700 Years of Turkish Jews
Jews visiting Turkey inevitably ask for a tour of a local synagogue, and as the default working temple in the heart of Galata, Neve Shalom is usually the first and only stop. While interesting to see (particularly after sustaining recurring terrorist attacks), a visit to Neve Shalom is far from the Holy Grail of Jewish sites in Istanbul. It's also not necessarily guaranteed, since a pre-visit request accompanied by a faxed copy of your passport is the minimum requirement for entry. (For more information on Istanbul's synagogues and on the Jewish community in general, go to www.musevicemaati.com, the official site of the Jewish community.) I'd recommend instead the Jewish Museum of Turkey, located in the restored 19th-century Zulfaris Synagogue. The museum represents the vision of the Quincentennial Foundation (named for the 500-year anniversary of the Jewish expulsion from Spain) and showcases the peaceful coexistence of Jews and Turks in Turkey. The foundation's vision came to fruition in 2001 with this anthology of Jewish presence in Turkey beginning with the Ottoman conquest of Bursa, through Sultan Beyazit's invitation to those expelled from Spain, to the present day. The museum/synagogue is located at Karaköy Meydani, Perçemli Sokak (facing the lower entrance to the Tünel funicular, Perçemli Sok. is the first alley to your right; the museum is at the end of the street on your right; tel. 0212/292-6333; www.muze500.com), and is open Monday through Thursday 10am to 4pm, and Friday and Sunday from 10am to 2pm. There is no admission fee but donations are encouraged.
Sultanahmet's Streets Paved with Gold: The Great Palace
The Great Palace complex was the primary residence and administrative center of Byzantine (and Roman) emperors from A.D. 330, when it was begun by Constantine, to 1081, when the Comnenus Dynasty moved to Blachernae. In 1204, the palace became the home of the Latin Crusaders-in-Residence, but through their neglect, the palace slowly fell into decline. It was eventually picked over for parts for use in new construction projects. Tradition has it that when Mehmet the Conqueror took the city (by which time the Byzantine dynasty had returned and installed itself into Blachernae and the Great Palace), the sultan's reaction to the state of the palace was to quote a phrase of the Persian poet, Ferdowsi: "The spider spins his web in the Palace of the Caesars . . ."
Constantine's earliest construction was based on Diocletian's palace on the Dalmatian Coast and covered an area of 10 hectares (almost 25 acres) from the Hippodrome to the Marmara Sea. At its peak, the palace was comprised of a complex that included state buildings, throne rooms, gardens, libraries, thermal baths, and fountains (among which were the 5th century A.D. Chalke monumental gate and the Magnaura or Senate building). The Bucoleon (built by Theophilius in A.D. 842) and Justinian's Hormisdas (6th c. A.D.; located to the West of the Bucoleon) were later additions. A few places around the neighborhood provide a peek of these remains. A section of the loggia from the Bucoleon that survived the construction of the commuter train can be seen on the southern edge of the peninsula outside the remains of the sea walls, to the east of Aksakal Caddesi. A mosaic floor of one of the peristyle courtyards of the Great Palace is now the Mosaic Museum . Some remains were uncovered in the construction of the Eresin Crown hotel in Sultanahmet, while the Four Seasons project (they're adding a rear annex building) sits right atop the Magnaura.
Take a Break in the Retaining Wall of the Hippodrome
Arranged around a mushrooming fountain with choice seating tucked into the arches of the Sphendome, the Havusbasi Çay Bahcesi, or Pond Head Tea Garden (Nakilbent Sok.; tel. 0212/638-8819), couldn't get more atmospheric. Nestle in for fresh-squeezed fruit juice, tea, or light fare well into the evening hours, courtesy of Buhara 93 across the street. In the summer, the management mounts a tiny dervis show nightly.
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