Istanbul is a huge city with a rich Jewish history. It boasts with a number of sites of Jewish interest such as synagogues, cemeteries and hospitals. These are located not only in the historical Jewish neighbourhoods of Balat, Hasköy, and Kuzguncuk, but also in many other parts of the city.
The synagogues of Istanbul are, like most other places of worship of minorities, usually hidden behind the gates, the façades barely visible and entrance impossible or available just for the selected few.
My portfolio includes a number of the most visible Jewish sites in Istanbul, but not all of them. Among the notable emissions is the Quincentennial Foundation Museum of Turkish Jews, located near the Neve Shalom Synagogue in Galata.
I took the photo of the Ashkenazi Synagogue in September 2014, the photos of the Kasturya Synagogue in October 2018, and the photo of the Büyükada Synagogue in November 2018. The other photos are from between November 2015 and January 2016.
You will find the locations of all the mentioned sites on this map:
1. Ahrida Synagogue
Kürkçü Çeşmesi Sokak, Balat
Founded in the 1460s by the Romaniotes, or Greek Jews, that came from Ohrid (now North Macedonia), this is the oldest synagogue in Istanbul. It is located in the old Jewish Quarter of Balat. It was rebuilt in 1694 with an internal dome invisible from the outside (minorities were forbidden to build domes in the Ottoman Empire).
2. Yanbol Synagogue
Lavanta Sokak, Balat
This synagogue was established by the Sephardi Jews who moved to Constantinople from the Bulgarian town of Yambol in the 15th century. Thus, it is also known as the Bulgarian Synagogue. The current building was constructed in the 18th century, the restructuring took place at the end of the 19th century.
3. İştipol Synagogue
Salma Tomruk Caddesi, Balat
This is Istanbul’s only wooden synagogue. It was built by the Jews that migrated to Constantinople from Štip (now North Macedonia) in 1694. The current building is from 1899. A one-time morning prayer took place here with no electricity in January 2016.
4. Or-Ahayim Hospital
Ayvansaray Caddesi, Balat
The Light of Life Hospital in Balat was established in 1898 for the Jewish poor. Now it services mostly Muslims but is still operated by the local Jewish community.
5. Kasturya Synagogue
Hoca Çakir Caddesi, Ayvansaray
This synagogue, which may date back to the reign of Mehmed the Conqueror, was built for the Sephardi Jews that had emigrated from Kastoria (in today’s Northern Greece). It is known to have been repaired and enlarged in the 19th century. The only structures left today are the walls and the entrance gate, which mentions Hebrew Year 5653 (Gregorian Year 1893). In front of the gate are the ruins of the house of the rabbi.
6. Maalem Synagogue
Harap Çeşme Sokak, Hasköy
This is the only remaining open synagogue in Hasköy, once the center of the Karaite Jewish community of Istanbul. It was built in 1931 by Italian Jews, after the original building from the late 19th century had been torn down.
7. Hasköy Jewish Cemetery
This cemetery dates back to 1582. It contains 20,000 graves of Sephardi, Karaite and Romaniote Jews with inscriptions in Hebrew, Turkish, Ladino and Greek (written in Hebrew alphabet).
A tombstone from the cemetery
One of the most important tombs of the Hasköy Jewish Cemetery: the tomb of Abraham Camondo, an influential Jewish-Italian banker to the Ottoman court in the 19th century
8. Ashkenazi Synagogue
Yüksek Kaldırım Caddesi, Karaköy
This synagogue was opened by Austro-Hungarian Jews in 1900. It is located on a street that was, for a long time, notorious for its brothels. It is the only active Ashkenazi synagogue in Istanbul.
9. Neve Shalom Synagogue
Büyük Hendek Sokak, Galata
The Oasis of Piece Synagogue is the largest Sephardi Synagogue of Istanbul and the most visible of them. It started life as the reception hall of a Jewish boys school, but in 1938 it was converted into a synagogue. The current building is from 1951. It has been a victim of terror attacks twice, in 1986 and in 2003.
10. Etz Ahayim Synagogue
Muallim Naci Caddesi, Ortaköy
The Tree of Life Synagogue has its origins in the 14th century. The current building is from 1813/1941.
11. Bet Nissim Synagogue
Yakup Sokak, Kuzguncuk
This synagogue dates from the 1840s. It is named after an influential member of the Jewish community of Istanbul after its latest restoration in 1994.
12. Hemdat Israel Synagogue
İzzettin Sokak & Uzun Hafız Sokak, Kadıköy
The Loveliness of Israel Synagogue dates from 1899.
13. Hesed Le Avraam Synagogue
Pancur Sokak, Büyükada
There is not much clear information available online about the history of this beautiful synagogue. Its name is said to have come from the man who had donated the lot of land to the Jewish community. It was opened for service in 1904, though some documents in the Ottoman Archives state that the permission for the construction of the synagogue was given as late as 1906. Because Büyükada was a popular summer destination for the Jews of Istanbul, the synagogue may have been enlarged or rebuilt entirely in 1921. It’s now open in summer months only.