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A 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 Macedonia.
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 holidays.
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" of Israel, 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 past.

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 century B.C.E.
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, orphanages etc.
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.

Corfu (Kerkyra)
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.

Zante (Zakynthos)
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 A. D.
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 Hammath-Tiberias.

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, 1758.
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 Sephardic center.
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 Roman empire.
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.

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 Fleming Sir.
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 fortress.
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 War II.
Chalkis Museum - manuscripts - inscriptions.
Chalkis Cemetery - Messapion Str., Jewish graves.
Jewish Quarter - remains, in the Francomahalas area Chios Museum - Jewish inscriptions.
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 city.
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.
Jewish Quarter - remains in the Messala neighborhood, north-west side of the city.
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 Cultural Center.
Jewish Cemetery - Community Exohi, place "Jewish tombs".
Jewish owned Villas.
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 Organization