Jewish Heritage Tour of Turkey

Turkey Jewish Heritage tour we’ve done for client. DAY 1  ARRIVAL Meeting at Istanbul Ataturk International Airport.  Transfer to the hotel Overnight Hotel Pera Marmara DAY 2   Full Day..

Turkey Jewish Heritage tour we’ve done for client.


Meeting at Istanbul Ataturk International Airport.  Transfer to the hotel

Overnight Hotel Pera Marmara


We will start our tour of the city first with a visit to the 500 Anniversary Foundation, Turkish-Jewish Museum commemorating the migration of Jews en mass from Spain & Portugal during the Inquisition in 1492.  The museum is housed in a beautiful old Synagogue, the Zulfaris Synagogue dating back to the second half of the 17th century. Following the visit to the museum we will then drive along the shores of the Golden Horn and visit some of the major Jewish Heritage sites of Istanbul.  The first among these will be the Ahrida Synagogue in the Balat district of Istanbul where most of the old synagogues of the city are located.   Balat originally was a zone between the most pious Moslem district of Eyup on one side and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the Greek Orthodox  Church in Fener.  The area was a hum of activity when the middle and upper middle class Jewish families were leaving here, while the really wealthy preferred the more modern parts of the city like Galata / Pera on the other side of the Golden Horn.

It was here in Balat that the Jewish Communities established the divisions between the Romaniote (Byzantine), Sephardic (from Spain and Portugal) and the Ashkenazi (from central and eastern Europe) and the Italian Jews.  The Ahrida Synagogue is the oldest and probably the most beautiful of all the Jewish synagogues of the city.  Named after the city of Ohrid in Macedonia and built by the Romaniote Jews of Byzantine in the early 15th century it dates back to pre-Ottoman conquest of the city in 1453.  The Synagogue is also well known due to the rather devastating incident for the World Jewry, when in the 19th century Shabetai Zevi announced his Messianic Mission to the local Jewish community.  The building underwent its last major restoration in 1955 but due to the 500th Anniversary Celebrations considerable restoration also took place in the early 1990’s.  The Synagogue can seat almost 500 people.

Following the visit to the synagogue we will drive into the Sultan Ahmet Square to visit Topkapi Palace Museum.  Following the conquest of the city in 1453, the Ottomans have spent wealth and energy to make this the capital of the known world at the time.  We shall arrive at the Sultan Ahmet Square, which was the centre of both Constantinopolis and old Istanbul.  We will be visiting the following within the vicinity of the Sultan Ahmet Square. With the conquest of the city by the Turks in 1453 a suitable location was searched for a palace site that would be the imperial seat of the Ottoman dynasty and the present location was found to be the best.  The construction was commenced, and by 1457 initial buildings were completed.

The style and the plan of the palace are not to be assumed as a European palace designed and built by the same architect.  It covers an immense area with basically a triple courtyard system, the centre of which was only for the reigning Sultan and his closest aides.  Today used as an extraordinary museum, with its spacious gardens and different pavilions, housing priceless collections, it is a living testimony of the Ottoman grandeur from the 15th to the 19th centuries.  It has the following sections: Chinese and Japanese porcelain collection, largest in the world outside China, European silver and porcelains, Turkish glassworks, the Treasury, a description of which is impossible , miniatures and calligraphy; the Holy Relics, the palace textiles and costumes, the armoury, and the Harem.

In addition to the sections above there are other units such as the Gate of the White Eunuchs, the Audience Hall, the Kiosk of Baghdad and Revan, the Library of Ahmet III, the Viziers’ Council Hall, etc.

At the end of the visit to the Topkapi Place the next point of visit will be the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Mosque), one of the most beautiful examples of Ottoman architectural genius and deriving its nick-name “The Blue Mosque” as a result of the exquisite 16th century tiles from Iznik (Nicea of old) which have the predominant colour blue.

Built in the 17th century the mosque is the zenith of  Ottoman architectural creativity and aesthetic appreciation.  The building, as one approaches it, seems to rise effortlessly and this effect is achieved by the use of quarter and half domes, which finally combine on four sides to support the central dome.  Engineering wise it is a very clever method of distributing weight of the central dome onto the foundations.  The mosque was completed and dedicated in 1616.

We will continue and move into the more modern parts of Istanbul, where the Jewish community of Istanbul has flourished.  The general history of Galata / Pera or Beyoglu, in Turkish dates back to the Byzantine times when this northern tip of the Golden Horn was a dynamic commercial centre and where the Genoese merchants of Italy had formed a rich mercantile community among which Jewish elements had an important role.  This particular aspect of this trading colony was continued by the Ottomans after the conquest in 1453 as it also served their imperial interests and the Jews served loyally and faithfully as a conduit between the Moslem Ottoman Empire and the world at large.

Later on in the late 17th century and onwards the district became the part where all the foreigners residing in the Ottoman capital, including all the corps diplomatique with their lavish ‘chancelleries and residences’.  Then in the 19th century, the area started to play another important role in the Imperial designs.  First home to many modern ideas and tools the Pera district became the European face of Istanbul at the time, allowing the initial ideas of political, economic and social reform being discussed in its cafes, restaurants and clubs.

It was in this mood that the Tunel ‘tunnel’-first ever metro outside Europe was opened in 1875, the Pera Palace Hotel served the likes of European kings, princes and princess’.  When the old defensive walls of the Genoese settlements were torn down the Buyuk Hendek Street came into existence and this was the centre of the Jewish quarter of the city.  By the late 19th century Pera had over a dozen Jewish owned banks and some very prominent families such as the Camondo family.  Obviously the most active of the Jewish synagogues today in Istanbul is the Neve Shalom Synagogue.

The building we shall be visiting was built in 1952 but a synagogue of the same name is said to have existed since the 15th century.  Unfortunately the Neve Shalom Synagogue became the focus of international news in 1986 when Arab terrorists attacked it on September 06th Sabbath morning killing 21 worshippers and the elderly shamash.  The massacre shocked the Jewish and Turkish communities the same condemnation of all levels of Turkish society followed. Following our visits we will drive back to the hotel.

Overnight Istanbul.

DAY 3  Full Day BOSPHOROUS CRUISE & St. Saviour at CHORA

In the morning we will start our day with a visit to the Spice Bazaar / Egyptian Bazaar which received that name because most of the spices after the 17th century were brought by ship via Egypt.  This building is still the place where a lot of people still buy their spices in Istanbul. After the Egyptian Bazaar they will board the Bosphorus ferry for a cruise up the Bosphorus and just before it opens into the Black Sea they will leave the ferry at the what used to be a small village of Sariyer where the car will be waiting for them.  A very short distance from the boat landing they will visit the Sadberk Hanim Museum, an exquisite small private museum that has been established by the Koc Foundation in honour of Mrs. Sadberk Koc, the wife of late Mr.Vehbi Koc who was the leading industrialist in Turkey.

The Museum has two sections a) the Ethnographic section which was started by Mrs. Koc herself and it has a very rich collection of Turkish andSeljuki ethnographic articles b) the Arcaheological section which was acquired from Mr.Huseyin Kocabas, a well known silk trading family from the town of Bursa.  This section has pieces from the Neo-Lithic to late Byzantine periods and although the pieces are not big they are all well chosen articles and they are very well displayed.

Following the Sadberk Hanim Museum we will return back to the city for a visit to the Church of St. Saviour in Chora or now known as the Kariye museum.  This museum contains some superb mosaics and frescoes of the Byzantine period and probably nothing equals this treasure of Byzantine art.  The name of the church literally means the Church of St.Saviour in-the-country, meaning that he church was actually outside the city walls which during the expansion of the city walls by Theodosius it was included in the city limits.  The origin of the church is said to go all the way back to the 6th century but the building as we see it today has its beginnings at 1077 when it was commissioned by Maria Doukaina, the mother -in-law of Emperor Alexeius I Comnenus.

However this building did not last long and was later built again.  The last structural touches to the building were commissioned by Theodore Metochites who was both a Prime Minister and the First Lord of the Treasury under Emperor Andronicus II Palaeologus (1315-1321).  The treasures that this little building houses are really remarkable, the mosaics so rich and exquisite that it is difficult to imagine them to be from the 11th and 14th centuries.  This church was turned into a mosque in the 16h century but the mosaics and frescoes were not destroyed.  Starting in 1948 by Paul A.Underwood of the Byzantine Institute of Dumbarton Oaks in Washington DC and after 11 years of work the Church of St.Saviour at Chora was turned into one of the greatest monuments of Byzantine art. You will be driven back to the hotel for overnight.

DAY 4  Half  Day BYZANTINE tour and afternoon flight to Izmir

We will drive into the old city and arrive at the Sultan Ahmet Square again which was the centre of both Constantinopolis and old Istanbul.  We will be visiting the following within the vicinity of the Sultan Ahmet Square:

a)   The Hippodrome in the centre of the square with the Egyptian Obelisk brought from Egypt in the 4th century AD, the Serpentine Column brought from Delphi, theColumn of Constantine and the fountain of Kaiser Wilhelm the Second.

b)   The St. Sophia Cathedral is a 537 AD masterpiece of Byzantine architectural genius and is the work of Emperor Justinian. This building with its remarkable post iconoclastic period mosaics and frescoes is an inspiring site to any visitor.  Used as a mosque also for five centuries, today it is a museum, full of history dating back to the 6th century.       The architects were Anthemius of Tralles (now Aydin in Turkish) and Isidoros of Miletos which you will visit later during the trip.

c)   The Underground Cistern built at the same time as the St.Sophia.  This magnificent example of Byzantine civil engineering project will awe any visitor.  Measuring 140 m X 70 m and supported by 360 columns this vast water reservoir served the people of Constantinopolis during times of siege and drought.

We will spend part of the afternoon with a chance to indulge in a form of international activity but with truly oriental practices and products  in the Grand Bazaar.. Istanbul is truly a shopper’s paradise where you can indulge yourselves with gusto and go home with some very valuable bargains or with some well placed investments.  Certainly there are some articles that are traditional in Turkey and those constitute the best buys. First is jewelry, since gold has always been considered as a store of value and for the last 25 years as a hedge against the very high inflation in Turkey, as opposed to paper instruments.   Another good buy would be the exquisite traditional Turkish Carpets, which also is a form of wealth-display-with-taste and with some very practical uses.  For those who are interested, the leather garments industry is considered one of the best in the world both in terms of quality and the creativity of their designs since Turkey has become one of the major centres of production for well known designers.  If textiles/and orclothing Turkey is a major force in the European markets and is even more powerful after the Customs Union with the European Union.  To some the purchase of a piece of art would be the best buy ever in a country which they visited and for those Turkey also offers some very remarkable works of art, paintings, sculpture or others.

Following the Grand Bazaar we will drive to the Istanbul airport to catch our flight too Izmir leaving at 16.00 Hours. Upon arrival at Izmir airport you will be met and transferred to your hotel.  Overnight Izmir.


We will leave the hotel early for our drive to another ancient city.  Founded as the capital of the ancient Lydian Kingdom where it is reputed that the first coins were ever minted and the where the wealth of King Croseus continues to our day as a legend, this city also boasts of the first known synagogue in Asia Minor.

This site is Sardis, the capital of the King Croesus.  It is established that Sardis was occupied for a long time before the Greek civilisation took root in this part of Asia Minor and there is archaeological evidence that people known as Maeonians were living in the area and were invaded Lydians who created an empire of their own from the Aegean Sea to the shores of the Kizilirmak river in the east.  The site has been excavated by a team of Harvard archaeologists starting in 1958 and they have really done some remarkable work especially with the restoration of the gymnasium and the south hall of the gymnasium which in the 2nd century AD had been turned into a Synagogue for use by the Jewish  community of the city.  However the presence of the Jewish community goes back to earlier times.  There is evidence that Jews settled in Sardis as early as 547 BC.  It is also accepted by some authorities that the name of Sardis, Sfard in Lydian could actually be the city of the Sepharad tribe who are mentioned in Obadiah 20.  You will also visit the magnificent temple of Artemis and some of the minor ruins of this once great city.   Following the visit to Sardis we will return back to Izmir

Overnight Izmir

DAY 6   Full Day IZMIR – KUSADASI/Ephesus – IZMIR

We leave the hotel for a full day visit of the magnificent site of Ephesus. Dating back to the earliest times Ephesus had a beautiful harbour, a fertile hinterland and a well-established cult centre for Cybele, the Mother Goddess of Asia Minor. Greek legend has it that Ephesus was founded by Androchus, the son of the legendary king of Athens.  The truth is that in the 10th century BC it was colonised by the Greek seeking to establish trading posts on the western shores of Asia Minor.

Today, Ephesus is considered as one of the most majestic and extraordinary archaeological sites in the world.  The ancient city is so much evident that it is almost alive. The tour will start with a visit to the House of Virgin Mary,  who is believed to have settled here with St. John the Evangelist(c. 40 AD).  The little building where she spent her last days is now a pilgrimage point.  Situated on a hill surrounded by forests the location is very peaceful.  The Basilica of St. John where he is buried is located in the town of Sleek, modern day Ephesus, and that will be the second point of the visit.  This basilica, originally a tomb only, attracted visitors and pilgrims starting in the 2nd century.  In the 6th century Emperor Justinian of the Byzantine Empire had the structure existing today built. The site of ancient Ephesus as a metropolis will be the following visit.  This city is so magnificent that a description is not possible.  An extensive tour of the city will be given with the major buildings explained and with reference to the city’s relation to early Christianity. We will also visit the site of Artemision, the temple of Artemis, which was considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  Today most of it is in the British Museum.

The museum of Ephesus is a small but a very rich museum with a very varied list of artefacts from Ephesus. Ephesus is said to have its Jewish community dating back to 300 BC.  In the ancient city the guests will be taken to sites that are known to have roots in the Jewish Heritage of Asia Minor. Following the museum we will take you somewhere not many tourists are taken,  the village of Shirinje as it is known today, but Kırkıja to the well known Greek writer Dido Sotiriou, or Chirkinje to the Turkish story-teller Sabahattin Ali.

Only seven kilometers into the hills east of the modern day Ephesus, Shirince was purely a Greek village until the first Greek-Ottoman troubles when the Greeks of Greece started fighting for their independence.  The ensuing population movements brought about a more mixed population with the Turks being settled there after being forced to leave by the Greeks from today’s Greece.  The last of those forced population exchanges took place in 1923 when Greeks still living in Anatolia were expelled to Greece and the remaining Turks still in Greece were sent to Turkey, bringing the total number of the dispossed to about 2 million.

Today the village of Shirinje is a lovely little town of a dwindling original population but with its white-washed houses built on terraces on the hill side, the always hospitable inhabitants, the home made olive-oil, wines and wine cellars, their well-known “Gözleme” the Turkish version of “Crepe”, and the little old ladies trying to sell their hand made embroidery, or hand picked bunches of oregano. Shirinje today is becoming a rather popular location for the wealthy of Izmir and of the surrounding area, buying old houses, restoring them and using them as summer homes.  The good side of this is that the architectural heritage will be protected and the restoration of the two churches of the town started and is continuing.

The Greek writer Dido Sotiriou wrote many years later about her family’s hometown saying that “if there is a heaven on earth, our Kırkıja must certainly be a part of it”.  Today there are still descendants of original inhabitants making a pilgrimage once a year to visit the old homes, pray in front of trees planted by fathers or grandfathers.  After the devastating earthquakes of 1999, first in Turkey and then in Greece,  the ensuing rapproachment between the two countries initiated by the people and later taken up by the politicians may even make Shirinje even more of an attraction for some.

Overnight Izmir.


We will leave this day for the guests to attend a religious services at synagogue. Shar Ashamaim, also known as the Alsancak Synagogue.

1pm afternoon walking tour from hotel.

Overnight Izmir.

DAY 8  IZMIR –to ANKARA and Transfer to CAPPADOCIA

After an early breakfast you will be driven to the Izmir airport for flight TK 393 to Ankara leaving at 07.30.

Upon arrival you will be met and first given a half day tour of the city.

This modern day capital of Turkey dates back to the very old times and Galatians were the first people who made it their capital in the 3rd century BC.  The word Ankara is a derivation of Ancyra or anchor which was found when the citadel was being constructed according to legend.  Within the walls of the Ankara castle are some old Turkish houses typical of their period.

The sites of Ankara will include the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations which is a unique museum in that it houses works of art from the very early beginning of human existence in Asia Minor to the onset of the Hellenistic Age.

The tour of Ankara will end with a visit to a more modern Mausoleum, that of Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey.

In the afternoon you will start your drive to Cappadocia arriving late afternoon, passing by the Salt Lake of central Anatolia. Check into hotel.

Overnight Cappadocia.


We will start early for  a thorough introduction to Cappadocia to acquaint ourselves  with a unique natural and cultural wonder that made Cappadocia what it is today.

Cappadocia is unique although similar landscape can be found in other places in the world.  However what makes Cappadocia so unique is the combination of some natural phenomena coupled with the cultural and historical importance of the region.  In basic terms the now inactive volcanic mountains of Hasan Dag and Erciyes Dag covered the whole region with volcanic ash and turf about three million years  ago.  Then rain, wind, sun and the cold took their sculpting talents to their zenith and created surreal shapes of conical hills, which we call today the Fairy Chimneys.

The soft rock gave the chance to the indigenous population of the area an incredible architectural chance that today’s Cappadocia is made of houses, barns, churches, and monasteries simply hewn into the rocks. In Cappadocia the inhabitants dug cities underground each one capable of sheltering thousands of people and these cities were mostly used as a form of defence from the marauding enemies especially during early Christianity.

The underground city of Kaymakli, which in certain parts is 8 floors below surface and access is via narrow and steep corridors that in fact were the main arteries of the city It is very seriously advised that those with claustrophobia or with serious heart problems should stay away from the narrow passageways and rooms that are several stories underground. On the other hand it would be the experience of a lifetime to see how people from time immemorial lived, where they made their wine and how they secured the entry to their underground city.

Overnight Cappadocia.

DAY 10 Full Day CAPPADOCIA evening flight to Istanbul.

We will start another day in Cappadocia visiting one of the best known sites of Cappadocia.  The site of Goreme is probably the best example or evidence of the life in Cappadocia where inhabitants had dug all kinds of buildings into the cliffs some of which are still in use as village granaries etc.  It is included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List under the “Cultural” and “Natural” wealth classification.  The cultural significance of the area is due to its inhabitants whose origins date all the way back to 8000 BC.  Important settlements of Neolithic, Chalcolithic, and Early Bronze Age have left their mark in Cappadocia.

The Goreme Open Air Museum is however of a later date after Christianity came to the region and the site is a monastic complex of rock churches, chapels with very well preserved frescoes.  The churches of Elmali, St.Basil,St.Barbara, Yilanli, Karanlik, Carikli and Tokali are of particular interest.  In addition to the Goreme sites you will also visit the Avanos where we will see potters create their ware today for mostly the tourists and the Zelve valley where the hills are riddled with houses carved into the hills and rocks.

At the end of our day in Cappadocia we will drive to the nearby city of Kayseri, ancient Caeserea for the flight to Istanbul leaving at 20.30 and arriving at 21.45.

The hotel Airport Inn is in the terminal and they have a shuttle.

When you land at the airport, the domestic terminal, pick up your luggage and walk to the Information (DANISMA in Turkish) and tell them you are staying at the Airport Inn.  The DANISMA calls the hotel and they send their shuttle.  Overnight Istanbul Airport Inn.

Day 11, Departure

Client feedback for this private tour:  Mr. & Mrs. H.E, NJ

First we’d like to thank your for making all the arrangements, and for making sure that we had good guides who were able to enhance the experience. We had a very good trip.  Turkey is a remarkable place for tourists- it has just about everything one would want- history, entertainment, spectacular scenery, friendly people, good weather and more.  We were very happy that we finally made the trip- we were thinking about it for a long time.   Every city we visited had something different to offer us, and we took advantage of all we could.  Our days were packed with things to do all day.  We returned back to the hotel tired but happy.

We especially enjoyed Ephesus and Cappadocia.  We had no idea how interesting these places could be.  Our guides were very good, accommodating and willing to makes changes we desired, and you can inform Mr. Dervis of this.  Sardis was so-so.

We especially were happy to have Jewish guides in Istanbul and Izmir.  Since they were knowledgeable about the Jewish communities and synagogues, we were able to visit many synagogues and places of Jewish interest in both cities.  Without them we would never have gotten into the synagogues since security is very tight and people just cannot arrive unannounced and expect to be allowed in to visit them.  The only thing I would change in the itinerary was our visit to Ankara.

Although our half -day tour was interesting and we did get a glimpse of Ankara, the 4-hour boring drive to Cappadocia from there was too much.

It would have been better to skip Ankara and fly from Istanbul early in the AM directly to Cappadocia (Kayseri airport).  We would then still have 1 1/2 days in Cappadocia, which is sufficient to see everything and would have cut out 1 day from the trip.  Our guide in Cappadocia was also very good. Our hotel in Istanbul was great.  We arrived to Istanbul in the PM and our room overlooked the city.

All the mosques and other buildings were lighted and the scene was breathtaking.  It also was a very nice, very well run hotel.  Breakfast was outstanding. The hotel in Izmir was fair- acceptable.  However the cave hotel in Cappadocia was not satisfactory.  It certainly was not a 4 star hotel- not by a long shot.

The experience of sleeping in a cave was interesting but we could have easily missed the experience.  The personnel, however, were very nice and accommodating.   One thing we’d like to add for your information when you book other tourists on trips to Turkey.  We did not want to carry too much cash so we used ATM machines, and they were available, albeit one had to search for them.

We also took American Express traveler’s checks, and that was a disaster.  We were unable, for some mysterious reason, to cash them anywhere we visited in Turkey.  Even the banks did not accept them.  We cashed some in our first hotel (at a poor rate) but the other hotels would not cash them or would only if they charged an exorbitant.  However, we might have been able to pay for large purchases with checks.

If you pay in US dollars you get a better rate than if you pay by credit cards.  Very few places take American Express- Visa or Mastercard are preferred. Thanks again for your effort in putting the trip together.  We know it took a lot of work on your part.  It was a pleasure working with you again.

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