Balat Jewish Quarter In Historic Istanbul
Derived from Palation, meaning “palace” in the Greek language, Balat is a district on the shore of the Golden Horn in Istanbul. Balat district took Palation name because of the fact that Byzantine Emperors entered the Blachernae Palace located out of the city from the gate in this district by coming through sea route on Golden Horn.
Map Of Golden Horn Showing Major Neighboring Fener And Balat Areas
Commonly known in Turkey as Fener & Balat District
Together with Fener (Phanar) district located just next to it, Balat is one of the districts of Golden Horn attracting the highest number of tourists. Photography clubs and local agencies often organizes Fener-Balat tours and promotes these districts located on periphery now.
Fener district was where established Greek families were living during the Ottoman times. It is famous for Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Mentioned together with Fener most of the time, Balat was a Jewish district in the Ottoman period. Beginning with Byzantine period, there was a certain Jewish settlement there. There is a not well-known and special reason why it turned into a Jewish district during the Ottoman period.
Emigration of Sephardi Jews from Spain to Istanbul
After the marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella of Castile in 1492, Christian Union was established in Spain. Isabel and Ferdinand beat Muslim Arabs (Moors) who were living on the southern part of the country for over 700 years and the last stronghold Granada (Alhambra Castle) fell. Christian Monarchs who ended the Arab existence in Spain decided to go for the Jewish community as well. They did not want any religious folks other than Christians to live in Spain. This incident is called Reconquista in the world history.
Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile Taking Over Granada Of Spain
When the Jewish community found themselves in a desperate predicament, Ottoman Sultan Bayezid II sent ships to Spain and brought this displaced community to Istanbul. Having had to emigrate from Spain, Jewish people were placed in Balat district. They lived in this district as a neighbor to Christians and Muslims for centuries.
Because of the number of Jewish people living there, arguably the most magnificent synagogue in Istanbul, Ahrica Synagogue, is located in Balat. Jewish Heritage tour programs in Istanbul include Galata, Karaköy, Ortaköy and Balat districts.
Before visiting a Synagogue in Istanbul
In order to visit this synagogue in Istanbul, one has to contact Chief Rabbinate. Synagogues are under strict security protection. You can contact Chief Rabbinate on its website. Informing them about your date and hour of visit and sending your passport copies are enough for them to arrange your visit.
There was a dense Jewish population in Balat until the World War I period. During the war and afterwards, population decreased and the foundation of Israel in 1948 had an effect on why the district was depopulated by the Jewish.
Factories and workshops was moved to Golden Horn area during the city planning at late Ottoman period and such industrial structures discredited this area. Well established Jewish and Greek families left this district and moved to Galata district and Bosphorus shores.
Factories and workshops were demolished during the Republican period and some parks and highways were built near the shore area. Although the facade of Balat changed a lot throughout the last 150 years, there are still many restored, beautiful houses. Therefore it is often visited by the photography artists.
Turkish Children Playing In Istanbul Balat Quarter
Fener And Balat Guided Walking Tours
Istanbul, or Constantinople, possesses wide Greco-Roman cultural heritage since it served as the capital of Byzantine Empire for over 1000 years. Fener (Greek) and Balat (Jewish) neighborhoods are rich in history and very near to renowned Chora Church.
It is definitely recommended to see these invaluable monuments with an experienced tour guide. While you discover Constantinople which is famous for its legends, an informed tour guide will make historical events come to life in front of your eyes.
How To Get To Istanbul’s Fener And Balat Map
Further Recommended Reading:
Istanbul’s Jewish Community And Notable Sites
By Serhat Engül
Licensed Tour Guide In Istanbul