After spending half of the day around the old walled city of Istanbul, my Istanbullite friend asked me to come with him to Eyup District, an area of Istanbul a little father away from the center. Apparently Eyup is the area where the more religious of the population come. For what reason? You need to read this post a bit further, as I take you into my train of thought, and what I had learned that day.
We discussed about going to this district the day before when we were in Edirnekapi at Mihrimah Sultan Mosque, but I really have little idea about it because my mind keeps wandering off ; this is what happens when you let a history buff surrounded by thousands of years worth of ancient stories and artifacts. I remember walking by the old wall of the city and stopping by a small Korean curiosity shop, but that was it. Seriously if you want to see me in trance, just keep me in a castle or an old mansion or something.
Eyup district, as I learned, is even further than Edirnekapi. To get there, I had to use the Metro to a stop, then hop on a Dolmus (Mini bus) to go to the main square of the district. Thinking about it, I am quite amazed that I could manage to go through all that without knowing the local language (at that time, I had very rudimentary knowledge of the Turkish language, culture and social norms) and again being so very spaced out. In Istanbul, there were lots and lots of things to look out for – fountains, mosques, tombs ancient buildings, all having thousands of years of history among them. Although, thanks to today’s technology, I was able to guide myself, all alone, to a new place in Istanbul altogether.
So this is *what* I think happened. From Sultan Ahmet Square, I took a metro line towards either Pazartekke or Cevizlibag (see, I dont even know the name of the place I was going. Please don’t be mindless as I was) where I end up to a mosque. I didn’t know what is the name of the mosque, but it was large and beautifully decorated. I took a few pictures, so if you know what is the name of the mosque please leave a comment. After offering my prayers there, I went outside to find a really busy junction road. Again, I did not know how I got into a dolmus. I entered one and just asked the driver Eyup in which he nodded. Again, without sufficient knowledge of the social norms and culture of Turky, I just took a seat without realizing I had to pay! A rather stupid mistake I know, and I only paid after seeing a woman entering the dolmus pay the driver. I handed him a 5 Lira note (always have small notes with you in Turkey!) and we are on our jolly way to Eyup.
When we arrived there were a lot of people coming to the main square of the district, in front of the mosque. I suspect nothing, as I thought that it was a common occurrence – after all, we are visiting a city of several million people. We went into the entrance of the mosque where there was even more people going in and out of the compound. I suspect something, but still I thought that it is nothing out of the ordinary.
We went to the cemetery part of the mosque first. There were a lot of people again here entering the tombs. As I walked along with the crowd, I learned from my friend that apparently this is the tomb of one of the closest companion of the Prophet Muhammad, Abu Ayyub Al Ansari, referred to by the Turks as Eyup Sultan. According to history, he died of dysentery during the first Arab siege of Constantinople in 674AD, a long time before the conquest of the city by the Ottomans.
Armed with the new knowledge I approached the tomb of Abu Ayyub Al Ansari, surprised by the fact that I am in fact approaching one of the Prophet’s closest companion here in Istanbul. The tomb was severely packed that I could not really fully appreciate the beautify of the place. I can see very fine examples of traditional Iznik tiles , as well as a glimpse of the tomb itself, in a gilded cage behind thick curtains. The place was dark and illuminated with lavish chandeliers, and because of the crowd, it felt very claustrophobic. I can also see several different tombstones, but I do not have the chance to approach them or learn more.
After offering Fatihah for the soul of the companion of the Prophet, we promptly went out to the courtyard of the mosque-turbe. Outside there were a lot of people still, but at least we can have a breather. In this courtyard there was a big fenced garden in the middle amongst beautiful Iznik tiled walls. As we tried to make our way out of the building, people were giving out sweets and gifts to visitors. Another surprise during this visit is that we came during one of the Kandili, the holy nights in Islam, which is not heard of in our part of the world. During my time there it was Regaib Kandili, the night where Muslims here believe is the night when the Prophet Muhammad was conceived. This tradition i really a tradition is this part of the world and the Balkan, dating back from the Ottoman times. We have never even heard of this kind of celebration. As an act of devotion, Muslims here come to holy sites such as Eyup Sultan Mosque in Istanbul to offer special prayers for this particular day (and night)
As it is closing the Asar Prayers we went to the mosque to offer the prayer. The mosque is of course, packed full of worshippers, but I cannot help but the be in awe with the beauty of the Eyup Sultan Mosque. It seems like the mosque is constantly renovated throughout the Ottoman times and perhaps even today, as I see clashes of aesthetics in both of the tombs and mosque. While the tomb is heavily decorated in Iznik tiles , the mosque itself have baroque inspiration throughout. The painted decoration and the calligraphy looks new, as if they were made just yesterday. But perhaps it was jut the efforts put into the conservation of the holy site. The mosque itself looks smaller than many of the imperial mosques that I had visited, but it looks grand and airy. Plenty of windows around the main prayer halls reminds me of Suleymaniye Mosque, and the light colours of greys and whites coupled with deep cobalt blues and shiny golden decorations and calligraphy further accentuate the ethereal feeling this mosque presents itself.
After the prayer service we then headed uphill of Pierre Lotti amongst the many graves and tombs littering the hillside where we have a beautiful vista over Istanbul, and then we went back via a cable car, then down to the main center of the district, among many historical buildings and tombs while the sunlight descended upon us.