Izmir Jewish Heritage Tour
Get to know the rich Jewish heritage in Izmir on a private tour of the Beth Israel Synagogue, the Kemeralti Bazaar and Havra Street, known as the Jewish or Sephardic neighborhood. Book Izmir Jewish Heritage Tour now!
We provide private tours of Jewish heritage in Izmir, one of the Jewish community’s most heavily settled areas in Turkey. Our Jewish tours in Izmir are designed to meet the needs and demands of our guests, which help us to prepare them. Our Jewish professional guides are Jewish history experts in Izmir, so that they can provide our guests with detailed knowledge on the past and the current Jewish life in Izmir. Izmir is a very rich Jewish-historic area, with lovely old synagogues and modern ones. Izmir has been strongly influenced by the Jewish culture.
Jewish presence traces back to the Roman days in Izmir. During those days, Izmir was known as Smyrna. According to some sources, Alexander the Great sent some Jews to Smyrna, after he had conquered Jerusalem. In Izmir, in the 2nd and 3rd centuries there was an active synagogue. It is now possible to see remnants of a Jewish synagogue dating back to the 3rd century in Sardis, one hour drive away from Izmir. Smyrna was on a decline until the 16th century after the Roman invasion. During the Ottoman period, the Ottoman Empire welcomed Jews who were expelled from Spain and they started to live in Smyrna in 1492. In the 16th century, Smyrna began to be an exporting port city. Many merchants, including Jews, were drawn to the area. In Agora and Havra Sokak districts resided the majority of the Jewish people who immigrated to Smyrna. There they built their home, shops and synagogues. Izmir had 34 functioning little synagogues. Having many synagogues was primarily because of the numerous Jewish communities living in Izmir. Sephardic Jews came from Spain, arriving from Europe, Thessoloniki, and Ashkenazi Jews from Germany after the Second World War. Each community operated with a synagogue of its own. Many of Izmir’s synagogues were built side by side. Jews started heading to the new neighborhood of Karatas, in the 19th century. There, Beth Israel Synagogue was founded and the Karatas Hospital was built.
In Izmir, usually the synagogues have a distinctive type of design in contrast to the Western ones. Most are enclosed by high walls and are located on a patio. Many of them have been inspired by Islamic and Greek motifs. There are two floors and the second floor is traditionally designated for women. Prior versions, identified as Sephardic versions, are centralised. Subsequent ones were influenced by European models, resembling a church.
There are currently nine functioning synagogues in Izmir. The biggest of them is in Karatas / Azansor, Beit Israel Synagogue. After the founding of Israel, the number of Jews in Izmir City decreased. A lot of Jews went to Israel. Currently there are 1300 Jews in Izmir. Many of the Izmir synagogues have to be restored. Others are inaccessible to visitors. Synagogues in Izmir can only be available to the public on advance reservation for security purposes. Copies of the passport are required for reservation. Visitors should carry their passports for security checks when they enter synagogues. On Sundays and Jewish holidays all synagogues are closed. The admission fee for visiting the Izmir Synagogues is US$ 9 per person. We suggest that your visit to the Izmir synagogues be paired with a visit to Sardis, ancient city, where you can see the ruins of a synagogue from the Third Century AD.
- Sites including Asansor, Beth Israel Synagogue & Kemeraliti
- Visits to the largest & most well-preserved Roman synagogue
- Sardis, the capital of Lydian Kingdom & home of King Croesus
- Culture & history on a Jewish journey from past to present
- Delicious local cuisine served with remarkable flavors
- Pick up and/or drop off at hotel.
- Transportation by car, minibus or bus (Optional)
- English speaking professional tour guide.
- Meals and drinks.
- Tickets to museums and monuments.
- Transportation by car, minibus or bus.
- Parking expenses.
We offer customized tours to Sardis, Izmir and Ephesus synagogues. For any concerns about private tours in Izmir please feel free to contact us. We’d be more than happy to help you. Let us build an unforgettable memory of your time in Izmir!
Located on the coast of the Aegean Sea in western Anatolia, the city of Izmir is host to a very ancient Jewish population of historical importance from the 2nd and 3rd centuries when it was called Smyrna in Greek.
The Kemeralti Bazaar became the main location for Izmir ‘s Jews. Inscriptions of this period show that in the old market town a Jewish population existed but declined throughout the Middle Ages.
In 1424, many Jews started arriving in Ottoman Cities with the invasion of the city by the Ottoman Empire. In the mid-15th century Muhammad II, and in 1492, Bayazid II, welcomed Jews expelled mainly from Spain and Portuguese by sending an invitation to the mistreated Jews of Western Europe. Most of them settled in towns such as Salonika (now known as Thessaloniki), Manisa and Tire, however Jews started settling in Smyrna’s seaport town during the mid 16th century.
Around that time, Izmir (Smyrna) was one of the main trading centres of the Levant, which attracted numerous Jewish merchants and contributed to the development of an organized Jewish community in 1605.
In the early 17th century, Jews founded their own synagogues, developed leadership institutions and formed relations with other Ottoman Jewish groups. Rabbi Isaac HaLevi Dayan, who came from Istanbul and settled in Izmir in 1609, became Izmir’s first Rabbi. The Rabbi Yosef Ishkapa, who arrived in about 1620, and Rabbi Isaac De Alba played a significant role in forming the Izmir Jewish community. Joseph Escapa of Salonika was elected rabbi of all the congregations in 1648 and Izmir was one of the Ottoman Empire’s top three Jewish centres.
The Izmir Jews came from a variety of locations. Many of them came from neighboring villages and cities like Manisa, Tire and Salonika; others from far distant areas within and outside the Ottoman Empire, such as Constantinople, Safed, Ankara, other islands of the Mediterranean Sea and the Aegean Seas, Italy and Holland. Many Jews were Portuguese immigrants in Izmir who fled the Iberian Peninsula and converted to Judaism. They founded their own synagogue named Portugal-Neve Shalom in the 1620s and 1630s, which subsequently separated into two congregations: Portugali and Neve Shalom.
The visionary founder of the Shabta’ut community (Sabbatean Messianism), Shabbatei Zvi, was born in 1626 in Izmir. Originally his ancestors came from Moria, Greece. In the mid 18th century, Shabbati Zvi proclaimed himself to be the Messiah and at once attracted thousands of followers in the Jewish community, but the rabbis cast him out of the city. Shabbatei Zvi converted to Islam in 1666, under the pressure of the Ottomans, and alienated many of his followers.
In Izmir, the Jews in a Muslim world became regarded as dhimmis, non-Muslim people. They had religious freedom and could create their own educational institutions and judicial system. In return, for security purposes, Dhimmis were charged a small tax by the government, named Gizia, but normally enjoyed a life of relatively little limitations or violations on their personal rights.
A very vibrant Jewish community existence took place in Izmir in the 17thcentury consisting of six separate congregations, among them were Kahal Bakish (Sason), founded in the 16th century in Kish yard; Kahal Portugal and Neve Shalom, presided over by the Rabbi Haim and the son of Israel Benbenishti, and some friends of Shabbat Zvi, who helped form their ideology; Kahal Pinto, founded in the 1640-50s, Kahal Giveret (Senvora), founded in 1660, still existing today; Kahal Algazi, founded in the 1660s, which was the site of the «Affair on Shabbat,» when Shabbatei Zvi claimed power over the city, Kahal Orchim which was demolished and subsequently restored in the earthquake of 1688, and became a synagogue of Rabbi Haim Abulafia in the 1830s.
In 1631, a lead rabbinate was appointed for ruling over the congregations by the Jewish community of Izmir. The Rabbi Yosef Ishkapa in the 1650’s, and the Rabbi Haim Benbenishti in the 1660 were the two main rabbis who help to shape Jewish social culture. The population of Izmir during this time was dominated by the Sephardic Jewish society, and the Jewish communal structure was incredibly lively.
18th & 19th Century
In 1772, Izmir was ravished by a massive fire, which damaged all the synagogues. This led to the collapse of the Jewish social system as many Jewish families decided to flee the existing congregation to different areas of the city. New synagogues were constructed only to replace the old synagogues in 1792. Three new congregations were established on leased property – Shalom, Bikur Holim, Etz Haim. In 1801, the Ottomans approved the construction of the synagogues.
Besides demolishing the Jewish worship places, the breakdown of the Jewish social system was compounded by the disparity between the wealthy and the poor. In the 1840s, instead of a certain congregation, societies started to grow on the basis of a certain community, named gildas, and class distinctions began to evolve.
In the 1860s Jews founded their own organizations, such as schools and hospitals, and started to modernize. In 1873 a Jewish boy’s school was founded by the European Organisation, Alliance Israelite Universelle, and few years later a Jewish girl’s school was formed. Originally formed in 1860, the Alliance aimed to improve Ottoman Jewry’s education. At the turn of the century, three Jewish journals were established.
This time was an opportunity for Izmir ‘s Jews, especially with the creation of the school of the Alliance. The French-speaking students were the next members of the Jewish group to follow Western clothes, became less religious, resided in big Spanish-style homes close to the central market and were employed as bankers and in the finance sector.
At the end of the 19th century, Jewish culture was thriving in Izmir and 55 thousand Jews were staying there. Yet because of the worsening economic circumstances in the Ottoman Empire, the rapid migration of the Jewish people from Izmir to America, Western Europe and Israel began at the beginning of the 20th century, which took the number down to 25,000 by 1905.
World War I
At the beginning of the First World War, Jews hold a number of prominent roles in Izmir, including high economic , political and journalism roles. However, both Jews and Christians started to rejoin the Ottoman army after the Young Turks uprising of 1908, and many Jewish households were trapped with shortage of food and money at that point, when the key family leaders were forced back to battle.
During the Greek-Turkish War, Izmir was seized in 1919-1922 by Greece, but Ataturk’s soldiers took it back in 1922. Some days later, the city was devastated by a fire that demolished all Jewish shops and homes in the Greek, Armenian, and European neighborhoods, the most popular shopping malls of Izmir. Many Jews choose to emigrate in 1923, with the founding of the Turkish Republic. The Jews had essentially existed peacefully under the Ottomans, and were granted their own chief rabbinate, courts and elected municipal Councils. The Jewish community was reduced to a single religious group with the reforms of Ataturk.
The Jewish community of Izmir quickly declined during the Great Depression of 1929 and the population diminished to about 10.000 in the 1940s. The mass migrations culminated in the 1950s, when nearly all the other Jews fled Izmir for Israel.
Modern Jewish Community
Today in Izmir, most Jews live near Mustafa Ender Boulevard, also known as Mustafa Bey in the upscale district of Alsancak. Izmir has a population of almost four million and is Turkey’s third largest city, where the number of Jews is about 1700.
Jewish Community Administration +90 232 421 12 90 (for information about Jewish synagogues and sites in Izmir)
Sha’ar Hashamaim Synagogue No. 4 1390 Street, off Mustafa Ender Boulevard
Bikur Holim Synagogue No. 38 Gazi Osmanpasa
Shalom Synagogue No. 38 927 Street
Portugali Synagogue No. 8 926 Street
Algazi Synagogue No. 73 927 Street
Giveret (Senora) Synagogue No. 77 927 Street
Etz Hayyim Synagogue No. 7 937 Street
Hevra Synagogue No. 4 937 Street
Beth Israel Synagogue 265 Mithatpasa
Rosh Ha’ar Synagogue No. 67 281 Street
Gur Cesme Cemetery Tomb of Rabbi Hayim Palaggi (1788-1869) Gur Cesme Street
|English speaking guide only|
|Up to 4 people||Up to 9 people||Up to 13 people||Up to 19 people|
|90 €||120 €||130 €||160 €|
|Vehicle and English-speaking guide|
|Up to 4 people||Up to 9 people||Up to 13 people||Up to 19 people|
|190 €||205 €||220 €||280 €|