Jewish existance in Izmir dates back to Roman times. Izmir was known as Smyrna those days. According to some historians, once Alexander the Great invaded Jerussalem, he sent some Jews to Smyrna. There was an active synagogue in Izmir in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Today in Sardis which is an hour drive from Izmir, it is possible to see the remains of a Jewish synagogue dating back to 3rd century AD.
After the Roman period, Smyrna had a decline until 16th century. During the Ottoman era, in 1492 Jews who are expelled from Spain were welcomed by the Ottoman Empire and some settled in Smyrna. Smyrna started becoming an exporting port city in 16th century. Attracted many traders including jews to the city.
Majority of the Jews who migrated Smyrna lived in Agora and Havra Sokak districts. They built their living quarters, shops and synagogues there. There were 34 active small synagogues in Izmir. The main reason that there were several synagoues because of the different Jewish communities. Among these communities, there were Sephardic jews coming from Spain, coming from Europe, from Thessoloniki and during 2nd world war Ashkenazi jews coming from Germany. Each group attented to their own synagogue. Many of the synagogues of Izmir were founded next to each other. In 19th century jews started to move to new neigbourhood: Karatas. Founded Beth Israel Synagogue and a hospital in Karatas.
Synagogues in Izmir generaly have distinctive artchitectural style compared with the european versions. Many of them are surrounded with high walls and located by a courtyard. Some of them were influenced by Islamic designs and Greek motifs. Generally have two stories and second storey reserved for women. Facing to east. Earlier ones are centralised which are known as Sephardic. Later ones were inspired by european versions which would resemble a church.
Pictures of Izmir Synagogues:
Today there are 9 active synagogues in Izmir. The biggest one among them is Beit Israel Synagogue in Karatas/Asansor district. Number of Jews in the city of Izmir declined after foundation of Israel. Many jews moved to Israel. Today 1300 jews living in city of Izmir.
Some of the synagogues of Izmir require restorations. Some of them are closed for visits. For security reasons synagogues in Izmir are open to public visit only by prior reservation. For the reservation passport copies are required. Visitors should bring along their passports while visiting synagogues for security checks. All synagogues are closed for visits on Saturdays and during religious holidays. There is an admission fee of US$9 per person to visit the synagogues of Izmir.
We recommend to combine your visit to Izmir synagogues with a visit to the Ancient city of Sardis where you will witness the remains ofa 3rd century AD synagogue.
We operate custom tours to Sardis and synagogues of Izmir. For more information, please contact us.
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