The Jewish population of Ioannina was mostly to be found in the old neighbourhood, within the fortress walls, the Megali Rouga (Big Street), next to the fortress –which was later renamed after Max Nordau and today is called Yossef Eliya street– in Koundouriotou street and the alleys leading to it, and in Leivadioti, today’s Soutsou street.
Despite the fact that there had been Jewish residents in the city from as early as the 8th or 9th century C.E. they first begin to settle in an organised fashion in a quarter of their own from 1611. That year, after the failed local uprising of Dionysius the Skylosophos (the Cynic), the Ottoman authorities decided to settle Turkish and Jewish families in the fortress. In time, this quarter became inseparably linked with the Jewish tradition of the city. The Romaniote Jews of Ioannina created probably the most significant community of Greek-speaking Jews in Greece, and reached notable levels of cultural and financial development. In 1912, the community confidently welcomed the liberation of Ioannina from Ottoman rule, and continued its active life.
The Kahal Kadosh Yashan synagogue, also known as the ‘Synagogue within’ was built right next to the fortress wall in 1829, replacing an older synagogue at the same place. It still serves the religious requirements of the few Jews who live in the city today. Around 1840, the numbers of Jewish Community of Ioannina had increased so much, that most of its members already lived outside the fortress walls. The largest of all Jewish neighbourhoods was that of the Megali Rouga, in which the ‘New Synagogue’, the Kahal Kadosh Hadash, as well as the school of the Alliance Israélite Universelle were built. Today only few traces of this neighbourhood remain, as its population was decimated during the war. The name of the street, in honour of the great poet and talmudist, Yossef Eliyia, and a community building inhabited mostly by elderly survivors, are all the remnants of the history of this part of the city.
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