Everyone who wears a professional camera around their neck goes to Balat, which is essentially Istanbul’s open-air photography studio, where the first pictures are taken with the help of the local kids who have already mastered the art of posing.
This vibrant neighborhood, which is situated between Fener and Ayvansaray, has long been home to a sizable Jewish community known as Hasköy; as a result, synagogues have persisted alongside mosques and churches. Whether you reside in this massive metropolis or not, one day you must get lost in the streets of Balat if you want to truly see Istanbul.
The Oldest Synagogue in Balat Istanbul
The Ahrida Synagogue can be your first destination in Balat. It’s better to use the synagogue as a starting point as you can only visit it starting at 10 a.m.
The oldest synagogue in Istanbul is this structure, which dates to the fifteenth century. The synagogue, which was restored after a fire in 1694 and is named after Ohrid in Macedonia, where its community originated, has an inner dome that cannot be seen from the outside because dome construction was outlawed for religious minorities at the time.
The Teva (prayer chair) is shaped like the bow of the ship that transported the Jews from Spain to Balat, despite the claims of some that it is meant to evoke Noah’s Ark. With a seating capacity of 500, Ahrida, one of Istanbul’s largest synagogues, is renowned for hosting a ceremony during which prayers are offered for Turkish soldiers who fought the Russians in the 1993 War.
Jews from different regions congregate at the synagogue as a common place of worship. It was renovated in 1955 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Jews’ arrival in Turkey.
In Balat now, there are essentially no longer any Jews. Uncle Leon, the haberdashery with whom we occasionally have a conversation, left this realm and migrated to another. The founder of Sabbateanism, Sabbatai Sevi of Izmir, made his announcement that he was the messiah here in 1666, reaching a large audience. This synagogue also has an intriguing historical characteristic.
To visit a synagogue in Istanbul, one must first schedule an appointment and email your identification to the chief rabbi’s office at Büyük Hendek Sokak, Galata. Even if you are on leave, you cannot enter the Ahrida Synagogue after 10 o’clock without Ms. Korin’s permission, who is the person in charge of displaying the building.
Muslim and Christian Worship Together in Balat
The Surp Hreşdagabed Church (there is no misspelling, this is the actual name) is located on Düriye Sokak, which you may access from the synagogue by turning right. The Ayios Andonios Ayazma was built over this Armenian church, which dates to the 16th century.
During the Topkapi Palace excavations, the iron gate of the church consecrated to Michael and Gabriel was discovered. An Armenian purchased it and installed it in the church. Reliefs that hang over the door show Jesus ascending to heaven and Aya Yorgi fighting a dragon.
The nearby 19th-century school building is currently being used as a warehouse. Muslims visit this location on September 12 for the church’s most important rite because it is thought that miracles happen there on that day. “Surp Hreshdagabed Church is arguably the only venue in the world where Christians and Muslims come together and pray,” writes Tim Kelsey in his 1996 book Dervish.
Balat Ayvansaray Ayios Kanabu Church
This time, when you stroll along the path that parallels the sea walls, you’ll come to Ayio Dimitrios Kanabu Church. The church, which is said to have been here since at least the 14th century, served as the Patriarchate’s residence from 1597 to 1601. The current structure dates to the 1730s.
Sinan the Great Remained a Small Mosque
You might be surprised to learn that Mimar Sinan also constructed smaller structures, like as Balat’s Ferruh Kethüda Mosque, which was constructed in 1562. The only building from the complex that still stands today was constructed for Ferruh Kethüda, who served as Semiz Ali Pasha’s grand vizier and kethüda (housekeeper).
Ferruh Kethüda was the housekeeper for Suleiman the Magnificent. Unfortunately, the mihrab’s outside look has been damaged by the addition of the modern veranda. Originally, the mihrab was ornamented with tiles transported from Tekfur Palace. The Balat Court for Jews was previously formed in the mosque’s courtyard, which now includes a pool in its garden and a sundial on its back wall.
from 9th Century till Today
The modest and charming brick Hazreti Cabir Mosque is situated on Cember Street. Although it receives little attention, its history extends back to the ninth century.
With one full dome and three partial domes, it was constructed as a church. The sundial on the wall of this structure, which was later transformed into the Atik Mustafa Pasha Mosque, is another notable feature. Hazreti Cabir (604-697), a saint who lived here, gave it its current name. Continue up the road and turn right if you want to view the Blachernae Holy Spring while you’re here.
Agora Tavern and Cifit Bazaar
A modest bazaar with stores spread out across two streets and housed in structures from various eras may be found if you head in the direction of the main street. Nobody is unfamiliar with the phrase “like a market of çift,” which is used to describe Jewish bazaars like this one. You also share your name with that well-known Turkish song.
This location also houses Agora Tavern, for which the song was written. Visit Ayşegül Hanm’s store in the market to view her works displayed behind glass. Additionally, I would advise you to pay a visit to Kozalak, Ayşegül Hanm’s neighbor. They create gorgeous home decor items that they sell using antique objects. One of the key figures in the photorealistic movement is Yahya Bac, whose studio is located at 35 Leblebiciler Street, directly across from Afilli Cafe. His paintings are really intriguing.
You may view the entrance to the Yanbol Synagogue, which was constructed by the residents of the Bulgarian town of Yanbol, along the same route. The structure, which was constructed in 1895 to hold 300 people simultaneously, is renowned as the only synagogue in Istanbul with an original wooden vault.