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)