Ahrida Synagogue (Balat, beginning of the 15th century)

This synagogue, one of the two remaining oldest synagogues in Balat, was originally built as two separate synagogues by Romaniote Jews (Jews of the Byzantine Empire who lived in Constantinople and elsewhere long before the arrival of the Sephardim) in c. 1460, and was later used by Sephardi Jews who came from Spain via the Macedonian city of Ohrid (Ochrid). “Ahrida” is one of the two names being used by Greeks for “Ohrid.” The two groups were finally mixed, with Sephardic culture being the predominant culture now in Istanbul, so that the liturgy was being performed in the Sephardic style. The congregations were combined into one larger space (seating 500) in the 1860s. Throughout its history, this synagogue has been restored many times. After the most recent restoration, which was done in 1992 by the Quincentennial Foundation, the synagogue was open to the public for worship. The tevah (bimah) is shaped like the prow of a ship. According to legend, this structure is a fragment of Noah’s ark, or represents the boats that brought the Sephardi Jews on their journey from Spain to Istanbul.