Istanbul Technical University, Restoration Programme Graduate Students, “Abudara (Parmakkapi) Synagogue in Istanbul”

Jewish people have been living in Istanbul since the 5th century. They have built synagogues in the neighborhoods they lived; Balat, Haskoy and Galata are some of them. Abudara (Parmakkapi) Synagogue was built in Haskoy, on a hill overlooking the Golden Horn. The present structure dates from the 19th century. According to documents from the Ottoman archives, an earlier structure which stood at the same location was damaged by a fire in 1804 and restored. During this operation, the timber roof was replaced by a masonry vault. The decoration on the walls and the vault dates from 1832. The building had an important role in the social and religious life of the Jewish community living in Haskoy.  However, after the foundation of Israel, many of the Jewish people in Istanbul migrated and the Jewish neighborhoods lost their native population.  Abudara Synagogue belongs to the Jewish community of Istanbul but as a result of the diminished number of inhabitants, it is not used as a sanctuary since 1950’s. It was closed to prayers and rented to be used as a workshop producing mechanical parts.

Being rented as a workshop was not good for the historic building; it was treated like an ordinary building.

Being rented as a workshop was not good for the historic building; it was treated like an ordinary building. The courtyard was covered to gain more space. Its maintenance was neglected; it was subjected to major interventions, dividing the interior space into smaller units. However, some of the decorative elements survived. Original tiles of the windowsills are kept in-situ. The surface of the ground floor walls was covered by a new paint layer. The presence of two different decorative schemes under the paint layer indicates the treatments  at different periods. As it has remained without significant change, the decoration on the walls of the upper floor and the vault reflects the  good quality of the original work.

Abudara Synagogue is a masonry building, built of limestone and bricks. It is rectangular in plan, measuring 14,7 x 10,7 m. On the east wall of main space, above the “Heikhal” (a cabinet in which Torah scrolls are kept), there are two inscription plates which tell about the repair of the synagogue in 1836. In order to develop a sound project for the rehabilitation and restoration of the synagogue, old photographs of the building and the area were investigated. Unfortunately, not many photos were available; however most of the extant details, such as tiles, wall decorations and windows provided evidence about the original design. For the missing parts; currently active synagogues of the area were visited and studied. The functional scheme of synagogues was analyzed and positions of “Heikhal” and “Tebah” (a table from which the Torah is read, and a desk for the prayer leader) could be indicated on the plan.

A key concern is protecting the symbolic and sacred values of the monument, while responding to public interest and the request of the Jewish community in Istanbul.

The restoration project emphasizes the historical- cultural importance of the building and proposes to use the Abudara Synagogue as an art gallery. A key concern is protecting the symbolic and sacred values of the monument, while responding to public interest and the request of the Jewish community in Istanbul.

In order to protect its cultural heritage value and return the sanctuary to its original spatial form, additions from the 20th century will be removed. They interfere with the interior space and ruin the spatial quality of the courtyard. Restoration proposal is developed with the principle of minimum intervention to the original structure.  Appropriate materials and methods will be used to repair the damaged fabric.

In order to conserve and clean the decoration on the wall surfaces of walls, expert conservators will be engaged.  We hope that,  when the restoration study is completed, Abudara Synagogue will  gain a new life, its meaning  and original  form will be visible and  its heritage character will continue with  due respect.

Istanbul Technical University
Restoration Programme Graduate Students:
Feyza Yagci
Kadir Ekinci
Melis Sabuncuoglu
Selin Sur