ISSN: 0041-4255
e-ISSN: 2791-6472

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Keywords: Jewish Quarter, Synagogue, Ankara, Anatolia

In almost all regions of Anatolia through out the centuries, along with tire Moslem population, in tire ethiric composition of many cities and peripheric settlements the Greeks, Armenians and Jews had air undeniably important part in the social, cultural and economic structures and relationships.

For centuries, an imerrelated way of life has been experienced between communities in the cities and towns, where minorities were in considerable mimbers together with the Muslim population. With respect to ethnic grottps and religions Ankara had a cosmopolitarr strtrcture; in some quarters of the city the different communities used to live ill a mixed state, while in others they tended to have an ethnic orientation. Their contribution to tire cultui'al formation and urban context was realized thus.

The Jews in Ankara :

Tire existance of a Jewish community in Ankai'a as far back as the reign of Augustus (63 B.C.-14 A.D.) Iras been establislred by Galanti, who also pointed out tire existance of a community in the city dui'ing tire Middle Ages[1]. It is noted that "a small and ancient Jewish community was present" when Sultan Murat captured Ankara1361) [2].

Some of the Jews who migrated from Spain in 1492 and a few years later from Portugal (the sefarad) settled in Ankara. The newcomers found there a Jewish community wlro Irad inhabited Ankara for a long time and Irad a synagogue of their own. As the newcomers increased in numbers they built two more synagogties, one for the Spanish immigrants and one for tire

Portugese. However, as the Portugese community decreased considerably after about a century, they closed their synagogue and joined the Spanish Jews.

It became necessary for the Turkish speaking, indigenous Jewish community to learn Spanish as their population decreased and the newcomers increased in numbers[3].

During the late Ottoman period many travellers wandered about the Ottoman lands with the object of learning about the place of the minorities within the Ottoman society, the rights which the State recognized for the minorities, and also, to estimate the Muslim and non-Muslim populations. We find that the number of travellers had especially increased after the proclamation of the Reformation Act in 1839.

It is known that the Reformation Act of the Ottoman State involved the adaptation of principles towards a new legal order which aimed, among other things, to pro١ de peace and security to the Christian and Jewish subjects as well as the Muslims. This is clearly expressed in the following words of Mahmut II: "I differentiate my Muslim subjects in the mosque, the Christians in the chtrrch and the Jews in the synagogue. Otherwise there is notlring to differentiate between them[4]. This new and different approach was brought to life by the creation of new religious structures and caused many travellers to visit Anatolia and so Ankara. The travellers have contributed to the statistical estimations related to the past of Ankara.

According to one such traveller, Pockocke, the population of Ankara in about the middle of the XVIII. century is 100.000 (!) or so, of which nearly 10.000 are Christians; he notes that the Jews are only about 40 families[5]. On the other hand Evliya Çelebi who recounts the notable characteristics and especially the famous "sof (mohair)" produced in Ankara, describes the population as follows: most of the inhabitants are travellers and

merchants. There are many Armenians and Jews. The Jews consist of only twelve quarters[6]. On the other It and Mordtmann notes that otrt of 12.000 households 80 are Jewish[7].

According to Perrot who visited Ankara in the second Iralf of the XIX. century, the proportion of the Turks and the minoritiez in the population composition is as follows: nearly 25.000 Turks, 16.000 Armenians, 3.000 Greeks and 1.000 Jews[8].

The first general census of popirlation was taken in 1830 in the reign of Mahmut II, which was the preparation period for the "Reformation" through its search for a new order of things. According to tire results of the census itr Ankara, in the urban center there were 6108 Muslims, 5050 reaya (Armenians and other Christians) and 135 Jews[9]; these numbers covered only tire 'male' population.

The notes and evaluations related to the populaton went on. At about the end of the XIX. century the Jews were establislred to be 50 "households[10], and mtmbered a total of 413[11].

In the period before the Republic in Anatolia, the numerical data related to tire minorities and thus the Jews in Ankara are not very consistent. However they are still able to give US art approximate proportion of tile 'Jewish population" in Ankara.

In the first decades of the Republic we understand that there were aboirt 100 Jewish families irr Artkara, a total of about 500 people[12]. In relation to this figtrre it appears that the Jewish poptrlation lias decreased notably.

For the present, the members of the Jewish community in Ankara number only about 100 people[13].

Thejewish Quarter;

The Jewish quarter of Ankara today is below Samanpazan in the space between Denizciler and Anafartalar streets. It is adjacent to the Yegenbey quarter.

Looking for other quarters that were possibly inhabited by the Jews we found out only one that was noted by Galanti. This is the non-Muslim quarter of Hacr Hindi[14] and was described as a quarter where the Jews arrd Muslims shared the conveniences or lived side by side. In the first population census realized in 1830 there is data related to 'Jews irr Hoca Hindi and Öksüzce[15]. Eventually the name Hoca Hindi was transformed into Hacendi.

As we noted above, tire Jews do no longer live in the only known Jewish quarter of Ankara which is below Samanpazarr (I11.1A). The few Jews wlro remain in the city have moved to other districts of the city[16]. Some of the houses in the quarter are empty. Most of ,hem have been sold and now have new inhabitants (111.2). The houses are built adjacently on narrow streets and have courtyards which are closed to the street. The inhabitants' access to the street is through the courtyard gates. Some of the houses are partly closed to the streets by walls that surrouird their small courdyards at tire front. The houses usually have two floors; the top floor contains rooms which open to tire hall while on the lower floor the service units such as the kitchen and the storeroom are located.

A part of the houses, some of which are dilipidated or abandoned, have been included in die "Street Renovation Project in Old Ankara", undertaken by the Central Municipaity. The object of the project is, among other things, to improve and revitalize the old urban structure, to encourage the owners of the historical houses which are part of our culture to take better care of them, to encourage people to contribute to the protection of our common cultural heritage, and to reintegrate this ancient and not fully functioning part of the city; the Municipality has taken the lead in order to realize these goals.

The houses of the Jewish quarter are thus being restored and renovated inside out and are taken under protection as living documents of the past (111.3).

Among the Jewish houses whose windows nostalgically gaze down the streets which bear names like Kargı, Eskici, and Birlik there is also a Synagogue (111.4). Across the street from the synagogue stand the two most handsome houses of die street which had been built at the same time with it, in a similar style and by the same Italian architect (111.5). The houses are adjacent and have two floors built on a basement. On the facade which faces the Synagogue, the lower floors have a landing on the entrance. The top floors project out ovet the courtyard and to the street with rooms with abundant windows built over the landing, at the center there is a folded roof with a triangular pediment (111.6). The house is reached from the courtyard by a pair of anntethic staircases that lead up to the landing. The staircase landing of the house on the upper part of the street is especially interesting because of the paintings made in the "kalem işi"technique which ornament its straight wooden ceiling (111.7). There are interesting knobs on the staircase banisters. The same materials and technique is observed on the wall which separates the courtyard from the street. This wall has common characteristics with the courtyard wall of the synagogue with respect to material and the knobs used (111.8). In both houses the courtyard walls, the staircase and the cellar wall facings are built with smooth cut stones, which is Ankara stone (111.9). The building technique used in die upper floors, on the other hand, is the use of a wooden carcass filled with mudbricks. On both floors, the floors and the ceilings of the reciprocal rooms which open to die hall are wooden. The staircase that link die floors is also built of wood; the basement contains tite sendee units.

Before going on to describe the synagogue, I would like to note briefly the place of the Jewish quarter in the modern Turkish literature as it has been reflected in memoires and was mentioned in interviews and conversations. In his book "Türkiye'nin Kalbi Ankara" Mehmet Kemal describes his childhood which was spent in the Küçük Öksüzce quarter along Denizciler street, near the Jewish quarter. In the recollections of the author about his childhood the place of the Jewish quarter is prominent. M. Kemal relates that "the Jewish quarter was below Samanpazari. When one descended the slope in front of the Kurşunlu mosque, the quarter that was immediately below was entirely inhabited by the Jews. The quarter contained fine houses. We were on very good terms both with the Jews and the Armenians.” The author then remembers the friends with whom he had gone to school and played: Yako, Yantof, Raşel, Roza, Salamon and David[17].

From interviews and conversations we learn that some famous writers and politicians had also lived in the fine houses of the Jewish quarter. One of these writers is Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoğlu. Nazif, one of the characters in his novel "Ankara" relates that he had lived in a Jewish house as a boarder for some time and notes: "You cannot think what that means to a man living in Ankara, no better fortune can be imagined"[18]. Again Yahya Kemal, who stayed at Taşhan on his visits to Ankara as most of the strangers did, was adviced by a friend to rent a room in one of the very good and comfortable houses in the Jewish quarter. Yahya Kemal acted upon this suggestion and lived for a while in a rented room in the quarter[19]. İ.S. Çağlayangil who lived in various houses in Ankara in the years 1931-35 had rented a house in the Jewish quarter for 30 TL[20].

The Jews of Ankara who lived in such fine houses were usually engaged in commercial activities and manufacture. The Turks who lived near by relate that the Jewish women sewed well and some worked as seamistresses. Another one, who learnt the art of carpentry from his Jewish master relates today with affection that he had learnt many things from him and the days past were enriched with friendship.

While the people lived amicably together, !„any Jewish scientists wlro have contributed to onr cultural life and scientific activities have lived in Ankara as well as in Istanbul. I world like to remember here Prof. Landsberger, Gerngross and Ruberr who worked for Ankara University, and also Samoil Abravanel. I would also like to mention Karl Ebert, Prof. Eckstein and Melchior and also Dr. Franz !¡!linger, Dr. Baeher and Bodenheimer who have made valuable contributions to tire state institutions [21].

The Synagogue٠•

The Synagogtte is iir Birlik street, which is at the end of tire slope descended by a staircase near the Institution for tire Protection of Children in Anafartalar street: it is built among the houses that form the quarter (111.10). In order to reach it front the opposite direction, it is necessary to go through Kargilar street next to the Leblebicioglu mosqtte ott Denizciler street and turn into Birlik street[22] 111.11) the Synagogtte, whose courtyard is closed in witlr liiglr walls is at tlie riglu hand side of the road (111.12). Opposite it, across the street there are the two fitre houses built in 1907 at the same time witlr it and which we have described above. The school "Ravza- i Terakki"which used to be on the other side of the synagogue, built adjacent to it, has been demolished. It was built at the same time with tire synagogue but only the wooden gate is left (111.13). lit the early years of the Republic some families with comfortable cil’cumstances sent their children to this school where the Freeh language was tauglrt and therefore tuition fees were charged. [23]

The Synagogue is closed for the moment for restoration purposes. The courtyard wall is built with well cut, regular stones and topped with knobs; howe١'er, the space between the knobs were later filled and the courtyard was closed to the street further (111.14). The courtyard along the front face of the synagogue is edged with outhouses in the north and south; the doors of these units open to the courtyard (111.15).

The horizontal synagogue has stone walls built with irregular stones roughly shaped and is trapezoid in form (Plan). The courtyard is at the front. There are two doors that open to the street; the main entrance is the one down the road.

The synagogue door is constructed simply and placed at the center of the facade (111.16). On each side of the door there are three arcshaped windows which result in a facade with considerable blank spaces. The arches are plasticized with profiled contours on the blank spaces. Between the windows the plasters reach to the arch spandrel and end in profiled capitals that widen upwards. On top of the three blank spaces at the middle there is a triangular pediment with an inscription space at the center (111.17). The following inscription is written in Hebrew on the pane over the door: "Let all the tribes come to me (Solomon) 1907"[24]. The entrance was later closed in with glass.

As it is known it is traditional to set up 'Sukas' in the Sukot festival celebrated by the Jews[25]. At the festival the Jews gather at the Synagogue to set up a Suka, a tent-like shelter at the courtyard. This indicates the significance and necessity of the courtyard as part of a Synagogue.

The courtyard of the Ankara Synagogue also contains a fountain where hands are washed before prayers (111.18). The fountain is placed across the Synagogue door and is made of marble. The basin is sectioned with rounded corners and is set on two grooved stands with an 'S' profile. The horizontal, rectangular backstone is surrounded above with an ornamented relief band (111.19). The ornamentation consists of the 'C motif which is placed continously in various ways on a liorizontal direction. Apart from tlie inscription at the center of the backstone, emphasized with rosettes on either side, there is also a five line inscription above and outside the stone. Both inscriptions are in Hebrew.

The Synagogue is entered from the west, through the main door at the center of the facade (111.20). The inside of the building measures 21.00 m long and is 11.00 m at the south, 8.5 m at the nortlr and consists of a single platform without partitions. The straight wooden ceiling ornamented with various fioral motifs is Ireightened with a pseudocupola over the 'Teva'. At the center, the octagonal 'Teva (Pulpit)' and the 'Ehal' to the south, which is mounted with three steys are impressive with their structure and Ol’namentation. The interior is ftrll of light due the many windows in the south and west, the benches surround the spaces in front of the windows. The windows have rounded arclres ornamented with stained glass figures. Tire fioor is paved with marble.

Tire chorus balcony placed opposite the 'Ehal' is projected forward (111.21). It displays a fine workmanship with its rounded structure and the railings.

The womens quarter is upstairs and is along the western arrd northern walls. The quarter has a straight wooden ceiling and opens to the prayer hall through galleries with wooden supports that have voluted capitals (111.22). 'Eire screening wall between tire supports has wooden lattice-work railings at the top.

The most sunrptiously ornamented element of the synagogue is the 'Ehal' (111.23). It is placed at the center of the southern wall and measures 2.50 to 2.60 m. and is momued with three steps placed over a wide, rounded platform, calminatng with the cabinet where the Sefer Toras[26] are placed (111.24). At each side there are three wooden pillars set on high pedestals. They reach the wooden ceiling with their two sectioned capitals. The pillars are riclrly ornamented in the relief technique from the pedestals up to the capitals and are ftrrther enlranced with pairrt (111.25). On tire faces of the sqtrare-sectioned pedestals, a motif of vine leaves and grapes are presented irr a perfect composition (111.26). A floral composition of flowers and leaves is spirally arranged on the pillars where gilding was also used. The pillar capitals take their place in the ornamentation scheme with a composition of acanthus motifs surrounded by volutes. The upper section of the pillar capitals have, on each face, rounded rosettes filled with flowers.

The facade of the Ehal is crowned with a pediment ornamented in the rococo style which arises between the pillars. he ornamentation consists of leaves and flowers that emerge from a central vase and spread sideways and upwards; this motif is surrounded with voluted ,C motifs placed antitethically. On the side corners the compositions formed by individual vases from which leaves and fruit emerge is interesting. The star symbol representing the seal of Solomen is added to the top of the center. On the sub-pediment corniche there is a single line of inscription in Hebrew.

The interesting feature here is the three steps leading to the Ehal, which appears in many synagogues. In synagogues where no figures or figured compositions represented, certain themes of the Old Tastement are referred to with symbols. The three steps symbolizes the three angels who came to Abraham with the good news that his wife was with child[27]. The structure and ornamentation of the Ehal is in the Italian style.

The Teva, surrounded with a row of benches on the outside, is placed below a pseudo cupola. The benches which are placed around its inner side is usually for children, except on the festival days when the assistants of the Rabbi are seated there. The pulpit which faces the Ehal displays concenctrated floral ornamentation in relief (111.27). At the center of the pane there is a bunch of leaves and flowers placed in a vase (111.28). From the horizontal band which is above, grapes and vine leaves emerge from a vase and spread sideways. The lower corners of the pane are filled ١vith similar floral motifs (111.29).

The flat wooden ceiling, which is elavated with a pseudo cupola at the center, is complately ornamented with paintings (111.30). The motifs are painted on a streched cloth base. On a light blue background and using the ’kalem işi’ technique the leaf and flower motifs are painted with using white, grey, yellow, blue and dark green colours. The spaces between the floral motifs are spotted with small gilded bosses in the shape of stars.

The transition from the walls to the ceiling takes place through a gradual structure where bracketed supporting beams are used. ٦'he same technique is used on the pseudo cupola at the center. The arrangement is elavated by gradually narrowing the octagonal center at the heart, the center and the surrounding beams are ornamented with painted bunches of lea١’es and flowers. The lamps which are hung in to the bosses on the supporting beams of the cupola form the center of the internal lighting system together widi the chandelier.

The Synangogue of the Jewish quarter in Ankara is a variation of the group of Anatolian synagogues with rectangular plans and is part of an ornamentation tradition where floral motifs are the main theme. The landscape observed in some synagogues are absent here. However, themes from the Old Tastement are expressed symbolically such as the three steps leading up the 'Ehal', or the structure of the 'Teva' which is related to Noah's Ark. This is an interesting example of the place and effectiveness of using symbolism in expression.

In conclusion I would like to emphasize here once more that the Jewish quarter of Ankara, with its houses and Synagogue, is a distinguished part of Ankara's cultural mosaic.


  1. A. Galanti, Türkler ve Yahudiler, İstanbul 1947, p.11.
  2. Op.cit., p. 9 (In footnote 4 the author gives his source as S. Rozanes, The History of the Jews in Turkey, written in Hebrew, vol 1, p.10).
  3. A. Galanti, Ankara Tarihi, İstanbul 1950, p. 122. Also see U. Güldemir, "Son yüzyıl Ankara'sında ilginç olaylar". Başkent söyleşileri, Ankara 1979, p.56.
  4. E.Z. Karal, Osmanlı Tarihi, VI (Islahat Fermam Devri '1856-1861'), Ankara 1976, p. 274- 275.
  5. R. Pockocke, A Description of the East and Some Other Countries, London 1743-45, 2 Volume, p. 304-305.
  6. Evliya Çelebi (Çev. Z. Danışman), Evliya Çelebi Seyahaatnamesi, 4. Kitap, İstanbul 1970, p.131.
  7. A.D. Mordtmaıııı, Anatolien, Skizzen und Reisebriefe aus Kleinasien (1850-1859). Hannover 1925, s.380.
  8. G. Perrot, Souvenirs d'un voyage en Asie Mineure, Paris 1864, p.294.
  9. M. Çadırcı, "Tarih içinde Ankara", paper giyen at the "Ankara Seminar" organized by the Middle Techical University in 1981. Ankara 1984, p.92. Also see M. Çadırcı, "1830 genel sayımma göre Ankara şehir merkezi nüfusu üzerinde bir araştırma", Osmanlı Araştırmaları I, İstanbul 1980, p. 109-132; M. Çadırcı, Tanzimat döneminde Anadolu kentlerinin sosyal ve ekonomik yapıları, Ankara 1991, p. 44-50.
  10. C. Humann-O.Pushstein, Reisen in Kleinasien und nord Syrien, Berlin 1890, p. 196.
  11. V. Cuinet, La Turquie d'Asie, Paris 1890, I, p. 258-260.
  12. E. Mamboury, Ankara, Guide Touristique, Ankara 1933, p.242.
  13. Data giyen by Prof. Dr. Yuda yürrim in relation to the Jewish community in Ankara. For a publication introducing various aspects of old Ankara see S. Eyice, "Ankara'nın eski bir resmi", Atatürk konferanslar' IV, (1970), Ankara 1971, p.61-124.
  14. A. Galanti, Ankara Tarihi, I, İstanbul 1946, p.107.
  15. R. Özdemir, XIX. yüzyılın ilk yarısında Ankara (1785-1840), Ankara 1986, p.84. The author notes that berween the years 1785-1840 there were 27 non-muslim quarters with established names where the inhabitants were Christians or Jews. He adds that in another 23 quarters the Muslims and non-Muslims lived together. Hacendi was in the latter group (p.94- 97).
  16. "This quarter became depopulated in time", relates Mehmet Kemal; he notes that some families moved to Sıhhiye (to the section betsveen Atatürk Lisesi and Ihlamur Street), some moved into various parts of the city and "the poorer families are said to have moved to Israel". (Türkiye'nin Kalbi Ankara, İstanbul 1983, p. 263).
  17. M. Kemal, op.cit., p. 48, 262-263.
  18. Y.K. Karaosmanoğlu, Ankara, İstanbul, 1983, p. 28.
  19. F.Bayramoğlu, "Bir eski Ankara vardı", Başkent söyleşileri, Ankara 1979, p. 14.
  20. İ.S. Çağlayangil, "Geçmiş yıllarda Ankara", Başkent Söyleşileri, Ankara 1979, p. 110.
  21. See A. Galanti, Türkler ve Yahudiler, İstanbul 1947, p. 138-139.
  22. This is included in the part of old Ankara which is known as "Aşağı yüz (Lower part)". We learn that, beginning from the XVII. century up to about the middle of the XIX. century the city was divided into two main districts. In the central urban setdement, the part including the citadel was defined as "Yukarı yüz (upper part); "Aşağı yüz" (lower part) covered the arca from down Anafartalar street and extended to the Hacı bayram mosque and the Karacabey complex. (R. Özdemir, op. cit., p. 98).
  23. M.Kemal, op.cit., p. 263. We find a brief note about the minority schools in C.Külebi's evaluation of the artists: "Before the republic the artists have all been educated in the minority schools. Children of the gentlefolk. After the republic they are all children of people from Anatolia. This is a significant social development. M.M. Doğan, "Cahit Külebi ile sByleşi." Çağdaş Türk Dili, Nr. 59, January 1993, Ankara, p. 14. In his numerical evaluation of the minorities in Ankara, V. Quinet notes that the Jews had one school, attended by both boys and girls; there were 36 students. (op.cit. p.283).
  24. Read by Y.Yürüm. The date 1907 was written with Hebrew letters also.
  25. N. Güleryüz, on explaining this function of the courtyard: the name of the 'Sukot' festival derives from the 'sukos', the tent-like shelters which the Jews had set up on crossing the desert centuries ago. To commemorate this, the Jews set up sukos in the synagogue courtyard for seven days. Sukot also means the harvest festival (see, İstanbul Sinagoglan, İstanbul 1992, p. 11, 125).
  26. Sefer Tora: Versions of the Old Testament handwritten on parchment rolls (see, N. Güleryüz, op.cit. p.125).
  27. For more details see, B.Gömert, Mitoloji ve İ korlografi, p.117-118; also, op.cit., p.11.

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