Balat is a historic neighborhood located on the shores of the Golden Horn in Istanbul. It was once a predominantly Jewish area and famous for its colorful houses, old synagogues, and narrow cobblestoned streets. In this article, you will discover the best of Balat, the Jewish quarter of Istanbul. 

Today, it is a melting pot of cultures and religions, with Turkish, Greek, Armenian, and Jewish communities coexisting peacefully. It has become a popular destination for tourists and local residents who want to explore the neighborhood’s unique architecture, culture, and delicious food.

A bit of history of Balat, the Jewish quarter of Istanbul

Balat has a rich history dating back to the Byzantine era. During the Ottoman Empire period, it was predominantly Jewish and became an important center for Sephardic Jews who migrated from Spain and Portugal in the 15th century.

The migration of Jews from Spain in 1492, following the Alhambra Decree by King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I, marks one of the most significant events in Spanish Jewish history. Many Jews fled Spain and settled in various parts of the Ottoman Empire, including Istanbul, where they found refuge and were able to practice their religion freely.

The Jewish community in Balat grew rapidly over the centuries and became one of the largest Jewish communities in the Ottoman Empire. The community had big economic success and played an important role in the city’s trade and commerce.

What to do in Balat, the Jewish quarter of Istanbul

Today, many of the historic synagogues, schools, and houses in Balat still stand, serving as a reminder of this unique cultural heritage. Balat is a popular destination for tourists and historians alike who come to explore the area’s rich history and cultural legacy.

The best way to explore Balat is walking around. Get ready for the hard ways up of the neighborhood, which in exchange for your effort offer colorful streets and incredible views from the hill tops. Overall, Balat is a charming and vibrant neighborhood with a rich history and cultural diversity that makes it a must-visit destination in Istanbul.

Ahrida Synagogue

The famous Ahrida Synagogue dates back to the 15th century, it’s one of the oldest synagogues in Istanbul, and it’s located in the Balat neighborhood. This one of the oldest synagogues in Istanbul. The building features stunning architecture and intricate decorations, and it continues to serve the Jewish community of Fener Balat today. 

Synagogues in Balat are much more than a landmark in the quartier since they are part of the historical identity of this part of Istanbul. Many Jews arrived during the 15th century escaping from the persecution in Spain or immigrating from Portugal and they find a home among their people in the Balat neighborhood. Currently, this old identity is very much integrated in the Turkish local culture. 

Balat Pier 

It’s an excellent spot to enjoy the skyline of the Golden Horn of Istanbul. Balat Pier dates back to the 19th century during the Ottoman period and served as a point for transporting goods to and from the city via the Golden Horn waterway.

The pier was an essential part of the city’s transportation infrastructure until the mid-20th century. Nowadays, it is mainly used for recreational purposes, such as fishing and picnicking. The view from the pier is spectacular, with the Golden Horn Bridge and the Galata Tower in the background. Balat Pier is also a popular spot for photographers, who come to capture the unique atmosphere and architecture of the area. The colorful wooden houses and narrow streets of Balat have been the subject of many photographs, paintings, and films over the years.

In recent years, efforts have been made to restore and preserve the Balat Pier and other historical buildings in the area. This has helped to revitalize the neighborhood and attract more tourists to the area. Overall, Balat Pier is a must-see destination for anyone interested in Istanbul’s rich history and cultural heritage. Its unique location and striking beauty make it a favorite among locals and visitors alike.

Coloured Houses of Balat

In Balat you may find plenty of coloured houses. The most picturesques ones you will spot in Merdivenli Yokuş Evleri and Kieremit streets. The neighborhood has done big efforts for present itself as a trendy and proudly different cool area to visit, competing with Fatih or Fenerbaçe to get well-positioned in the ranking of places to visit in a deep visit to Istanbul. Many of this colorful houses were in a bad condition just a couple of decades ago. Currently, they look well-painted again and ready to pose in a picture. 

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Balat_%28Fatih,_Istanbul%29_05.jpg

Yavuz Sultan Selim Mosque

Yavuz Sultan Selim Mosque is a historical mosque of the Balat. The mosque was built by Ottoman Sultan Selim I in 1522 and is named after him. It is considered one of the most magnificent examples of Ottoman architecture. The mosque has a square-shaped structure and is covered by a large dome. The interior of the mosque is decorated with intricate calligraphy and tile work, featuring geometric and floral designs. 

The mihrab, which indicates the direction of Mecca, is made of white marble and decorated with ornate carvings. The mosque has undergone several renovations over the years, including extensive restoration works in the late 20th century. Today, it is still an active place of worship, with a capacity to hold around 2,000 worshippers at a time. Visitors are welcome to visit the mosque and admire its beautiful architecture and historical significance.

Ismail Aga Mosque

Ismail Aga Mosque is small and pretty. It was built in the 17th century during the Ottoman Empire and is one of the oldest and most historic mosques in Istanbul. The mosque is named after its builder, Ismail Aga, who was a high-ranking official in the Ottoman court.

The mosque has a unique architecture that combines both Ottoman and Byzantine styles. It has a square shape with a central dome and two minarets on either side. The interior is decorated with intricate Islamic calligraphy and geometric patterns, as well as colorful stained-glass windows. One of the most notable features of Ismail Aga Mosque is its courtyard, which is surrounded by a colonnade of white marble columns. The courtyard also contains a beautiful fountain where worshippers can perform their ablutions before entering the mosque. 

In recent years, Ismail Aga Mosque has undergone extensive renovations to restore its original beauty. It remains an important place of worship for the local Muslim community and a popular attraction for visitors to Istanbul

Where to eat in Balat, the Jewish quarter of Istanbul

In Balat there are unfortunately some recent tourist traps. Nevertheless, you can still find authentic kitchens with very nice local dishes at a very reasonable prices. Here, you can find the best of Balat. 

  • Forno Balat: This restaurant offers delicious wood-fired pizzas and other Italian dishes.
  • Alemdar Balıkçısı: This is a Greek tavern and seafood restaurant that serves fresh and delicious fish dishes.
  • Smelt & Co.: Cozy and sophisticated restaurant for classic seafood and vegetarian options in an intimate setting.  
  • Dimitrie Cantemir Museum Cafe: Priceless place for a coffee. The food is also good, so I suggest to go for breakfast. 
  • Velvet Café: This is just a delight. Very beautiful place to have a coffee and relax while you are discovering the neighborhood bit by bit.

Useful information about Balat

How is Balat historically?

Balat is historically the most important Jewish quarter in Istanbul.

Is Balat safe for tourists?

Balat is fully safe for tourists. Nevertheless, remember that in crowds are pickpockets. Mind your wallet in busy cafes.

How can I get to Balat?

Balat is half an hour walking from the Golden Horn. If you don’t want to walk, to get to Balat, from Eminönü, you can take the 99F or 55T bus. Both buses stop at Fener, close to Balat, and run frequently throughout the day.

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