The Ancient Jewish Quarters of Istanbul

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Discover this metropolitan city with many thriving Jewish quarters -  Visit the Neve Shalom,  Ahrida and Ashkenazi Synagogues or Jewish Museum steeped in history.  Take a stroll in the colorful streets of the Jewish community in the quarters of Balat and Galata along the Golden Horn…

What's Included

I will meet at the harbor to begin your tour of the major Jewish heritage sites in Istanbul.  Transportation is via modern,  comfortable air-conditioned car,  van or mini-bus,  appropriate to the size of your group.  First we will drive to the Galata Quarter.  The history of Jewish life in Galata began in Byzantine times when this was a walled city separate from Constantinople.  After the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul in 1453,  Jewish life in Galata was enlivened with the arrival of many new settlers,  especially during the reign of Sultan Beyazit II.  From the 1500s onward,  Galata was mostly Jewish.

We will first visit Galata (Genoese)  Tower.  The tower was originally the high-point in the Genoese fortifications which protected the town of Galata during Byzantine and early Ottoman times.  From the Galata Tower,  we will walk to the Neve Shalom Synagogue.  This is one of the largest synagogues in the city,  designed and decorated in a modern style.  Inaugurated on March 25,  1951,  it is used for major functions of the community such as weddings and funerals.  Before leaving Galata,  we will also see a graceful curved double staircase,  known as Kamondo Staircase.  The staircase was built in the 19th century on the order of the Kamondos,  the Jewish community’s most prosperous family.

What to bring?

Further we will proceed to the Zalfaris Synagogue which was restored to become a museum of Turkish Jewish life.  Then after a short drive,  we will reach the Balat Quarter.  This is another of the quarters in which Jews were settled after their expulsion from Spain,  enlarging a community which had lived here since Byzantine times.  Though it once had as many as 19 synagogues,  only two of importance remain,  the Ahrida,  and the neighboring Yanbol.  The foundations of the Ahrida Synagogue may date from the late 1400s,  or may be even older.  The first building was thought to have been built in the early 1400s,  but a disastrous fire in the 1600s did extensive damage.  In 1694 the sultan issued a decree calling for its reconstruction.  The work was done in the Ottoman Baroque style popular at that time,  the so-called “Tulip Period”  in Ottoman artistic and court life.  During the extensive restorations carried out in 1990 and 1991,  remnants of architectural details from the 1700s and 1800s were discovered.  Architect Hitsrev Tayla,  in charge of the restoration work,  has included many of these earlier details in the final plan so as to symbolize the Ahrida´s long and illustrious history.

Located close to Ahrida Synagogue,  there is Yanbol Synagogue.  Both synagogues are said to take their names from the towns in Macedonia from which their founding congregations migrated in Byzantine times.

From Balat Quarter,  we will drive to Ortakoy.  Before starting our tour of this neighborhood,  we will have lunch on own at one of the sea-front restaurants.  Ortakoy was the first disembarkation point of Sepharads,  where they were welcomed by the Ottoman Sultan.  Here we will see the remains of the Etz Ahayim Synagogue.  Originally constructed in 1660,  a disastrous fire destroyed the original synagogue in October,  1941.  Luckily,  the marble arch survived the fire and remains in place,  in what is now the garden,  as a historic monument.  The neighboring midrash (study room)  was converted for worship after the fire,  and is now the synagogue.  Upon the end of our Ortakoy visit,  we will transfer back to the hotel or cruise ship.

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6 hours

I’m flexible!  Request your preferred day and time and I’ll confirm.

Meet Levent A


I am a college graduate,  native of Istanbul and licensed professional Istanbul Guide,  who has spent many years researching,  creating and giving walking tours in Istanbul’s many diverse neighborhoods.

Exploring Istanbul sharpens your vision on other travels.  The better you know Istanbul,  the better you can take advantage of what it offers and also control your experience of it.  The more we know and use a place the more it becomes ours.  The many layers to Istanbul are fun and enlightening to discover.  Learn about the buildings and hear what they want to tell us.  Forgotten events and demolished buildings are invisible to the eye but not to the mind and imagination.  These lost elements still exert power on the city today.

I offer entertaining and informative tours fueled by my fascination for the intriguing stories making up Istanbul’s past and present.  Join me and discover why Istanbul was destined to become a great city.


English (Fluent), French (Fluent), German (Fluent), Italian (Fluent), Russian (Fluent), Spanish; Castilian (Fluent)


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