Something that’s not easily noticeable when wandering through Kemeraltı is the number of synagogues that are in the area, especially around Havra Sokak. Much of the Jewish community of İzmir used to live in the area until recently. There were once 40,000 Jews in the city but that number is now down to less than 2,000.
Ten synagogues were concentrated in a small area of Kemeraltı. Six have been destroyed by time, fire, or the elements – some with plans to be restored – and only four are still in use. I was able to find three of these historic places of worship all on the same block but was unable to schedule a visit. They all sit behind huge walls and iron doors.
Hevra Sinagogu was built in the early 17th century but was destroyed by fire several times. It was once considered one of the most stunning buildings in the city.
Ets Hayim Sinagogu was built in the 14th century and was probably used by Greek speaking Jews well before the influx of Spanish Jews. It was believed that Muslims arriving in the city in the 14th and 15th centuries used the synagogue for prayers because there were no mosques at that time.
Algaze Sinagogu was built in 1724 and is considered to be the most beautiful remaining synagogue in İzmir. There’s no women’s gallery in this synagogue because legend has it, a cantor winked at a woman during Yom Kippur prayer, and the gallery was closed to prevent another incident from occurring.
There are six synagogues available to visit in İzmir, including the four in Kemeraltı and two in Karataş. The İzmir Jewish Heritage Project can organize visits with at least 24 hours advance notice, filling out a visitor request form, and a copy of your passport info page. Their website is an excellent source of information about all of the synagogues in İzmir and the other Jewish heritage sites found in the city