The Jewish presence in İstanbul dated back at least to the Byzantine period when there was a synagogue in Balat on the Golden Horn that had been built by Jews from Ohrid in Macedonia. Later, during the time of the Ottoman Empire other Jewish families from Macedonia built the Kastoria, Saloniki, and Ihtipol synagogues. Balat became the Jewish quarter of İstanbul.
At the time of the Spanish Inquisition in the late 15th century when many Jews were welcomed to the Ottoman Empire they built the Geroush, Neve-Shalom Messina, Tchana and Monties synagogues. According to Evliye Çelebi, in the 17th century there was also a large Jewish community in Hasköy. Some of those people were the Karaits who had been moved from the Yeni Camii area by the sultan.
Two synagogues served the Karait sect, one of which is still functioning. By the turn of the 20th century the whole country was experiencing a severe economic depression. Those Jews who remained in İstanbul moved to newer districts of the city. Of the original synagogues in Balat, only the Ohrid remains and is functioning. It was restored most recently in 1955. A magnificent chandelier hangs from the central dome.
Among the other synagogues now active are the Çorapçı Han in Sultanhamam, founded by Russian Jews in the late 19th century; the Neve-Shalom at Tünelbaşı that was the scene of a tragic terrorist attack in 1986; the Ashkenaz on Yüksekkaldırım; and the Or a Hayim synagogue and hospital in Fener. The Şişli Beit Israil synagouge is a recent building having been dedicated in 1952. The Kuzguncuk Beit Yaakov and the Ortaköy Etz Ha Haim synagogues have roors in the Byzantine period. These two share their neighborhoods with churches and mosques. There are recent synagogues on three of the Princes’ Islands, Burgaz, Heybeli and Büyükada.