After pickup from your hotel in the morning, start your private tour with a drive to the Galata Tower, built in 1348 by the Genoese during their colonial expansion in Constantinople. Located in the centuries-old Jewish quarter of Galata, which was seized and destroyed in 1203 by the Fourth Crusade, the tower dominates the skyline and remains a symbol of the city.
Continue to the nearby Ashkenaz Synagogue, founded by Austrian Jews in 1900 for the Ashkenazi Jewish ethnic division. This is the only still-active synagogue of its kind in Istanbul. The synagogue holds weddings, bar mitzvahs and other religious ceremonies, and is open for public visits and prayers.
Also in the Beyoğlu district is the Jewish Museum of Turkey, your next stop. Formerly known as the Zülfaris Synagogue, this 19th-century religious structure was restored and remodeled as a museum in 2001 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the arrival of the Sephardic Jews in the Ottoman Empire. Inside the museum, learn about the traditions and history of Turkish Jewry, and its coexistence with Muslim culture, as well as the historical accounts of the Jewish odyssey from Spain to Turkey.
Back on the road, drive along the Golden Horn waterway to Balat, the traditional Jewish quarter on the European side of Istanbul where the Star of David still appears on the facades of some buildings. Here you’ll visit the Ahrida Synagogue, one of the oldest synagogues in Istanbul, built in the 15th century by the Romaniotes (Greek Jews) but eventually exclusively used by the Sephardic Jews. As your guide will reveal, Ahrida Synagogue is also the only synagogue in Istanbul where Sabbatai Zevi, the founder of the Jewish Sabbatean movement, prayed.
Your last stop is the Etz Ahayim Synagogue, also known as the Ortaköy Synagogue, located in the Ortaköy neighborhood of Istanbul's Beşiktaş district. During the Ottoman Empire and the first decades of the Turkish Republic, communities of Turks, Greeks, Armenians and Jews coexisted in this area, and today it continues to show how people from multiple cultures and religions can live in harmony.
After gaining insight into Istanbul’s Jewish history, return to your hotel in the early afternoon.