04 February 2009

An afternoon in an old Jewish cemetery in Istanbul

One sunny and pleasant afternoon last October my friend Nemo Ramjet (not his real name) took me to the Nakkaştepe Jewish Cemetery in the Kuzguncuk district of Istanbul. We wanted to photograph the tombstones and, of course, collect snails. To enter the cemetery we climbed over a high metal fence like a couple of school boys sneaking into a forbidden garden. Only much later, at the end of our expedition did we realize that there was a regular entrance for the use of perhaps slightly more normal people.

The cemetery consisted of an old section on a gentle slope overlooking residential districts and a presently used smaller section on a facing hillside. We concentrated our efforts in the old section where many marble tombstones were scattered, some haphazardly, over the hillside.


Several of the tombstones had rather pleasant and artful engravings on them.


And the late-blooming wildflowers were dissipating the gloominess of the surroundings and turning our work into a more pleasant endeavor.


Most of the old gravestones had been inscribed in Hebrew, which neither of us could read, but a few were in European languages. This partially broken bilingual one belonged to a Wolf Goldenberg who died in 1882.


The oldest grave whose inscriptions we could read was from 1869. The name on it appears to be Doctor Marco Dalmedi[co]*.


Subsequent research revealed that the Nakkaştepe Jewish Cemetery was much older than the oldest tombstone we found. Brewer (1830) mentioned a visit in 1827 to a "Jewish burying-place near Coos-Conjux on the Asiatic side [of Istanbul]" that was undoubtedly the same cemetery in Kuzguncuk, while according to Rozen (2002), the oldest Jewish tombstone in Kuzguncuk is from the 16th century.

A manuscript about the snail shells we collected is in press and will be the subject of a future post.

*Another tombstone belonged to a Raphael Dalmedico.

Brewer, J. 1830. A Residence at Constantinople, in the Year 1827. Durrie & Peck, New Haven. (Google Books)
Rozen, M. 2002. A history of the Jewish Community in Istanbul: The Formative Years, 1453-1566. Brill, Leiden. (Google Books)


Katie said...

Interesting and lovely. I enjoy walking through old cemeteries. As I walk around I wonder about the people who now lie beneath and wonder what lives they lead.

Steven Lasky said...

Dear Aydin,

My name is Steven Lasky and I am the Founder and Director or the virtual (Internet-only) Museum of Family History.

I read your blog posting of Feb 4 2009 about the time you climbed the fence and photographed gravestones at the Nakkastepe Jewish Cemetery in Istanbul. You might be interested in my own Cemetery Project. I photographed over 100,000 gravestones in the NY/NJ metro area.

If you wouldn't mind sharing, I'd like you to send me whatever useful jpegs you might have of Jewish gravestones taken at Nakkastepe. I'd like to add these burials to my own database and make my own Museum and blog followers aware of this burial information. Please let me know if you will do this.

Please visit my blog too at http://museumoffamilyhistory.blogspot.com . You can find a link to my Cemetery Project at www.museumoffamilyhistory.com.

Steven Lasky