Ahrida Synagogue in Istanbul featuring the Noah's Ark like Bimah.

Is This Istanbul’s Oldest Synagogue?

Istanbul is a city with a wide and diverse cultural history that spans over a millennium. But the city and its people are renowned not only for their cultural variety, but also for their religious inclusivity and acceptance.

The Ahrida Synagogue stands as a prominent example of the Turkish people’s acceptance of diverse faiths as with 97% of the population being followers of Islam, often it’s difficult to find shrines to other religions in the city.

This blog post offers an in-depth exploration of the Ahrida Synagogue, which is one of the most ancient and significant synagogues in the city. We’ll delve into its history, architecture, & cultural importance to the local Jewish community.

If you’re interested in visiting the Ahrida Synagogue, we’ll provide you with all the necessary information, including its location, the best time to visit and how to get there.

Let’s go!

History of the Ahrida Synagogue

The Ahrida Synagogue is one of the oldest synagogues in Istanbul and was built in the 15th century by Jews who migrated to Istanbul to settle from Ohrid, a town in what is now North Macedonia.

The building has been rebuilt and renovated several times over the years, but somehow manages to still retain its original charm and character.

Having undergone several renovations over the years, including in the 17th and 19th centuries, the synagogue has had work that has added to its beauty and subtle grandeur. 

This important center of Jewish worship in Istanbul is adorned with ornate decorations and a beautiful bimah, or pulpit.

Ahrida Synagogue Istanbul featuring some beautiful colorful stained glass windows

The Architectural Style of the Ahrida Synagogue

Featuring a unique blend of Ottoman and Jewish architectural styles, the synagogue’s exterior is built in the classic Ottoman style, with a dome-shaped roof and a beautiful courtyard.

The interior, on the other hand, features intricate Jewish designs and motifs, including colorful stained-glass windows with Hebrew inscriptions as well as beautiful chandeliers and wooden wall carvings.

The central focal point inside is the very nautical bimah which is rumored to be a representation of Noah’s Ark and it’s easy to see why as it looms like the bow of a ship over the seated congregation.

The synagogue’s central dome is supported by four columns. The dome is surrounded by four further, smaller domes, all built of brick and masonry stone.

Fact or Fiction?

It’s rumored that the Ahrida Synagogue is the only synagogue that Sabbatai Zevi, the prophet of the Sabbateans, visited in Istanbul to worship.

The Cultural Significance of the Synagogue

The Ahrida Synagogue has played an important role in the history of Istanbul’s Jewish community for what seems like forever, and is now one of only two remaining synagogues in this area.

The Synagogue is not only a place of worship, but also a symbol of the long-standing relationship between the Jewish community and the Ottoman Empire, an empire well known for its religious tolerance.

In its time it served as a center for religious studies and associated cultural activities, including weddings, bar mitzvahs, and other important Jewish celebrations.

It has also been the site of important events in the history of Istanbul’s Jewish community, including the deportation of Jews during World War II.

Ahrida Synagogue Istanbul looking at the entrance door to the courtyard from the street
Sadrettin, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Visiting the Ahrida Synagogue

Today, the Ahrida Synagogue is open (rarely) to visitors and serves as an important symbol of Istanbul’s Jewish heritage. 

You’ll find that its not easy to located contact the head rabbinate for the synagogue, so perhaps the easiest way is to contact the Chief Rabbinate (Hahambaşılık, hah-HAHM-bah-shuh) of Turkey who is based in Istanbul (contacts below).

One thing is certain when it comes to this particular synagogue and that is that visits MUST be booked in advance, you can’t just rock-up at the synagogue and hope to gain entry. 

Visitors to the Ahrida Synagogue can take a guided tour of the synagogue (if they’re lucky) which would usually include a visit to the main sanctuary and the courtyard.

Visitors are required to dress modestly and unlike in the Mosques of Turkey, here it’s the men are sometimes requested to wear a head covering (a kippah).

Note that the entrance to the synagogue from the street is rather underwhelming, and actually looks quite intimidating with it high barbed wire fence, so it’s not actually until you get inside the courtyard that you can get a good look at the building.

Did You Know?

Since September 16th of 1987 the Ahrida Synagogue has been taken under protection by the Turkish High Council for the Protection of Cultural and Natural Assets.

Where is the Ahrida Synagogue

The synagogue is located in the Balat neighborhood, which is known for its colorful houses and narrow streets. 

Balat is also home to many other important landmarks and cultural sites in Istanbul so you can easily spend a day exploring here in the area.

Ahrida Synagogue Address:

Ayvansaray, Kürkçü Çeşmesi Sk. No:7, 34087 Fatih/İstanbul, Türkiye

Contacts for the office of the Chief Rabbinate of Turkey:

+90 212 243 5166 and Yemenici Abdullatif Sokak No. 23, info@musevicemaati.com

Ahrida Synagogue Location Map:

Reviews of Ahrida Synagogue

Find out what other people are saying about their visit and what their experiences were at the Synagogue by clicking the button below. Some of these will be translated so do be careful about taking any advice from these reviews.

Our View of the Ahrida Synagogue

Unless you’re specifically interested in theology or are of the Jewish Faith, then  it’s likely you won’t want to go out of your way to take in a visit here. 

However, the area itself, Balat, is for us, a must-see destination in the city so if you’re here anyway you may as well do a walk by at least.

The buildings blend of Ottoman and Jewish architectural styles, ornate decorations does make it an interesting sight for those who are architecturally minded as well.

We ourselves only discovered the synagogue on a walk through Balat and were lucky enough that on that particular day, there was an event being held inside, and we were briefly permitted entrance.

Anyway there you have it, that’s ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE AHRIDA SYNAGOGUE, we hope you enjoyed learning more about the place.

Thanks for reading.

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What Is The Oldest Synagogue In Istanbul?

This is not actually known for certain, but the Ahrida (Ohrid) Synagogue (Hebrew: קהל קדוש אכרידה) is absolutely noted as being one of the oldest synagogues in Istanbul according to government records.

Is The Ahrida Synagogue Still Used For Worship?

Yes. The synagogue is still utilised on all special Jewish celebration days and is also used for Jewish Weddings, bar mitzvahs

What Are The Most Important Jewish Days Of Worship?

Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Hanukkah are recognized as being the four main days of Jewish worship in the Hebrew Calendar each year.

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