Skip to main content

Turkish synagogues get makeover as Izmir strives for UNESCO stamp

An ambitious effort to revive Izmir’s Jewish heritage is paying off as the Turkish city vies for a place on the UNESCO heritage list.
Hevra Synagogue

The Synagogue Street, a narrow pathway with a mishmash of colors and smells from fishmongers and spice-sellers, lies at the heart of Izmir, Turkey’s third largest city. The street starts at a stone’s throw from the Hellenistic-era agora and snakes through the historical commercial center. It derives its name from the nine synagogues in its vicinity, four of which were in ruins until half a decade ago.

“Unlike many cities of Europe, the Synagogue Street — or better, the Synagogue District — is right at the heart of town,” Nesim Bencoya, the coordinator of the Izmir Jewish Heritage Project, told Al-Monitor. “It is a compact neighborhood with its synagogues, cortejos [houses where families lived together], a rabbinate and numerous shops and businesses on the crisscrossing streets of Kemeralti, the commercial center. It is also an area where synagogues stand side by side with mosques, where businessmen from the Muslim, Jewish and Orthodox community engage in trade and songs in Turkish, Greek and Ladino are sung one after the other from the nearby taverns.”

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.