travel guide to sites of Jewish interest in Greece
The near - ruins of Villa Casa Bianca mark the point where the road forks
off to the airport of the city of Thessaloniki and to Aretsou, the coastal
suburb dotted with fashionable patisseries and nightclubs. The villa, a
rare example of art deco architecture in Greece, stands as a reminder of
the Jewish traders and scholars who helped Thessaloniki flourish and the
Jewish culture that graced this unique Greek city, the capital of
Named for the sister of Alexander the Great, Thessaloniki is a short drive
from Pella where excavations revealed Alexander's capital city of
Macedonia and from Veria, another city where Jews flourished.
Interior of Monastirioton Synagogue-Thessaloniki
Alexander's brother-in-law, Kassandros, who built
Thessaloniki, asked King Ptolemei of Egypt to send him Jewish artisans
marking the beginning of Thessaloniki's Jewish community.
Each new Jewish group brought to the city its own traditions and attained
different levels of assimilation.
At the end of the 15th century, Thessaloniki became a melting pot for
European Jewish communities that brought their exotic sounding names to
the city's congregations; Calabria, Majorca and Lisbon were among its 30
separate Jewish communities.
Each group spoke the language of its country of origin, but eventually
they all embraced Ladino, a combination of Spanish, Greek and Hebrew. The
dress, food and method of worship differed among the groups. A large
number of Portuguese Marannos Jews, forced to convert to Christianity
during the Spanish Inquisition, also settled here. It is estimated that in
the beginning of the 17th century about 30,000 people were Jewish.
When Spanish Jews arrived in Thessaloniki, the city was occupied by the
Turks and the titular offices were held by Ottomans. Within a brief time
manufacturing, finance, distribution a transportation, were in the hands
of Jews and Christians. And the port, filled by Jewish stevedores who
centuries later manned the port of Haifa, closed on the Sabbath and Jewish
Despite Turkish occupation and raids fro pirates Thessaloniki excelled in
the production silk, wool and cotton fabrics, and Jews built international
trade and maintained close commercial ties with the families they had left
other parts of Europe and North Africa. Thessaloniki at this period was,
according to the poet Samuek Ushkue, the "Metropolis"
city of Justice mother of Israel, like "Jeruslem".
The city became a center of Torah learning a attracted many students from
abroad The Jews Thessaloniki developed a strong and active scholarly,
intellectual and religious life. The responses of its rabbis were accepted
as the prop interpretation of the law throughout the Sephardic world.
In 1900, about 80.000 Jews lived and thrived Thessaloniki. There were 30
synagogues, 10 clubs, a college, four high schools and 15 grade school.
Thessaloniki- Monument to the memory of the 54.000 Jews of
Thessaloniki who perished during the Holocaust.
The story of the Greek Holocaust is largely the story of
Thessaloniki Jewry as the city's Jewish population was almost totally
wiped out. Synagogues were destroyed and properties lost. Today the city's
Jewish population numbers about 1,200 people, but many reminders of its
history a heroism help the community retain a strong identity with the
Athens, one of the world's most celebrated cities, has always been a
bustling cosmopolitan capital. In the heart of the Agora, a mere stone's
throw away from the Acropolis, stood an unusual building believed by some
scholars to have been the first synagogue in Greece dating back to the 5th
During the time of Alexander the Great and in the centuries that followed,
Jewish life was concentrated in the northern part of Greece. Not until the
19th century, when Greece gained its independence from the Turks, did a
Jewish community begin to grow and prosper in Athens.
Notably, the first influx of Ashkenazi Jews from Northern Europe came to
Athens after the liberation, with the encourage of Greece's first king,
Otto 1. Among the Ashkenazim was the German banking family of Baron de
Rothschild. The Rothschilds were to play an important role in shaping
Athens Jewish community.
Legal recognition came in 1889 when the Jewish community was large enough
to be formally recognized as a religious minority.
By 1900 Jews from all parts of Greece, including a large contingent from
northwestern city of Ioannina, lived in Athens.
The synagogue at 5 Melidoni Street was built in 1905 to accommodate the
growing community that numbered 3,000 by the 1940s.
Although the Holocaust took its greatest toll on the Jews of Thessaloniki,
Athens was also a center of Nazi percecution. The Germans began rounding
up Jews in 1943 and in one year 800 Athenian Jews were sent to the camps.
Many Jews were saved however through the heroic efforts of the Greek
Police and Greek resistance. Aided by the Greek Orthodox Church, some
Athenian Jews went into hiding and escaped by boat to Asia Minor and
eventually, to Palestine.
Today, Athens is home to the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece
- the governing body of the 6,000- member Greek Jewish Community.
The council is composed of representatives of the Jewish communities in
Athens and other parts of Greece. More than two - thirds of Greek Jews now
reside in Athens.
Chalkis and Larissa
Travelling north, within a short driving distance from Athens, is the
city of Chalkis on the island of Euboea.
The Jews in this city belong to the Romaniote community that is believed
to have been a part of the oldest Jewish Community in Europe, established
about 2,500 years ago. The historic synagogue at 35, Kotsou Str., was
built after the 1846 fire that destroyed the old structure and its
extensive library. A few of the priceless manuscripts are in the Chalkis
Museum and in private hands.
Driving further north in Central Greece, there are other sites of
importance to the Jewish historian - such as Volos, Trikala and Larissa.
Of special importance is Larissa, the capital city of Thessaly. Here
thrived an ancient Jewish community dating back to the 2nd century B.C.E.
Seven synagogues and a yeshivot existed in Larissa soon after the end of
the Turkish occupation in 1881. The well-known piyyutim (poems) were
written here and took their place among the rare gems of the Jewish muse.
An interesting characteristic of this Jewish community is that all the
homes were built connected to each other and near the river Penios. Thus,
Jews were always ready to escape Turkish raids, cross the river and take
the road to the mountains. Even the richest in the community lived in low,
modest homes for fear of attracting attention.
Of the 2,800 Jews who lived in Larissa in 1882, only a handful and one
synagogue survive today. The city has designated the Square of Jewish
Martyrs and a monument to commemorate those who perished in the Holocaust.
Veria is another city in the north of Greece where a Jewish community
flourished until war and migration left only stone - and - brick witnesses to a once thriving neighborhood.
A fortress - like gate off Veria's central square leads to a delightful
neighborhood of descending streets, quaint buildings and backyards covered
by vines and wild fig trees.
Between this gate and the stream downhill are the haunting reminders of
Jewish life that reach back to the 1st century; Old buildings with
delicate drawings and signs in Hebrew declaring, 'May I lose My Right Hand
if I Forget You, Oh Jerusalem".
There were close ties between the Jewish communities of Veria and
Thessaloniki and when the Apostle Paul (49 B.C.E.) was expelled from
Thessaloniki, he came to Veria's synagogue to deliver his message. The
upheavals in Western Europe also resulted in the spread of the Sephardic
culture in Veria's Jewish community.
Through the centuries, Veria developed its own religious and secular
institutions of learning, and the remains of a synagogue and cemetery are
sites for today's visitors. In the 1920s and '30s, communal life and
festivities were faithfully observed and the sukkoth could be seen in the
terraces and the balconies of the neighborhood.
The Jewish Community of Ioannina, the capital city of the region of Epirus,
was founded around the 8th century A.D.
The Ioannina Community is the largest and most representative Romaniote
Greek Jewish Community, whose members are descendants of the Greek Jews
living in the Byzantine Empire. The Jews of Ioannina reigned over the now
extinct Jewish communities in Arta, Preveza, Parga and Agrinion.
The Jewish quarter is located within the walls of the old city. It
includes the area to the right of Yossef Eliya street. It was also named
"Megali Rouga", which means "Big Road", and only
remainings can be traced today.
The old synagogue near the fortress of the town, in 16 loustinianou str.,
is preserved by loanniote Jews from around the world.
In the beginning of the 20th century, the Jewish population of 4.000 Jews
declined to 2.000, after the Balkan War of 1913, while in 1940, before
German occupation, 1.950 Jews lived in Ioannina.
In 24-25 March 1944, the Jews of Ioannina were arrested by the Nazis and
their properties were confiscated and given to public institutions,
The city has also produced many Jewish intellectuals, among which the
renowed poet Yossef Eliya (1901-1931). In the "Poets' Park" the
visitor can see a marble bust of Yossef Eliya.
A Jewish Community prospered in this Ionian island. During the 13th and
14th centuries a number of Jews from the Greek mainland settled in Corfu.
By the 16th century they had two synagogues; the Romaniote and the Italian.
In the 19th century the Jews of Corfu excelled in printing and book-binding.
Out of the 2,000 Jews of Corfu in 1941, when the Germans occupied Greece,
1,800 were deported to Auschwitz. Only 170 Jews survived Holocaust.
In the Jewish quarter one can see the Star of David decorating the balcony
balustrades and lintels of old houses. A characteristic example is a house
in lak. Polyla and Rizospaston Voulefton streets.
The old Italian synagogue "Pulieza" was burnt by a fire and then
destroyed during the World War II by a bombing in 1943. Today, only a stoa
(the "echal") has survived the catastrophy.
The Romaniote synagogue is the one functioning today, in Velissariou str.
The residents of the island call it "Greca".
In the back of the synagogue, in a tight street of Velissariou, the "Talmoud"
school has survived, too.
An Ionian island, Zakynthos bears imprints of Jewish tradition.
In 1522, 30 Jewish families lived in the island having one synagogue.
By 1712, the Community had two synagogues; the "Zakynthian" and
the "Cretan". The second was destructed. The first was severely
damaged by the 1953 earthquake. The visitor can see its remainings in 44,
Tertseti street.During German occupation, out of the 270 .members of the
Community, 70-80 remained in town while the majority fled to the mountains.
The Germans asked from the Mayor of the island Loukas Carrier and the
Metropolite Orthodoxe Chryssostomos a list of the Jews of Zakynthos. Due
to their firm refusal to provide this list, all Jews were saved, hiding in
the remote villages of the island.
Expressing their gratitude, the Jews of Greece erected a monument in the
island to honour the memory of those two brave men.
On this Aegean island, the Jewish Community of which is mentioned by
Josephus (38-100 B.C.) and in inscriptions, a structure discovered at the
begining of this century has been identified as a synagogue built in the
first century B.C. and continuing through the first and second centuries
This structure, is part of a residential quarter, in the northeastern
corner of the island, very close to the seashore.
The entrances are on the east, and on the northern part of the western
wall there are well-formed marble benches, at
the center of which there is a splendid marble "throne",
recalling the "Seat of Moses" as found at Chorazin and
The island of Naxos was the Cyclades' capital. In 1566, the residents of
Naxos protested against the tyrannic rule of the Krispi Dynasty to Sultan Selim II (1566-1574), ruler of the Ottoman
empire Selim gave the Cyclades to Don Joseph Nassi who then became Duke of
the Aegean Pelagus. Nassi was known as "The Great Jew", an apt
description for the only Jewish duke in Europe who ruled a kingdom in
Greece on Cyclades islands for 13 years until his death in 1579.
The site known today as the Jewish neighborhood in Naxos is at the
northern side of the Castle, and is still marked by the characteristic
wall fountain Its main street boasts the name of Joseph Nassi.
A synagogue existing in the Jewish quarter was destructed in February 2,
In the lintels of the Orthodox Churches "Metamorfosseos Platzas"
and "St. John Baptist" the visitor can see today Jewish symbols.
Rhodes, one of Mediterranean Sea's most fascinating and picturesque
islands bears distinct imprints of Jewish
traditions. Jewish landmarks survive on the narrow, arched, cobblestoned
medieval streets of "Juderia" neighborhood.
The Jews of Rhodes although dating back to the 1ist century C.E. as
attested to by the historian Josephus, are listed for the first time as
fierce defenders of the walled city against the Turks in 1480. An infusion
of new families from Thessaloniki soon after helped make Rhodes a
During the next four centuries synagogues and yeshivot mushroomed
alongside extensive trading and the community gained a distinct flavor. Rich merchants of textiles and silk
mingled with gun manufacturers, craftsmen, book-binders and weavers. They
lived in the eye of international commerce that mixed banking, slave
trading and piracy.
A visiting Italian rabbi in 1467 wrote in a letter still kept in Florence;
"I have never seen a Jewish community where everybody from the oldest
to the youngest is so smart... they have long hair and look like
princes... The leaders of the knights regularly visit Jewish homes to
admire the handiwork of the beautiful embroiderers".
But Jewish fortunes changed just as regularly and good times often gave
way to persecutions and exile. Still, the Jews of Rhodes lived for almost
nine centuries in the same neighborhood in the old walled city. Today,
only about 40 Greek Jews reside where about 5,000 people lived in 1900.
"Shalom" synagogue, Dosiadou and Simiou streets, survived World
War II and so has the ancient Jewish so has the ancient Jewish cemetery.
"Shalom", originally built in the 12th century, was destroyed
during the war between Turks and Knights and rebuilt in the 15th century.
A small but prosperous Jewish community existed in the island of Kos, in
east Aegean Set.
In July 1944, its 120 members found their death in Auschwitz.
Today, the visitor can see the old synagogue which was transformed by the
Municipality of the island to Cultural Center. A Jewish cemetery exists as
well as old Jewish owned villas.
Heraklion and Chania were the main port-cities where Jews lived during the
The Jews played an important part in the transit trade. The island was
also known for its rabbis and scholars.
In 1481 a Jewish community existed in Heraklion having four synagogues.
This same community welcomed a number of Jewish refugees who immigrated
from Spain to Greece in 1492.
Before World War II the number of the Jews in the island had decreased to
400. In June 1944, the Jews of Chania with many other Greeks were
transported to Heraklion, put on the ship "Penios" which was
sunk by the Germans as soon as she left the port. "Only seven Cretan
Jews survived Holocaust.
The Jewish quarter in Chania used to be in the area of the ancient port of
the city. The visitor can see there the remains of a synagogue.
In the Archaeological Museums of Heraklion and Rethymno one can see today
Jewish gravestones as well as a marble stone with an inscription in
Russian and the Star of David.
GUIDE TO MAJOR SITES OF JEWISH INTEREST IN
Sephardic: Synagogue - 5 Melidoni Str.
Romaniote Synagogue - 8 Melidoni Str. (open primarily on High Holidays).
Central Board of Jewish Communities In Greece (KIS) - 2 Sourmeli Sir. Tel.
88 39 951.
Jewish Community Headquarters - 8 Melidoni Str. Tel. 325 2823.
Jewish Community Center-Sina and Vissarionos Streets. Tel. 3637092.
Jewish Museum of Greece - 36 Amalias Ave. 3rd Floor. Tel. 225582.
Ancient Synagogue - in the heart of the ancient Agora. First Cemetery in
the center of Athens.
Cemetery and Holocaust Monument - in the Third Cemetery of Athens, in the
suburb of Nikea, Piraeus.
Athens Byzantine Museum - Inscriptions.
Jewish Youth Square (to commemorate Jewish Youth who perished in the
Holocaust - Pafou Square, Patissia area.
Jewish Elementary School - in the suburb of Paleo, Psychico.
Monastirioton Synagogue - 35 Sygrou Str. Tel. 031 - 524 968. Synagogue and
Center for Historical Studies - 24
Vassileos Herakliou Str., 1st and 2nd Floor. Tel. 031-223 231.
Jewish Community Headquarters - 24 Tsimiski Str. Tel. 031-275 701.
Jewish Community Center - 24 Tsimiski Sir. Tel. 031-277 803. Cemetery and
Memorial to Holocaust Victims in the
suburb of Stavroupolis.
Yani Tzomi of the Donmeh - the building of the Old Archaeological Museum.
Square of the Jewish Martyrs of the Holocaust - Between the streets
Papanastasiou, Karakassi and Priamou.
Seoul Modiano House for the Aged - 83 Kimonos Voga Str. let. 031-848 250.
Hippokration Hospital - erected by the Community, Konstantinoupoleos
Jewish Elementary School - 17 Fleming Str.
Villa Casa Blanks - Fernandez - Vass. Olgas and Them. Sofouli Sir.
Villa Allatini - 198, Vass. Olgas Sir. Villa Modiano - 68, Vass. Olgas Str.
Villa Mordoh - 162, Vass. Olgas Sir.
Modiano Open Market - Vass. Herakliou Str.
Remains of a Synagogue - in the square behind the Hotel.
Pulieza Synagogue - Koumoundourou Str. Jewish Quarter-remains near the
Synagogue-35 Kotsou Sir. Marble segments of the Synagogue were entombed
into the new building.
Jewish Community Headquarters - 35 Kotsou Str. 0221-80690.
Jewish Quarter - Located in the market place behind Avanton Str. In the
square there is a marble bust of Col.
Mordehai Frizis, the first Greek officer to be killed in action in World
Chalkis Museum - manuscripts - inscriptions.
Chalkis Cemetery - Messapion Str., Jewish graves.
Jewish Quarter - remains, in the Francomahalas area Chios Museum - Jewish
Greco Synagogue - Velissariou Str.
Jewish Community Headquarters - 83 Eug. Voulgareos Str. Tel. 0661-30 591.
Talmoud School - in a side street of Velissariou.
Puliezo Synagogue - only the "echal" has survived.
Jewish Quarter - in the center of the town.
Jewish Villa - lak. Polyla and Rizospaston Voulefton St
Jewish Quarter - Hania, remains, area of the ancient
Synagogue - Hania, remainings, in the Jewish quarter.
Archaeological Museum of Heraklion - Jewish gravestones.
Archaeological Museum of Rethymno - Jewish gravestones.
Ancient Synagogue - remains, inscriptions.
Jewish Quarter -remains, in Aghia Varvara neighborhood.
Cemetery - remains, in the Kratika area (Dimosthenous Str.).
Cemetery - remains, Dimitras Sir.
Jewish Villa - houses today the "Olympion" cinema.
Synagogue -in the Walled City.
Jewish Community Headquarters - 18B Yossef Eliya Str Tel: 0651-25195.
Eliya Street - named after the celebrated Jewish Greek poet.
A walk down the street provides an access to the old Jewish quarter of the
Evraika of Jewish Quarter - outside the Walled City, off Eliya Str.
Municipal Museum - Jewish Textiles, Parohets, Bema Covers and two of the
oldest surviving ketuboth in the world.
National Gardens - Marble bust of poet Yossef Eliya. Poet's Park.
IPATI (CENTRAL GREECE)
Jewish Quarter - remains in the Messala neighborhood, north-west side of
Jewish fountain - in the center of the Jewish quarter.
Plaque from the Cemetery - placed in the central city's square.
Jewish Community Headquarters - 23 P. Mela Str. Tel. 051-223526.
Jewish Villa - houses today the Municipality, in the city's main square.
Old Synagogue - 4 Alexandrou Diakou Sir. - Today the Municipality's
Jewish Cemetery - Community Exohi, place "Jewish tombs".
Jewish owned Villas.
KYPARISSIA (MESSINIA - PELOPONNESE)
Jewish Quarter - in the Pisso Rouga neighborhood.
Jewish Villa - nearby the small theater of the Castle.
Etz Haim Synagogue - 27 Kentavron and Kyprou Streets.
Jewish Community Headquarters - 29 Kentavron Str. Tel. 041-226396.
Jewish Elementary School - 9 Skarlatou Str.
Papaharalambios Public Library - Jewish tombstone inscriptions.
Jewish Quarter - in the northern side of the Castle.
Joseph Nassi Street - main street of the Jewish quarter.
Jewish symbols in the lintels of Orthodox Churches, "Metamorfosseos
Platzas" and "St. John Baptist".
Jewish Quarter - remains, in the "Tsivdi" neighborhood.
Cemetery - on the way to the Customs Office.
Synagogue - Dosiadou and Simiou Street.
Jewish Community Headquarters - 5 Polidorou Str. Tel: 0241-22364.
Square of the Jewish Martyrs - End of Dosiadou Str.
Jewish Quarter - Old Jewish Quarter in the walled city, around today's
Square of the Jewish Martyrs.
Jewish Cemetery - The old cemetery was in Mandraki district but the
Italians transferred all the tombs to this new
Thebes Museum - Jewish inscriptions.
Synagogue - 15 Athanassiou Diakou Str.
Jewish Community Headquarters and Community Center - Sokratous and
Ploutonos Streets. Tel. 0431-27534.
Jewish Cemetery - on the national highway crossing the town.
Synagogue - Merarchias Sir. - ruins in the Jewish quarter.
Jewish Community - 1 Verois Str. Tel. 0331-24774.
Jewish Quarter - off the city's main square.
Cemetery-Acropoleos Str, quarter Promitheos.
Synagogue - Xenophontos and Moisseos Streets.
Jewish Community-Xenophontos and Moisseos Strs. Tel. 0421-25640.
Jewish Community Center - in the courtyard of the Synagogue.
Cemetery - Taxiarchon and Paraskevopoulou Streets, Nee Ionia.
Zakynthian Synagogue-remains, 44 Tertseti Sir.
Monument in the memory of Metropolite Chryssostomos and Mayor Loukas
Carrer, in the courtyard of the
Cemetery - Place Rouveli, on the way to Bohali.
Pictures and text : courtesy
of the Greek National Tourist