ARTICLE: FUSUN AKAY PHOTO: BARIS HASAN BEDIR
Repose at Eyüp
The quarter that grew up around the tomb of Ebu Eyyub el-Ensari, Companion of the Prophet Muhammad, still preserves its age-old spiritual atmosphere.
Fotoğraf : Akgün Akova
Fotoğraf : Akgün Akova
Fotoğraf : Akgün Akova
Fotoğraf : Akgün Akova
Fotoğraf : Eyüp Belediyesi Arşivi
Fotoğraf : Eyüp Belediyesi
It is rare in this world to come across an entire quarter of a city that has grown up around a single individual and takes its character entirely from him. But I know such a place: Eyüp on Istanbul’s Golden Horn, the original settlement founded by Mehmed the Conqueror, who ushered in a New Age with his conquest of the city in 1453. The Conqueror, who founded this settlement out of his deep veneration for Ebu Eyyub el-Ensari, Companion of the Prophet Muhammad. A hallowed quarter, rebuilt from top to bottom by architects with the inspiration they took from him, this individual, whom people had never once seen but whose sacred resting place they nevertheless wanted to visit at least once in their lives.
OPENING HIS HOME TO THE PROPHET
No one in the Islamic world has failed to hear of Halid bin Zeyd Ebu Eyyub el-Ensari (or Ansarî, a name that refers to the Prophet’s Helpers), who has played a key role in every phase of Eyüp’s development from its founding right up to the present. When the Prophet Muhammad fled from Mecca to Medina, every good Muslim wanted to have him as a guest in their home. So Muhammad decided to leave his camel Kusva untethered and stay at whatever place the camel strayed. Kusva went and stood in front of the home of Ebu Eyyub, where the Prophet thus became a guest for seven months. The connection between Ebu Eyyub, who fought alongside Muhammad in all his battles, and the eponymous quarter of Istanbul dates back to the year 668 when the Umayyad army, led by Yazid I, first set foot in the city it was hoping to conquer. Struck down by a violent illness in the heat of the battle, Ebu Eyyub made his will straightaway: “Bury me at the farthest point to which the Muslim armies advance”, he ordered. Shortly afterwards he succumbed to the disease, as did the Umayyads to the Byzantines. Taking a decision to retreat, the troops, albeit with a heavy heart, brought his body here for burial, for his wish was their command. Centuries later Istanbul became the object of a new siege; but this time the Byzantines raised the flag of surrender. Meanwhile, from the instant he entered the city, a question was on the Conqueror’s mind: where was the grave of Ebu Eyyub el-Ensari? Legend has it that Fatih’s mentor, Hodja Akşemseddin, was vouchsafed the answer to this question in a dream. And sure enough, when a search was made at the site indicated by the hodja, Ebu Eyyub’s grave turned up, and Fatih in turn had the first mosque complex in the city built there. Ever since the date of its construction, the Tomb of Eyüp Sultan Türbe has been a very important place for Muslims. As an indication of the great value they placed on the tomb and on Islam, the Ottoman Sultans upon ascending the throne would come here to be girded with one of the swords belonging to Muhammad or his Companions in a ceremony known as the ‘taklid-i seyf’. The site remains a popular destination with Muslims today, as it has been for centuries. Eyüp Sultan is thronged with hundreds of visitors every day of the week, praying silent prayers and making heartfelt offerings.
THE CURIOUS STORY OF ZAL MAHMUD
From the 15th century onwards, Eyüp became a quarter inhabited by members of the ulema or religious class as well as men of art and thought, who left behind major monuments in the history of architecture and culture. Ever mindful of Eyüp’s spiritual significance, influential individuals and charitable institutions vied with each other to commission structures that would enhance the quarter’s prestige. One of those matchless works is the Zal Mahmud Pasha mosque complex, the story of which is rather interesting.
Legend has it that Mahmud, who was employed as a servant in the imperial palaces before becoming a pasha, was in love with Shah Sultan, the sister of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent. But, alas, Mahmud was a mere servant with no hope of marrying the Sultan’s sister. Around this time rumors began to spread that Süleyman’s son Mustafa was about to stage a rising against the throne. Seizing this opportunity, Mahmud captured Mustafa and strangled him with his own hands, thereby not only sealing his marriage with the woman he loved, but also rising to the vizierate with the title of ‘Zal’ or hero. But his guilty conscience would not be stilled, so, confiding in the great architect, Mimar Sinan, he begged forgiveness for his sins by having a mosque complex erected in his name. “Let us build your complex near the tomb of Eyüp Sultan so that you may benefit from his mercy as well,” proposed Sinan, who also built a tomb for Zal Mahmud and his wife within its precincts. Shah Sultan died sometime in 1580, followed the very next day by Zal Mahmud.
FROM MILITARY BANDS TO TOYS
The ‘Eyüp Military Band’ performs today at the Zal Mahmud Mosque Complex, which is located between Defterdar Avenue and Zal Pasha Avenue. The Ottoman ‘mehter’ or military band was a group that performed music to raise the morale of the soldiers as they marched off to war when the sultan mounted a campaign. In the garden of the mosque complex we find the ‘çorbacıbaşı’ (literally, the head soupmaker) or commander of today’s nostalgic ‘Mehter’ band, Sıtkı Kızıltunç, who informs us that present-day ‘Mehter’, made up entirely of volunteers, performs every Friday in front of the Eyüp Sultan Mosque an hour and a half before the noon prayers. Meanwhile we notice a sign: ‘Eyüp Toymaking Project Training Center and Workshop’ and are informed that a course, sponsored by the European Union in cooperation with the History Foundation and
Iş-Kur, is being offered in the mosque complex. Its purpose, to revitalize this craft in Eyüp, which has been renowned for its toys since the 17th century. Made of everything from wood to clay and leather, the historic toys of Eyüp—carts, tops, drums, rattles and tumblers—are unfortunately no longer being produced today. But anyone who wants to can now learn the art of toymaking in the newly opened course.
CABLE CAR MAGIC
But the richness that is Eyüp cannot be crammed into a short article. For here you encounter history at every step. The Ensar Mansion, Siyavuş Pasha Fountain, the Tomb of Sokullu Mehmed Pasha, the Fountain of Süleyman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Primary School, and so much more. If you haven’t been to Eyüp in the last month, then you’re definitely in for a new experience: the cable car! Starting from directly behind the Eyüp Sultan Complex, it climbs in two and half minutes to the top of the legendary Pierre Loti Hill, famous for its panoramic view and tranquil atmosphere, in a ride as breathtaking as it is brief. Below, the Golden Horn; opposite, the New Mosque, and Topkapı Palace, illumined by the sun’s golden rays; and on the opposite shore of the estuary the Galata Tower, plus Çamlıca Hill on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus. Not to mention Eyüp Cemetery, which covers the major part of the Pierre Loti slope. As I gaze out over the landscape, the words of Edmondo de Amicis, an Italian literary figure who came to Istanbul in the 19th century, spring to mind: “In no other city is Islamic art, which beautifies the image of death, enabling one to contemplate it without fear, spread out before one’s eyes with such elegance.” Yes, despite the crowds, this is perhaps the place where one feels one’s mortality most keenly. Keenly but not fearfully. Most of those exiting the cable car make a brief stop at the coffeehouse named for the French writer Pierre Loti, who was so enamored of Istanbul. Savoring the view here and the flavor of the Turkish coffee, brewed slowly in a small copper pot, is a pleasure all its own. Coffee, students, lovers, ageing aunts and uncles come perhaps to remember the good old days, and, of course, the tourists staring in amazement at the Golden Horn panorama. Everyone speaks in hushed tones here, as if loth to disturb the prevailing air of peace and tranquility. I am jolted back to the present when a young man at the next table—a first time visitor perhaps—raises his voice in excitement, his comment terse but to the point: “What an incredibly beautiful place we live in!”