Friday, May 9, 2014

Balat - Old Jewish Quarter

Today we are going to visit the district of Balat on the southern shore of the Goldeh Horn, between Fener and Ayvansaray.  Balat was always a poorer neighborhood than Fener with which is ofter paired.  İt has a large jewish population, which means that several important synagogues and other Jewish establishments survive here alongside a mixure of churchues and mosques.

High School of the Greek Orthodox Community.

The nicest way to arrive is by ferry from Eminönü or Karaköy, but you can also catch a bus from Eminönü (No. 99A) or Taksim (No. 55T).  I did the whole neighborhood walking from Eminönü  and I just don't know when Fener district finishes and Balat starts. 

Balat's Old Houses.

Balat's original community was made up of Jews form Macedonia.  However  in 1492 Sultan Beyazid II invited the Spanish Jews who had been expelled by Ferninand and İsabel to settle here, thus superimposing a population of Jueo-Espanyol speakers (and latino writers) on the original Greek speakers.  Later more refugees arrived first from Portugal then from Rhodes, and Balat became known as "Yahudi Balat" (Jewish Balat). 

Balat's Old Houses.

Although there were once 19 synagogues in the area, no more than handful of Jews still live in Balat, most of them long ago emigrated to İsrael and their place have been taken by poor imigrants from Eastern Turkey.

Many of the houses and shops along this street have been restored by the European Union and UNESCO.  At is easterly end where Balat merges into Fener there's a large walled compound with and old brick building clinging on to the one end.

Wall were Balat merges into Fener.

Behind the wall, but very visible, there are actually two churches, one dedicated to St. George and other Panagia Paramithas (St Mary the Compforter). 


 İronically, Balat takes its name from the Greek word "palation" (palace) a reference to its proximity to the Balchernae Palace. 

The houses  are usually three-story, narrow front face, which come as second and third floors, and big windows in the buildings.

View of the Golden Horn from one of the streets.

Balat street scenes.

İt is common to find kids playing on the streets.

İf you walk along Leblebiciler Caddesi you will come to Balat's atractively old fashioned shopping area, where small family-owned shops are accommodated in a variety of buildings of different ages.

  A places that sells old photos.

Balat's street life.

 Balat's street life.

 Simit vendor.

Balat's hold houses.

 Most famous of İstanbul's old synagogues, the Ahrida Synagogue, also called the Okhrida, is at no. 9 on the street officially named Vodina Caddesi, but often called Kürkçü Çesme Sokak. The Ahrida and nearby Yanbol are said to take their names from the towns in Macedonia from which their founding congregations migrated in Byzantine times. The foundations of the Ahrida may date from the late 1400s, or may be even older.

For security reasons if you want to visit İstanbul's synagogues you must apply in advance to the Chief Rabbinate in Büyük Hendek Sokak, Galata (Tel. 0212-2441980).  You will need to fax your passport details to get an appointment. Visists ae barely encouraged.
İt is a pitty but I still haven't done the Synagogues tour in İstanbul.  There is always something left out to keep discovering this amaizing city.

Soreya Reyes

Twitter:  @street_photos_

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