Walk Description

Standing at the crossroads of continents and cultures, Istanbul has always hosted an incredibly diverse population. Although Jews have lived in the area since antiquity, the Spanish Inquisition caused a diaspora of Sephardic Jews that dramatically increased the local population and left its mark over the following five centuries. During this three-hour walk we'll explore the history and traditions of Jewish culture in Istanbul. Using the city and several key monuments as our starting point, we'll paint a portrait of the vibrant role Jews play in the history of this cosmopolis and look at how that history impacts the city today.

Our tour of Jewish Istanbul will focus on the neighborhoods of Galata and Pera, traditionally the home of non-Muslim, "outsider," populations, and the center of business and diplomacy throughout the Ottoman period. Here we'll learn about the original Jews of Istanbul—the Karaite community—and their relatively obscure traditions. We'll also turn our attention to the presence of Sephardim, who began moving into the area after the expulsion of Jews from Spain. This expulsion set in motion one of the largest diasporas of Jews in European history.

As we move through Galata, we'll pass by the center of Jewish-controlled Ottoman finance, still dominated by banks today. We'll discuss the role of important families, like the Camando, whose staircase reminds us of their status in this neighborhood. After picking our way through this quarter and discovering fragments of history in the form of doorknobs, carved stars of David over doorways, and other hints of Jewish iconography, we'll visit one or two of the still-functioning synagogues in Galata. These include Neve Shalom and the Italian Synagogue. Which one we visit depends on the day and availability of reservations, both of which are tightly controlled for security reasons.

We will also visit the museum of Jewish history, the standing collection that provides excellent documentary reference for Jewish history in Istanbul.

We'll conclude our time together with a deeper understanding of the complicated history of Jews in Istanbul, from periods of thriving integration to episodes of discrimination and antisemitism.

Note: This walk is only available as a private walk, and preparation must be made at least two weeks in advance. (Though notice of several months is much better.) We will need to submit scans of your passports in advance in order to gain access to the monuments along the course of the walk.


Duration: 3 hours
Category: History
Venues: Italian Synagogue
Incidentals: donation for synagogues- TRY40.00
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    Claire Karaz

    Claire has dual degrees in English (University of Michigan) and medieval art history (Università di Roma "La Sapienza"). She lived in Rome for a decade where she taught art history at Trinity College and study abroad programs for other American universities. She has lived in Istanbul for the last twelve years. She is presently an adjunct instructor at Yeditepe University and a freelance translator. Originally from Washington, DC, Claire is very interested in social history. She is the author of Topkapı Palace: Inside and Out, published by Citlembik in 2004.

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    Ebru Gokteke

    Ebru has a background in journalism and was a writer for many years for a variety of Turkish magazines, including Gezi National Geographic Traveler. She has also served as an arts editor at a local publication. A native of Istanbul and a licensed guide, she has a broad range of knowledge, and is extremely interested in art and aesthetics, as well as translating the details of the Istanbul street experience for visitors. Ebru is currently attending an MA program in the history of religions at the School of Theology and working on her thesis on temple liturgy.

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    Arzu Toraman

    Having lived in both Greece and London, Arzu is a native and a true lover of Istanbul. She has completed her PhD in art history in Byzantine studies at the University of Istanbul. She is a specialist of mural painting and mosaics in Late Roman antiquity and Byzantine art.