through Galata neighborhood, one of the more prominent neighborhoods where Turkish Jews resided.
– This tour is only offered Monday through Thursday and is led by a Jewish heritage expert.
– Passport photocopies are required to visit Ahrida Synagogue. Please send us your documents one week in advance to get permission.
– Ahrida Synagogue entrance time is very strict, visitors are only allowed at exactly 10:00, so please do not be late for your car pickup.
– Synagogues can always close down without early notice if security is breached and the visits can be cancelled. We apologize in advance in case this inconvenience happens.