Eyüp, Istanbul, Turkey

istanbul 114 eyup

I’ve decided to do these Istanbul posts by neighborhood and in no particular order.  This, then, is one of my favorite neighborhoods and well off the beaten path, at least for non-Turkish tourists.  At the far end of the Golden Horn from the more tourist-y Galata and Sultanahmet, it was a village outside the Theodosian walls before it was absorbed into the growing city and still retains a feeling of separation.  It was also a christian and then muslim burial place and one steep hill has grown into a large cemetery – still in use today.  I stumbled on a funeral there.  I walked up the north side of the Horn to reach it and crossed the river on a high bridge then made my way pretty much straight to the centerpiece of the area, the Eyüp Sultan Mosque, the first mosque built by the Ottoman Turks after their conquest of Constantinople in 1453.  It is still a major pilgrimage place for Muslims as I saw on my visit.

I somewhat accidentally attended prayers at the Eyüp Sultan Mosque by staying longer than I’d meant to. I had visited a handful of other Mosques at that point and had the drill down pretty well – a scarf over my hair, knee-length rain coat on, and stepping out of my shoes at the threshhold – and was able to slip in pretty unobtrusively among a trickle of other Turkish visitors.  I hadn’t actually seen any other tourists in the area (although I noticed a few after the service) and when I stepped inside I didn’t immediately whip out my camera.  The door warden nodded up the stairs to the women’s area and I followed a couple of other young women up and settled along the railing to contemplate the space for a few minutes.  In the main floor area below, men were coming in alone or in pairs or threes, taking up space along the marked lines in the carpet and beginning their prayers or sitting and talking in low voices.  In the balcony around me women were coming in, dropping bags of shoes and purses, some were pulling long skirts over their jeans, and they were settling against the walls mostly in twos and threes to chat quietly.  A few were also beginning solitary prayer – standing, bowing, standing, kneeling, bending forward, kneeling, bending forward again and rising to begin again.  Others were reading softly to themselves from prayer booklets.  I sat with my legs crossed and alternately watched and meditated on my Grandmother’s currently uncertain health.  I realized that more and more people were entering and settling into position and got the feeling that a call to prayer was imminent even before I heard the muezzin but decided that I probably wasn’t disturbing anyone and that I wanted to see the service and sat tight.

Naturally, I didn’t understand the language of the prayer but I did find the ritual intriguing.  I was fascinated by the diversity of  the people who attended, from elderly and conservative looking men and women to a trio of quietly giggly teenage girls who stripped off their long skirts at the end of prayer to reveal stylish jeans and heels, to a young man in a business suit who came half an hour early to perform several dozen repetitions of the prayer on his own.  During the first part of the service while the Imam faced the congregation and spoke, people continued to go through the movements on their own and at their own pace, and later when he turned to face west, he led the group through a number of coordinated repetitions – some done very slowly and changing position at the mark of a called instruction.  I was moved in much the same way I am a Latin Mass – the feeling of shared intention and ritual meaning was strong and very spiritual.  And I’ve never seen a Christian church so full of congregants on a Tuesday afternoon during business hours!  After the prayer ended I sat quietly and watched people pack up their belongings and trickle out of the Mosque.  When it seemed to have emptied to pre-prayer standards I got up and walked around to take a few photographs.

After leaving the mosque I strolled uphill through the steeply sloping cemetery, enjoying my first view of blooming Tulips and being reminded that they come from Turkey originally (not Holland where they now pervade).  Then I came back down into the neighborhood and rambled through residential streets filled with kids in school uniforms playing with balls and hanging out on the stoops of candy shops – a universal, if anything is.  I worked my way up hill and crossed the huge beltline highway on a pedestrian overpass with a lot of commuters, then climbed still higher to reach the gate in the still impressively forbidding stone city wall and then trip downhill again through a slightly less homey and more rundown neighborhood until I reached the water of the Horn again and caught a ferry boat bouncing back and forth between the shore lines like a mobile bridge all the way back to Galata.  Enjoy the photos.

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