I’m posting this from Paris, having failed to meet my Friday deadline once again. However, although my body has arrived in the City of Light, my mind is still tramping up the hills of Istanbul. And I have to say, I miss it already.
So I’m glad I chose the neighbourhood that I did – Eyup – because it seems a fitting way to pay my respects to such an amazing city, and to end the Turkish chapter of this project.
Eyup is Istanbul’s Mecca. In fact, after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem, it’s the fourth holiest Islamic site in the world.
This is because it contains the türbe (tomb) of the Standard-bearer and companion of the Prophet Mohammed no less, Eyüp Sultan, and the adjacent mosque, the Eyüp Sultan Mosque, which was built in his honour in 1458. As a result, every other Ottoman bigwig wanted to be buried there too. Hence the place is spilling over with a number of other mosques, countless tombs and one enormous hill-covering cemetery.
Given that Istanbul is so deeply Muslim despite its glitzy bits, and bursting at the seams with history, I thought it sounded like a good place to finish.
By the way, this week’s installment is a little leaner than others – a combination of the choice of neighbourhood and not quite enough time thanks to a rigid exit date.
Right, scarves on, shoes off, let’s go Eyup!
Part 1: The women
As a modern Western chick, I can’t help feeling a little cranky that women have to stick to a prescribed section in a mosque. But after hanging out in the ladies area at Eyup Mosque, I kind of enjoyed the enforced segregation. There is a real sense of companionship up there, behind the screens, and the women do seem more relaxed. And not that anyone uses them anymore, but I was intrigued by the little windows in the latticed screen. It’s easy to imagine the women of Ottoman times, resplendent in velvet riches, gingerly opening them to snatch a look at the men downstairs.
Part 2: The men
Revered as it is, Eyup is the place to be if you’re about to get part of your willy chopped off.
I’d read that it was common to see a family turn up with a young son dressed in a white satin costume just prior to their circumcision ceremony (sünnet). Hat, cape, staff, the full bit. But I was still surprised by the grand outfit when I saw it for real. Of course the kids, anywhere from three or four onwards, are far from regal, tearing around the place, enjoying the attention. But I did wonder, given what they’re about to experience, wouldn’t it turn them off dress-up for life?
Some time later we met another circumcision candidate, five year old Yusef. Having witnessed Yusef on the threshold to manhood, Coco and I walked up through the cemetery, passing by a group of men silhouetted on the hill as a burial was taking place. One enters, one leaves. That’s life as they say.
On the next visit to Eyup we met a group of school boys, praying outside the mosque in front of the tomb. Just as with the Sufi saint’s shrine in Nizamuddin West, New Delhi, this is where you make your wish and pray it comes true.
Of course it isn’t all about the young at Eyup.
Part 3: Religion makes you hungry
A street full of cafes, restaurants and seemingly endless bread, biscuit and sweetie shops serves the local Eyup community as well as those visiting the mosque complex.
Seeing as we’re in a religious mode, I should let you know – I have been converted, to the almighty Turkish Delight. Double Pistachio straight up with a chaser of same. Reason being, I discovered that the gluey, gelatinous substance doesn’t have any gluten in it. It’s been five years without sweeties – most have wheat – so I’ve been out of control.
Just as I was ready to kick my new habit, Coco and I had a box of the stuff shoved in our faces on exiting the mosque. I don’t know why but we noticed it several times – women offering either sugar cubes or Turkish Delight to anyone who walked past. What was I to do? It would’ve been rude to refuse.
Part 4: Coco in Eyup
Speaking of dress-up…
Having seen the women at the mosque hand out Turkish Delight, Coco decided she wanted to do it too, as a parting gesture to both Eyup and Istanbul. We must have looked a sight – Western girl dressed in old fashioned Turkish gear handing out sweeties while her sugared up mother looked on feverishly, desperate for them to be gone.
Aside from an overabundance of the sweet stuff at Eyup, I enjoyed it. While the mosques and tombs are the main draw card, I loved getting lost around their back alleys, trying to imagine what it would’ve been like in Ottoman times. Made easier when you have a richly attired Whirling Dervish-like daughter by your side.
On the ‘home front’
Last week’s neighbourhood was tough going for Coco especially. So I loved that this week she had a couple of opportunities to let loose and do pretty much her favourite thing – dancing. Both in the back alleys of Eyup and alongside the Bosphorus, in front of the beautiful Ciragan Palace (excellent if you’re like me and don’t like crowds – there was barely a soul there).
So goodbye Istanbul, I really do miss you already. The warmth of your people (but not your cranky taxi-drivers). Your east-west mix. The beautiful Bosphorus. And how could you not miss a city where you can dance wild and free in the midst of history? Now if I can just kick this sugar problem…
This suburb has been brought to you by Julie Phillis
See you on Friday with the first Paris installment.