Ramadan Exuberance In Istanbul

Sultan of the year’s other eleven months, Ramadan encompasses the whole world in God’s grace and abundance. And experiencing Ramadan in Istanbul - a city whose historical and cultural riches dazzle the eye - is a privilege. An unforgettable Ramadan awaits you in Istanbul with its venues of spirituality and itineraries worth exploring over and over again.

Ramadan In Istanbul Is Different…

When the Ramadan crescent moon glides through the Istanbul night like a silver fish, a wave of excitement spreads through the city. The long-awaited guest has come at last…

Piping hot “pide” bread, refreshing rosewater “güllaç” pudding, the drumbeat in the middle of the night calling people to a day of fasting... An otherworldly atmosphere permeates the city. With festive entertainments that crank up the holiday spirit, Ramadan is different in Istanbul.

The spiritual atmosphere of Ramadan puts the crowning touch on Istanbul’s centuries-old cultural treasures, and the city thrums with life 24/7 as the entertainment continues right up to “suhoor”, the last meal taken before another day of fasting begins.

Month of plenty, mercy and forgiveness, Ramadan in all its munificence is our guest once again. And Istanbul, with its rich Ramadan culture going back to our Ottoman days, welcomes this special guest with exuberance.

Radiant Istanbul Nights
The “mahya” lights that festoon the minarets of the mosques are a fixture of Ramadan in Istanbul. Strung between the minarets and changed at specific intervals, they invite people to be good. Described by Halide Edip Adıvar as “inscriptions in lights to welcome Ramadan”, they impart a magical beauty to Istanbul nights with their radiance.

From The Palace To The Present
In Ottoman civilization, which was shaped by a quest for the beautiful, the spiritual aspects of the month of Ramadan take on a unique aesthetic quality. The “taraweeh” or night prayers were performed in the Palace and, together with Ramadan hymns, in the imperial mosques during the Ottoman period. Addressing the heart as well as the ear, the Palace taraweeh tradition continues today to transport those praying into a state of divine ecstasy at Istanbul’s large mosques.

Brotherly Dinners
The French writer Gérard de Nerval The French writer Gérard de Nerval describes Ottoman iftar dinners with some astonishment in his book, Le Voyage en Orient: “Everyone can enter everyone else’s home during Ramadan and eat a meal there.” And the culture of charity, which is the essence of Ramadan, flourishes today at the iftar tents and open-air iftar dinners that serve tens of thousands of people.

Four staples of the Ramazan dining table
Vedat Başaran*

Although the dishes served in Ramadan vary depending on the season, there are four that are included at all times of the year: Olives, dates, güllaç and Ramadan pide.
Olives and dates supply the body’s need for salt and sugar at the end of a day of fasting. Güllaç, whose name comes from “güllü” (rosewater-flavored) and “aş” (soup), is a Ramadan miracle that is light on the stomach as well as easy and pleasant to consume. Ramadan pide (flat bread) is something else altogether, as evidenced by the long lines of people who wait in front of bakeries for hours to buy it.

*Gastronomy expert

“There was once a fruit syrup culture in Istanbul...”
Prof. Dr. Uğur Derman*

When I was a boy, Ramadan fell in summer. We used to watch with excitement from our house in Üsküdar as they hung the “mahya” lights between the minarets. The lights would come on when it got dark, and the tiny bulbs would sway in the night air. At the end the “Hakkı bil” would appear, written in lights. And we would be so happy… Of course, one gets thirstier when Ramadan comes in summer. There was a fruit syrup culture in Istanbul in those days. Syrups were made from all the fresh fruits, and people would line up in front of the Izmir syrup vendors who gathered around the New Post Office at Sirkeci at “iftar” when the day’s fast was broken.

•    Mimar Sinan University of the Fine Arts

Exploring Istanbul In Ramadan

Istanbul offers several different worlds to see and explore in Ramadan. Here are a few enjoyable Istanbul itineraries for you to follow in a summer Ramadan.
The Bosphorus
With the splendid seaside homes strung like pearls along its shores, its historic Maiden’s Tower and its coastal landscapes, the Bosphorus is one of Istanbul’s loveliest itineraries. A cruise on its waters before ‘iftar’ will refresh you in the cool air, and after iftar you can stroll along its shores and stop at a cafe for a snack.

The Prince’s Islands
Within easy reach from several points around the city, the Prince’s Islands dazzle the eye with their historic texture and authentic architecture. Following a restful day under the pines, an iftar repast of island specialties awaits you here.

Traditional Shopping
The Grand Bazaar is the throbbing hub of traditional shopping in Istanbul during Ramadan. All the traditional goods such as jewelry, gems, leather goods, handwoven carpets and the colorful glass and copper trinkets in the souvenir shops are on offer here. If you want to add a unique Turkish flavor to your iftar table, Eminönü, just a ten-minute stroll from the Grand Bazaar, is the place for you. The historic Egyptian Bazaar here is renowned for its rich array of spices and breakfast treats. And the stalls just outside it are a riot of color. 

The Historic Peninsula
The historic peninsula is the city’s oldest district. Topkapı Palace and the section with the Sacred Relics, the Ayasofya and Sultanahmet Mosques, and Yerebatan Cistern are just a few of the many places to see. And you’ll discover the beauty of experiencing Ramadan in Istanbul if you follow the route through Gülhane Park, Sultanahmet Square and the Divan Yolu to Çemberlitaş and Beyazıt Square.

Streets And Malls
A rich world of shopping offering just about every brand on the market is at your fingertips in Istanbul’s scores of malls. Meanwhile Rumeli and Abdi İpekçi Avenues in Nişantaşı and Bağdat Avenue on the Anatolian side are major centers for open-air shopping addicts. Ramadan in Istanbul opens the door to a world of tolerance that accommodates preferences of every stripe!