Since Roman times, Izmir (Smyrna) had a thriving Jewish community.
There were once nine synagogues in use along Havra Sokak (Synagogue Street) in Izmir’s bazaar; three are still in service. As in Istanbul, this city’s Jewish community has largely moved to the more desirable residential quarters. The Karatas Synagogue and modern Alsancak Synagogue demonstrate this trend.
The historical heart of Izmir’s Jewish life was in the synagogues of “La Judiera,” the area of the bazaar where the synagogues are located and where some Jewish merchants still work. La Judiera is near the intersection of Gazi Osman Pasa Bulvari and Anafartalar Caddesi, a short walk from the intersection of Fevzipasa Bulvari and Gaziosmanpasa Bulvari, known as Çankaya. The best time to visit the synagogues here is on Saturday morning, when all are open for worship (two of the three are closed during the week).
From Çankaya, walk south on Gaziosmanpasa Bulvari/Esrefpasa Caddesi to Anafartalar Caddesi and turn right (west; the turn is just past the Kiraz Is Hani at no. 88). Follow Anafartalar Caddesi 50 meters into the bazaar, bearing left at the first “Y”, then turning left on the second little street on the left, which is 927 Sokak.
What to See in the Bazaar
Though officially named 927 Sokak, this used to be known as Havra Sokak, the “Street of Synagogues,” because of its nine small, active synagogues which served the Jewish merchants and artisans who worked close by. Today three of these historic synagogues are still in use.
First along Havra Sokak is the Seniyora Synagogue, at 927 Sokak no. 77. It may take its name from Doña Gracia Nasi, Duke Joseph Nasi’s mother-in-law and aunt, who was known as La Señora, and who endowed many synagogues in the Ottoman lands.
The Seniyora is the most active of the remaining synagogues on Havra Sokak, open every morning. It’s a simple but pleasant and interesting building, almost two centuries old, with obvious historic value.
The building to the left of the Seniyora’s doorway (as you face it) was once a synagogue, but the space is now occupied by a wholesale poultry business.
Next along Havra Sokak is the Kadosh Mizrahi Synagogue, 927 Sokak no. 73, open only on Saturday morning.
A short distance farther along is the Shalom (Aydin) Synagogue, 927 Sokak no. 38-C, reached through a short passageway used as storage for a shoe shop. Because of this use, the synagogue’s steel outer door is often open during shopping hours, allowing visitors at least to take a look through the synagogue’s glass doors, even if the synagogue is locked. The Shalom, like the Kadosh Mizrahi, is normally open only on Saturday morning.
The modern quarter of Alsancak is among Izmir’s most prestigious addresses. The Musta Bey Synagogue is a new building constructed to serve those who now live in this fashionable neighborhood north of the Izmir International Fairgrounds.
This neighborhood one kilometer southwest of Konak Square holds several interesting sites, among them the Beth Israel Synagogue, Beth Shalom Social Club, Karatas Hospital and the Asansör.
Easy access is provided by Mithatpasa Bulvari, the main coastal boulevard going southwest. Karatas Beth Israel Synagogue and the Asansör are only about 100 meters (110 yards) apart, a short, easy walk.
What to See in Karatas
Beth Israel Synagogue, Mithatpasa Bulvari no. 245, is a handsome Ottoman Victorian-style building dating from the turn of the century.
After visiting the synagogue, walk one block inland and around the rear of the synagogue, turning left. About a hundred meters along this street is the Asansör, a nineteenth-century funicular which once took passengers from the shore road up the sheer rock cliffs to the desirable residential district above. Inscriptions above the door in French and Hebrew declare that the elevator was constructed by Nissim Bey.
Izmir’s Archeological and Ethnographic Museums, between Karatas and Konak, Izmir’s main square, are worth a visit if time allows, as is a drive up to Kadifekale, overlooking the city and the bay. Tea houses here can provide refreshments.
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