Greetings from Constantinople

A Sephardic Jew records his impression of the city and its Jewish inhabitants in the twelfth century.

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No Jews live in the city, for they have been placed behind an inlet of the sea. An arm of the sea of Marmon shuts them in on one side, and they are unable to go out except by way of the sea when they want to do business with the inhabitants. In the Jewish quarter there are about 2000 Rabbinite Jews and about 500 Karaites, and a fence divides them.  Amongst the scholars are several wise men, at their head being the chief rabbi Rabbi Abtalion, Rabbi Obadiah, Rabbi Aaton Bechor Shoro, Rabbi Joseph Shir-Guru and Rabbi Eliakim, the warden. And amongst them are artificers in silk and many rich merchants.

No Jew there is allowed to ride on horseback. The one exception is Rabbi Solomon Mahitari, who is the king’s physician, and through whom the Jews employ considerable alleviation of their oppression. For their condition is very low, and there is much hatred against them, which is fostered by the tanners, who throw out their dirty water in the streets before the doors of the Jewish houses and defile the Jews’ quarter.

So the Greeks hate the Jews, good and bad alike, and subject them to great oppression, and beat them in the streets, and in every way treat them with rigour. Yet the Jews are rich and good, kindly and charitable, and bear their lot with cheerfulness. The district inhabited by the Jews in called Pera.

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Benjamin of Tudela

Benjamin of Tudela was a rabbi and world traveler. In 1165/6 he set off on a voyage through the Mediterranean region, Mesopotamia, Palestine, Arabia, Egypt, and other places in Asia Minor and the Near East, before returning to Spain in 1173 and publishing an account of his travels. His Book of Travels has been translated into many languages.