Hemdat Israel is among Istanbul's most beautiful synagogues, and is certainly the most interesting Jewish site on the eastern shore of the Bosphorus.
The suburb of Haydarpasa (HI-dar-pah-shah) is also famous for Haydarpasa Station, the Asian terminus of trains coming from Anatolia to Istanbul, and as the site of the historic Selimiye Barracks, where Florence Nightingale cared for the wounded of the Crimean War.
You may want to plan a full day's excursion to the Asian shore of the Bosporus, visiting the synagogues in Haydarpasa and Kuzguncuk as well as the Beylerbeyi Palace and Çamlica hilltop lookout. If time is short, you can make a quick visit to Haydarpasa, then return to the western shore.
Take the tram to Karaköy, and board a ferry for either Haydarpasa or Kadiköy; they depart every 15 or 20 minutes from the dock just east of the Galata Bridge.
During the 20- to 25-minute crossing you can enjoyviews of the Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara, the city, and especially of the buildings on Seraglio Point: Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, and the Blue Mosque.
The castle-like Haydarpasa Station on the Asian shore was built after the earlier station (1903) was destroyed by fire in 1917. It looks German, as well it might: it was a present to the sultan from Kaiser Wilhelm II.
On a hill to the north of the station stand the huge walls and towers of the Selimiye Barracks. During the Crimean War (1854-1856) the Selimiye was used as a military hospital for British casualties. It was here that Florence Nightingale established the practices which became the foundations of modern nursing.
At Haydarpasa, leave the ferry and walk to the right around the railroad station. Walk along this road for eight or ten minutes as it bears to the right, following the curve of the bay; or take a taxi. If you arrive by ferry at Kadiköy, leave the ferry and walk to the left, keeping the bay on your left-hand side.
Coming from either dock, you will soon be on Rihtim Caddesi, on the eastern side of the bay near a large open lot filled with minibuses. Cross to the inland (eastern) side of Rihtim Caddesi. Directly opposite the minibus lot, several streets go uphill to the east; one of these is Izzettin Sokak. Go up Izzettin Sokak, passing Kasim Aga Sokak, Nizami Cedit Sokak, and Basakçi Sokak on the right. When you come to Süngertasi Sokak, stop; Hemdat Israel Synagogue is directly opposite Süngertasi Sokak. Look for the doorway leading to a passageway; the synagogue is on the left (west) side of the passageway.
WHAT TO SEE IN HAYDARPASA
Hemdat Israel Synagogue, set in the quiet residential area of Yeldegirmeni Mahallesi on Izzettin Sokak at Süngertasi Sokak, was first used for prayers on September 3, 1899.
In the late 19th century, inter-ethnic strife was becoming common in the sultan's domains as ethnic nationalism gripped the various peoples of the empire. The Jewish community suffered most from attacks by Greek Orthodox factions, one of which maneuvered to have a military unit sent from the Selimiye Barracks to halt construction of the synagogue. Sultan Abdulhamit IIdiscovered this injustice and had it corrected. In his honor the synagogue was named Hemdat, "He who is compassionate (to Israel)," a play on the sultan's name "Hamid," which means "compassionate."
The interior of the synagogue is a large, harmonious space rich with arabesque painting and a marble ark, all lit by large crystal chandeliers. The arabesque painting was renewed in 1990-91. On the north side of the synagogue is a lovely garden.