Jewish Sites in Kuzguncuk, Istanbul

Just south of the Bosphorus Bridge is Kuzguncuk. Two synagogues here played an important part in the life of the Judeo-Spanish community in Istanbul.

Though Kuzguncuk once had a large and active Jewish community, there are few Jewish residents today, and the synagogues here are heavily used only on holidays and special occasions, though they are customarily open on Shabbat.

If you get as far as Kuzguncuk, you should make the effort to see nearby Beylerbeyi Palace.

GETTING THERE

Kuzguncuk is a residential suburb just south of the eastern pylon of the southernmost Bosphorus Bridge, and north of Üsküdar.

Though one can take a taxi to Kuzguncuk from any part of Istanbul, it is less expensive and far more enjoyable to cross the Bosphorus by ferryboat, every 15 minutes from Karaköy to Haydarpasa or Kadiköy, or from Eminönüor Kabatas to Üsküdar, and then to take a taximinibus dolmush or bus north for the short ride to Kuzguncuk.

Icadiye Caddesi, the location of the synagogues, is the main street heading inland, right in the center of Kuzguncuk. If you go by minibus or bus, get off at the Kuzguncuk stop, which is right at Icadiye Caddesi.

WHAT TO SEE IN KUZGUNCUK

The Merkez (Central) Synagogue, Icadiye Caddesi no. 9, also called the Beth Yaakov Synagogue, just southeast of the shore road on the left-hand side, is entered from a courtyard by marble steps beneath a small Victorian porch.

The marble-floored interior has walls painted with trompe l’oeil “stone” panels, but it is the synagogue’s interior dome which attracts attention with its paintings of scenes from Israel. The ark is at one end of the hall, the bema (or teva) at the other end.

The Virane Synagogue, Yakup Sokak No. 8, is less than 300 meters southeast uphill from the Merkez along pleasant tree-shaded Icadiye Caddesi. Continue up Icadiye Caddesi to Icadiye Hamam Sokak and turn right; Yakup Sokak is a short dead-end street on the right-hand side of Icadiye Hamam Sokak.

The Virane is smaller and less impressive than the Merkez, with walls covered in wood-grain contact paper, and small chandeliers. It is an intimate space, obviously quite old, and interesting though not impressive. Entry is through a small courtyard past the midrash (the ground floor of the synagogue), then up a flight of steps to the synagogue proper, on the upper floor.

The Merkez and the Virane synagogues were informally known as the Kal de Abaso (“Lower Synagogue,” the Merkez) and Kal de Ariva (“Upper Synagogue,” the Virane)

Farther east along Icadiye Caddesi is the Kuzguncuk Jewish Cemetery, which is still in use.

Only 1-1/3 km (one mile) northeast of Kuzguncuk on the Bosphorus shore stands Beylerbeyi Palace (closed Monday and Thursday). Take a taximinibus dolmush or bus north from Kuzguncuk to the Çayirbasi stop, then walk a few steps south to the palace entrance.

Üsküdar, Kuzguncuk and Beylerbeyi have many good waterfront restaurants, just right for a pleasant lunch or afternoon snack during sightseeing.


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