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Turkey has a rich history as a crossroads of cultures, and this day tour of Istanbul will explore the early steps of the Jewish community in this magnificent city.
In the mid-15th century, the reigning Ottoman Sultan welcomed immigrants to settle in Constantinople. Jews expelled from Europe found their way into the city, establishing communities (Balat and Galata) in the area.
This day tour will take you to important sites in the Jewish neighborhoods and explore the rich history of Jews in the city.
A Jewish heritage tour of Istanbul will give you a glimpse of one of the city’s oldest inhabitants’ rich culture, history, language, and religion. Jews may be a minority group in the city, but they have left significant Istanbul marks throughout their five centuries of stay.
While most of them know French, the Jews of Istanbul speak Turkish among themselves. Very few, especially the older generation remember their old language “Ladino”.
Our first visit will be the Museum of Jewish Turks, established in 2001 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the first Sephardic Jews arrived in the Ottoman Empire. The museum has an interactive collection of video and sound recordings, photographs, and objects that will let you learn about the language, culture, and history of Jewish people in Turkey. Discover beautiful ceremonial regalia and visit a section highlighting the Ladino language (Judeo-Espanyol), including musical recordings.
Visitors must have a passport/photo ID to access the building.
We will then head to the Neve Shalom (Oasis of Peace) Synagogue, whose building is attached to the Museum of Jewish Turks. Opened in 1951, the Neve Shalom Synagogue is the largest Jewish place of worship in Istanbul. Apart from hosting prayers during the Shabbat, the synagogue hosts important Jewish ceremonies such as weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, circumcisions, and funerals.
Explore this magnificent structure and learn its history, including grief and resilience, after surviving two terrorist attacks. Victims of the attacks are commemorated at the Neve Shalom entrance hall with a special plaque.
Our next stop is the Ashkenazi Synagogue, built close to the Galata tower by Ashkenazi (European) Jews from Australia. The temple was built in 1909 with a design similar to Ottoman architecture, and inside, it has a grand chandelier from Vienna and borrows a few influences from Islamic motifs.
This visit will let you soak in the best of Jewish architecture and learn Ashkenazi traditions that the synagogue still preserves. The Ashkenazi Synagogue also hosts important Jewish religious ceremonies.
We will then head to Schneider Temple- formerly a temple, and currently serves as an art gallery. The temple was built in 1894 by a group of Ashkenazi Jews known as the Jewish Tailor Association, hence the name ‘Schneider’ (means Tailor). The temple served as a synagogue until the 60s, before being used as a depot, and then later converted into an art center. Enjoy contemporary art in the temple as you learn more about the city’s historical heritage.
Our final activity of the tour will be photo stops outside the Italian Synagogue, Jewish apartments, and the iconic Kamondo Stairs. The fascinating stairs were built in the late 19th century by a wealthy Jewish family, and their design is like nothing else in Istanbul.
Take memorable shots of these spots and many others to remind you of this great visit.
Like many others on the website, this tour is also open to last-minute bookings, but please note that we will need your passport copies to make reservations for the synagogues visits.