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Temples Abound in Eurasian Nation
According to the Bible, the Prophet Abraham was born in Ur in Chaldea, which is now known as the ancient city of Sanlurfa in the modern day Eurasian country of Turkey, which borders eight other nations, in its mix of East and West.
Many ancient sites described in the Bible are located in Turkey, including the cave that is believed to be his birthplace. Mount Ararat is also here, the place where Noah's Ark finally ran aground.
Relatives of Noah are believed to have founded the Hittite religion in Turkey. The town of Harran has Jacob's Well, which can still be visited today. The site of the Garden of Eden is considered to have existed in Turkey, where the Rivers Tigris and Euphrates meet.
There is much to see Jewishly in this country, which has boasted a democratic government for the past 80-some years, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
A Jewish community has existed in Turkey since the fourth century BCE. By the second century C.E., there were over 1 million Jews living in Asia Minor. The largest synagogue in history was built in Sardis in 220 BCE and was rebuilt in the third century C.E., but was destroyed by a devastating earthquake. The mosaic floors and ruins can be visited today.
There were many more ancient synagogues built around the southern tip of the ancient Greek city of Ephesus, which is now part of Turkey. There are important areas of early Jewish settlements at Balat, where Macedonian Jews settled in the 18th century. At that time, there were six large synagogues in use in Balat, but there are currently only two.
There was once a large Karaite community in the ancient area around the Galata tower; the Karaites came from Europe when they fled the persecution that was rife in the 14th and 15th centuries.
In 1492, Columbus had to embark on his expedition from the Port of Palos, because the Cadiz and Seville ports were blocked by ships carrying many Sephardic Jews who had fled Spain under threat of conversion or death.
Seven centuries followed where the Jewish community lived in peace and prosperity in the Moslem country. Many Jewish communities flourished in Turkey when they found they were both tolerated and encouraged in the professions. This spirit of acceptance and tolerance of the Jewish religion still pervades today.
The Jewish community at Bursa is where the Etz ha Hayyim (Tree of Life) Synagogue was built in 1324 after the Ottoman Sultan conquered the town, and allowed the Jews to build a temple so that they could live in peace in the area. Today, there are only around 140 Jews left to attend two extant synagogues.
Balat and Heskoy in the Golden Horn areas have several old synagogues that can be visited. Istanbul has 16; all but one are Sephardic.
It should be noted that all synagogues are kept locked for security reasons in Turkey.
Further details of tours can be found at: www. heritagetoursonline.com and www.turkeytravelplanner.com.