A digital portal launched in 2016 that features a growing interactive map pinpointing cultural and religious sites of Turkey’s Armenian, Greek, Jewish and Syriac minorities. Called Türkiye Kültürel Varlıkları Haritası” (Turkey’s Map of Cultural Heritages), the portal was launched by the Hrant Dink Foundation, which focuses on intercultural diversity, and is co-funded by the European Union and the Turkish government.
A travel web site that has lists of synagogues and other Jewish heritage sites in Turkey.
The American Sephardi Foundation and the Center for Jewish History in New York have published all the nearly 3,000 photographs of about 50 synagogue buildings in Turkey. They were taken over a two month period in 1996, when New York-based architect Joel A. Zack and photographer Devon Jarvis (along with Turkish architectural student Ceren Kahraman and Muharrem Zeybek, driver and guide) traveled 6,000 miles Turkish synagogues and former synagogues (and thus some are rather out of date, given recent restorations). The project (which also resulted in a book and exhibition) was funded by the Maurice Amado Foundation and the Mitrani Family Foundation.
In a review of the book and archive on his blog, Samuel D. Gruber, president of the International Survey of Jewish Monuments, wrote: Because of the geographic expanse of Turkey, and because of cultural connections of the Ottoman Age, there are many different types of synagogues, that served diverse Jewish communities. Turkey was fertile ground for synagogue design. Besides local ancient, Byzantine and Ottoman sources, their was a near-constant Ottoman cultural exchange with Russia, Central Europe, Italy, Egypt, Syria and Iraq. Future research will need to further examine these associations in the context of Jewish art and architecture. Perhaps the most clearly indigenous Ottoman synagogue type is that of the rectangular plan with a central four column feature, usually surrounding a the tevah and sometimes surmounted by a dome. This type was common around Izmir and is also know in Northern Greece, Bulgaria. But it also known in Morocco, and even earlier in a simpler form from Tomar, Portugal, so the actual origins of the type remain unknown.
Photos and info on some synagogues in Turkey on the Turkish Jewish community web site
This detailed, illustrated article by Minna Rozen, published in 1992 in The Jewish Quarterly Review, reports on a survey of dozens of Jewish cemeteries in western Turkey carried out in the late 1980s and provides extensive descriptive and historical information. It is available online via JStor (requires registration but can be read for free.)
Video drawn from American photographer Laurence Salzmann’s documentation work in Turkey, on behalf of Beit Hatfutsot.
ANCIENT SYNAGOGUES: ARCHEOLOGICAL SITES
Archeologists have identified the remains of several ancient synagogues in Turkey. These include:
Two in the Antalya province:
One was discovered in 2009 by archeologists at ancient port city of Andriake in Lycia — located in Antalya’s Demre district. It was likely built in the 3rd century CE, following a law in 212 that allowed Jews to become Roman citizens. The find included carvings of a menorah and other Jewish symbols. The second was discovered in 2012 by archeologists digging at the ancient city of Limyra.
There is also a late antiquity synagogue in Priene, first excavated at the end of the 19th century and identified as a synagogue in the early 20th century.
The long-ruined Yabets Synagogue was fully restored and rededicated in the spring of 2014 for use as a cultural center. The synagogue is believed to have been built in the latter part of the 19th century. The Municipality notes that There is an epigraph at the entrance of the synagogue in Hebrew that details its construction date and beneficiary:
“By the grace of God… The tone belittled by the masters became the keystone. This structure was built by Ephraim Bengiyat for his father Ishak Bengiyat- may he rest in peace-. May God bless them. Year 5645 (1875)- the year of abundance and goodness!…”
It was abandoned after being seriously damaged in a fire in the 1940s that caused the roof to collapse. The restoration rebuilt much of the structure and fittings, including the bimah, which is painted with bright blue, gold, green, and pink motifs. According to the Izmir Jewish Heritage Project (quoting in part YNET news) the restoration:
came about thanks to the initiative of Turkey-born Gabby Levy, who served as Israel’s ambassador to Turkey from 2007 until he was expelled in 2010 during a crisis in relations between Turkey and Israel. Levy convinced the locals that they synagogue would be a source of attraction for some one million of tourists who visit the ruins of the nearby Greek city of Pergamon. The Mayor responded to the challenge and the project was launched. The rehabilitation efforts were undertaken by the government of the Izmir province (Bergama is located in its territory), the Turkish Ministry of Tourism, UNESCO, and the European Union.
A Jewish presence in Bodrum, on the Aegean coast south of Izmir, dates back to ancient times; the community is believed to have grown with the arrival of Romaniote Jews during the Byzantine era and later by an influx of Sephardic Jews after the expulsion from Iberia. According to Bora, the Bodrum Jewish population was “completely ‘Sephardized’” after the 15th and 16th centuries.
All that’s left physically is a small Jewish cemetery with several dozen surviving gravestones, most of them horizontal slabs or sarcophagi in the Sephardic manner.
A full documentation of the cemetery was published in book form in 2016. It includes cases of cross-cultural contact between Bodrum’s Muslim and Jewish communities: two gravestones where the traditional Hebrew phrase, “Baruch Dayan Ha-emet,” is used together with “Ruhuna Fatiha,” a Muslim request for prayer (from the Surat-al-Fatiha in the Koran).
Watch a video about the cemetery:
Synagogue built in 1907 to replace 13 synagogues destroyed in a fire in 1905.
One of the largest in Europe, it seated 1200 people. Used until 1983, it stood abandoned for years. The roof collapsed in the 1990s. In March 2015 it was reopened after a $2.5 million, 5-year government-funded restoration process and rededicated as a museum and cultural center that will also be able to be used for worship.
The ruined Great Synagogue of Gaziantep, in eastern Turkey near the Syrian border, was restored and rededicated in 2012. It is an austere stone structure with a central bimah. The Daily Sabah newspaper wrote, in 2015:
The synagogue was abandoned when the city’s remaining Jewish community left the region in the 1970s and traveled to either Israel or Istanbul. A significant part of the building collapsed due to negligence. With the contributions of the Jewish community, the General Directorate of Foundations carried out the project at the two-story synagogue that originally could seat up to 500 people. The official date of its construction is unknown, but certain local resources suggest it was built in the 19th century.
This tourist video gives an introduction of Jewish Istanbul, with images of its synagogues and Jewish cemeteries:
There are around 20 synagogues in Istanbul; the Jewish community web site has links to photos and other information for some of them:
The Ashkenazi Synagogue
Maalem Synagogue- Hasköy
Bet Avraam Synagogue – Sirkeci
The Bakırköy Synagogue
Some synagogues are open for visits but only by prior appointment. To make an appointment, contact the Jewish community at this link.
The Neve Şalom synagogue web site has extensive information and photos of six synagogues in Istanbul (can be accessed in several languages):
There is also the Abudaram (or Abudara or Parmakkapi) synagogue on Haskoy Mahluk st., which was returned to the Jewish community in 2017 after it had been used since the 1960s as a workshop. Graduate students at the Istanbul Technical University produced a report on the synagogue (with pictures) several years ago, which includes restoration recommendations.
The Neve Şalom/Jewish community web site web site lists five Jewish cemeteries in Istanbul, with links to photographs and other information:
Büyükhendek Caddesi No: 39,
Formally called the The Quincentennial Foundation Museum of Turkish Jews, the museum opened in 2001 in the Zulfaris (Kal Kados Galata) Synagogue, which was built in 1823 on the site of an earlier synagogue dating from 1671. In early 2016 it was revamped and moved to the Neve Shalom synagogue complex.
There are around a dozen surviving synagogues in Izmir. The Central Izmir Synagogue Complex in the heart of the historic city center consists of eight adjacent synagogues constructed in diverse 16th century Sephardic styles. The synagogues, which fell into serious disrepair or ruin in recent decades, were placed on the 2004 World Monuments Fund Watch List and are currently being restored as part of an international project, the Izmir Synagogue Project, which is led by the Israeli-based Mordechai Kiriaty Foundation, in cooperation with the municipality and the Izmir Jewish community. There are also Jewish cemeteries and other buildings.
Links to information, photographs and videos regarding synagogues, Jewish cemeteries, and other sites and buildings in Izmir: part of a cultural tourism development project web site. There are also links to Jewish heritage itineraries and tours in Izmir and Turkey.
The WMF put the Complex on the 2004 Watch List and provided support through its Jewish Heritage Program that enabled the completion of emergency roof repairs at the Shalom Synagogue. The WMF web page gives history and descriptive information about the synagogues and their architecture: “Despite their non-monumental exteriors, the sanctuaries exemplify exceptional interior planning and craftsmanship. Perhaps the most distinct characteristic of the Izmir synagogues is the unusual “triple arrangement” of the Torah ark, which creates a unique harmonious ambience. The central positioning of the bimah (elevated platform) between four columns divided the synagogues into nine parts.”
The web page provides a presentation, background information and images for an ambitious project led by the Mordechai Kiriaty Foundation to restore the historic Synagogue Complex and create a living Jewish cultural monument. Four contiguous synagogues within Izmir’s historic bazaar have been designated as the core of the restoration project: Hevra, Algazi, Signora-Giveret and the ruins of the Foresteros synagogue. Combined with two other adjacent synagogues: Etz-Hayim and Shalom, in addition the Bikur-Holim synagogue nearby; they form a unique complex of diverse Sephardic synagogue styles.
Project of the Zalman Shazar Center for Jewish History; a three-week session to document Jewish heritage in Izmir:
Documentation carried out by students/researchers as part of the Journey into Jewish Heritage project of the Zalman Shazar Center for Jewish History
Documentation carried out by students/researchers as part of the Journey into Jewish Heritage project of the Zalman Shazar Center for Jewish History. Still in use, the cemetery was founded in 1885 and has about 15,000 graves.
There is also some information on Izmir’s three other Jewish cemeteries, including the destroyed cemetery now the site of the Bahri Baba park.
A video tour of Izmir synagogues