Jewish Sites in Sardis, Turkey

Ancient Sardis was the capital of the Kingdom of Lydia, whose most famous king was Croesus (560-546 B.C.E.), the first monarch to mint coinage. During its heyday as a Roman city, Sardis had a very large and prosperous Jewish community which may have been established here in much earlier times.

GETTING THERE

The ruins of Sardis lie less 90 km (56 miles) east of Izmir, a ride of 75 minutes along the main highway eastward to Salihli and Ankara, through rich fields of sultanas (grapes), figs and tobacco.

To get to Sardis, you can join an organized tour(contact your hotel, or any travel agency in Izmir), rent a car, or take a bus. Buses depart Izmir’s mammoth bus station (Yeni Garaj) every 30 minutes for Salihli (sah-LEEHH-lee); tell the driver you want to get off at Sart.

The ruins of Jewish interest lie just off the north side of the highway in the village of Sartmustafa. On the south side, one kilometer from the village, are the impressive ruins of the Temple of Athena.

Starting early, the excursion to Sardis can be done in a morning or an afternoon; allow at least an hour, preferably two, for seeing the ruins.

WHAT TO SEE IN SARDIS

Though Sardis plays no role in the history of Jewish immigrants who came to the Ottoman Empire from Spain and Portugal, it is of interest because of its extremely large and rich Roman synagogue. In ancient Sardis, Jews held seats on the city council and important offices in the Roman civil administration.

Remains of the beautiful and richly-appointed synagogue dating from the 200s C.E. have been uncovered and restored; much of the funding for restoration came from American Jewish individuals, congregations and philanthropies.

Visitors to the site approach the synagogue along the Marble Way, a main street lined with shops, many of which were owned by Jewish merchants and artisans, as signs indicate.

The synagogue itself, of which only the floor, some walls and columns remain, is of grand proportions, with wonderful mosaic floors and colored-stone wall decorations.

Beside the synagogue is the restored facade of the Roman gymnasium, or school, a very impressive two-story structure.

On the south side of the highway, don’t miss the opportunity to see the remains of the great Temple of Artemis, of gigantic proportions.

Snacks and drinks are available in the village.


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