Synagogues

Izmir is the only city in the world in which an unusual cluster of synagogues bearing a typical medieval Spanish architectural style is preserved. Some of these synagogues are adjacent to each other, creating an historical architectural complex unique in the world.

Following the expulsion of Jews from Spain and Portugal in 1492, some of the deportees and their descendants came to Izmir, and brought with them the Sephardic Jewish heritage, the Ladino language, the Sephardic traditions of religion and worship, along with the architectural styles of the synagogues that existed in medieval Spain. This style is characterized by a central stage upon which the ark where the Torah is read is placed across the holy chest at the eastern wall, and the central platform is supported by four pillars that form, in the center of the prayer hall, a kind of canopy built at the ceiling. The sitting arrangement, as a circle around the stage, allows the congregation to see the faces of one another, thus creating a bonding experience in public prayer, as opposed to the architectural style at Ashkenazi synagogues, where worshippers sit in rows with no eye contact between them.

Of 34 magnificent synagogues built in previous centuries in Izmir in an architectural style loyal to the praying style common in medieval Spain, only 8 remain today around the market area of Izmir. Some preserved, some in ruins, these synagogues constitute a living testimony to the history of the community in Izmir, which was one of the most spectacular of its kind and had the most spiritual and cultural influence on all Jewish diaspora communities in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Ashkenazi Synagogue

Adjacent to Shalom Synagogue, there is a structure whose entrance was through Shalom Synagogue that used to be the Ashkenazi Synagogue and was destroyed at the beginning of the 20th century. The opening in the courtyard that led to Ashkenazi Synagogue can still be seen today. Ashkenazi Jews (from the communities of eastern and central Europe), who emigrated to the Ottoman Empire already in the 15th century used to pray in a different style from Sephardic Jews. However, after the expulsion from Spain, when most communities in the Ottoman Empire were Spanish-speaking, most Ashkenazi Jews were assimilated among them. But like in Izmir, Ashkenazi communities were also found other large cities. In late 19th century, another immigration wave of Ashkenazi Jews came to Izmir and this synagogue served them.

  • Ashkenazi Synagogue

    Kemeraltı

  • 20th century
  • outer walls exist only - Unavailable to visit
  • No plans of restoration at the present.

Beit Hillel Synagogue

This building served in the past as the home of the Palache family, a family of famous rabbis who were active in Izmir. The synagogue was founded in 1840 by the Palache family. Rabbi Haim Palache and his son, Rabbi Avraham Palache led the community for many years. In the 19th century, Rabbi Avraham Palache founded in his home a synagogue named Beit Hillel, after the philanthropist from Bucharest who supported the publication of Rabbi Palache's books. However, the name “Avraham Palache Synagogue” was also used by the community. The synagogue also served as a religious school, but it was destroyed after its roof collapsed and is now closed and cannot be visited due to its shaky physical condition. The Municipality of Izmir has prepared plans for restoring the building as a museum.

Beit Israel Synagogue

The largest synagogue in Izmir, intended to house between 400 and 600 worshippers, this synagogue was built when many Jews left the historic quarter and moved to the new neighborhoods in the city, especially the modern Karataş neighborhood. The construction began in 1905 and was completed in 1907. The synagogue has a tall and impressive facade, decorated with artistic elements and Jewish symbols. The splendor of the synagogue can be noticed in comparison to the small and modest synagogues in the market compound that were built in the Spanish style brought by Jews expelled from Spain, and is different from them in architectural style. The prayer hall of the synagogue is distinctive with its Italian architectural style and the Ashkenazi influence on the sitting arrangement; the benches are placed in rows facing the holy chest and there are two stages adjacent to the holy chest on its two sides. At the center of the ceiling there is dome structure with six sides with windows that transmit daylight to the prayer hall from above. The eastern wall, the ceiling and the dome are decorated with classic style patterns. The holy chest and the columns supporting the gallery are made of wood carved with classic ornaments, and the wooden structure containing the holy chest and the two arks are stretched throughout the eastern wall. At the upper gallery, that was originally intended to be the women's gallery, there is a permanent exhibition of Judaic and religious articles, which tells the story of the Jewish community in Izmir and the history of the Beit Israel synagogue.

  • Beit Israel Synagogue

    Karataş

  • Built in 1907
  • Available to visit
  • Active

Bikur Holim Synagogue

Bikur Holim Synagogue was founded in 1724 by Shlomo de Chaves, who donated the building to the community for use as a synagogue. The name of the synagogue 'Bikur Holim' was given to it when the basement of the building was converted to a hospital during the cholera plague that struck the city. The synagogue was burnt twice in the 18th century, and descendants of de Chaves renovated it every time. The synagogue is considered of the most beautiful of its kind in the city. A wall and a gate also surround this synagogue, and the entrance to the prayer hall is through a small religious school with an ark and a holy chest of its own. In the center of the prayer hall, there is an amazing elevated ark and attached benches around it. The ark has columns supporting the ceiling of the synagogue, giving it a monumental character. The ceiling is unique and decorated with geometric patterns that give the synagogue a distinctive an unusual character. The holy chest is relatively modest and like in other synagogues in Izmir, is situated between two smaller cabinets. The basement of the synagogue served various purposes over the years, including a prison for judgments of the community Court, which enjoyed legal autonomy in the Ottoman Empire.

Algazi Synagogue

Algazi Synagogue, located at the heart of the ancient complex of synagogues in the market place in Izmir, is one of the most beautiful of its kind in the city. It is associated with the Algazi family, who was a well-known family of poets and rabbis in Izmir. Rabbi Shlomo Elgazi, a disciple of Rabbi Yosef Eskapa, was known with his firm opposition to Shabbai Zvi during the turbulent days of this episode. This synagogue also suffered from ravages of time and nature and was renovated several times. The synagogue was built in 1724 and since then has been renovated several times. The synagogue hall is large and illuminated with many windows, and it is decorated in white and blue, which add much glory to the place. In the center of the hall, there is a canopy-like structure supported by four pillars coming down from the ceiling and surrounding the wide and large ark. In the eastern wall there is a central and relatively modest holy chest, with two smaller cabinets on both sides. There is no gallery for women. Local tradition tells that during a Yom Kippur prayer, the cantor winked at a woman sitting at the women's gallery, and the women's gallery was permanently closed to prevent such a case to happen again.

  • Algazi Synagogue

    Kemeraltı

  • Built in1724
  • Available to visit
  • Active

Etz Hayim Synagogue

The name “tree of life” was widely used for synagogues in Greek speaking communities in the Ottoman Empire from the period of the Byzantine Empire, centuries before the immigration of Spanish Jews to Izmir. The name indicates the ancient history of the synagogue, possibly going back to the 14th or the 15th century. Researchers believe that the synagogue was one of the six communities that existed in Izmir. It is a beautiful and unique synagogue. The prayer hall is one floor up and the entrance to it is through a hallway that was used in the past as a small religious school. Four original pillars that in the past surrounded the ark and reached the ceiling in an impressive structure dominate the center of the hall. Various holy verses adorn the ceiling of the ark and the synagogue hall. The holy chest is surrounded by a handsome wooden structure to which two additional chests, each on one side, were added at a later period. This synagogue also suffered over the years from natural disasters and went through many changes. Today the physical condition of the synagogue requires strict preservation. According to the tradition, Moslems who arrived in Izmir at the 14th and 15th century used this synagogue for prayer because of the absence of mosques in the city.

Hevra Synagogue

This synagogue, also known as the Talmud Torah, was probably founded in early 17th century during the time of Rabbi Yosef Eskapa. It is situated within the complex of four adjacent synagogues at the market place in Izmir, where for many generations was the heart of the Jewish quarter in Izmir in which most Jews lived until recently. The synagogue was ruined by fire and renovated several times, went out of use after its ceiling collapsed and was destroyed. In the past, it was considered one of the most beautiful buildings in Izmir, but it’s hard to notice that in its current state. However, it is still possible to see within the ruins, the remains of the handsome ark and the beautiful holy chest. The synagogue had a small religious school which itself resembled a synagogue. These schools, which were usually located in the foyer leading to the prayer hall, served as small prayer houses, as well as places for the study of the Torah. In 2000, several restoration plans were proposed for renovating the synagogue, but they were not realized.

Kahal Kadosh Synagogue

Kahal Kadosh Synagogue, which was also known as 'Mezake et Harabim', was founded in 1881-1882, and built after Jews moved to the Karsiyaka area from the traditional Jewish quarters. The synagogue building has undergone a successful renovation and conservation at the hands of the Municipality, after the community agreed to transfer it to the City for public use. The holy chest and the Hebrew verses on the walls were restored and preserved, and today the building serves as the music center of the city.

  • Kahal Kadosh Synagogue

    Karşıyaka

  • 19th century
  • Operates as conservatory

Los Foresteros Synagogue

Los Foresteros Synagogue, also called 'Orahim', is also located in the heart of the historic Jewish quarter, today at the main market area in Izmir. The synagogue was probably built in the 17th century and was active until it was destroyed by fire a few decades ago, and today only the outer walls remain. The synagogue has two names. Its Hebrew name was 'Kadosh', and in Spanish 'Forestros', meaning 'foreigners' or 'guests', indicating that it served new Jewish immigrants who came to Izmir and joined the local Jewish community. After it was destroyed and ceased to function as a synagogue, its courtyard was used as a kosher poultry slaughterhouse, in which atonement ceremonies were had before Yom Kippur.

Portugal Synagogue

This is the first of the six communities established in Izmir, possibly early in 17th century, and most probably it was one of the six synagogues that already existed in 1621 during the time of Rabbi Eskapa in Izmir. Its name indicates that many of its founders were Marranos who fled from the chains of the Inquisition in Portugal and returned to Judaism in the Ottoman Empire. The synagogue includes an impressive gate made of marble columns and a pediment. Since its establishment, the synagogue went through many changes and was destroyed due to various natural disasters. In 1665, when Sabbatai Zevi was active in the city, the synagogue was at the heart of events associated with Sabbatai Zevi, who led a messianic movement that swept large parts of the Jewish world. Three walls and the impressive marble gate still remain from the original building which was burnt down in 1964.

Rosh Ha-Har Synagogue

In the upper part of Karataş, there is a relatively small synagogue named "Rosh Ha-Har", indicating its location at the top of the mountain. This synagogue is one of the synagogues built after Jews living in the old quarter around the market moved to the Karataş neighborhood on the hill. The synagogue was built in the 19th century, some believe in 1901, along with other prayer houses that served the local community but ceased to exist. A wall surrounds the synagogue compound, like with many others in the Ottoman Empire. Within the synagogue courtyard, there were several functions that served the community. The synagogue has a fine ark with a handsome staircase that leads to it, and across it, three holy chests, as is customary in some of the ancient synagogues in Izmir. There are two smaller cabinets, and the central holy chest is located between them.

Señora Synagogue

This synagogue is also part of the compound of synagogues located today in the central market place. According to local tradition, the synagogue was built in the sixties of the 17th century, but since then has gone through far-reaching changes, constructions, and many renovations. Its structure is a beautiful gem, with an entrance through an iron gate, hiding behind it a lovely garden leading to the upper women's gallery at the synagogue. The hall is large and spacious, decorated with ancient and unique paintings of landscape. Apparently, the ark used to be in the center of the hall under a canopy structure and ornate columns, but like other synagogues in Izmir, the ark was moved to the front near the holy chest. The meaning of its name is uncertain. Local tradition has it that Donna Gracia, who was also known as 'seniora', founded the synagogue, and it was named after her. Another hypothesis says that a different 'seniora' who immigrated to Israel rented her house for use as a synagogue, and the rent payments provided for her livelihood in the Holy Land.

  • Señora Synagogue

    Kemeraltı

  • Early 17th century
  • Available to visit, restorated
  • Active

Shalom Synagogue

Shalom Synagogue was one of the first communities active in Izmir and was probably founded in the 17th century. A small courtyard with a "sukkah" leads to the synagogue, and the roof of the sukkah is decorated with a crown, a unique decoration unknown from elsewhere. The synagogue has an unusual structure, with benches adjacent to the walls, the holy chest next to the eastern wall, and two smaller chests on each side, while the ark is adjacent to the opposite wall. However it is apparent that in the past, the ark used to stand at the center of the hall, inside a frame made of four pillars, and it was only later that it was moved to the back wall. Two staircases lead to the impressive ark carved of wood. The synagogue has undergone many changes over the years, but unlike the other synagogues and many houses in the Jewish quarter, it was miraculously saved from the great fire of 1841, when the fire stopped just before the entrance to the synagogue. Installed at the front of the synagogue, there is an ancient marble tablet, depicting in Hebrew the history of the synagogue during the great fire.