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Istanbul's most sancrosanct site.

Eyup's Ensari was both friend and standard bearer of the Prophet Mohammed. For centuries his tomb has been a popular place of pilgrimage as Chris Hellier reports.

IN THE heavily shaded courtyard of Eyup mosque, a bride-to-be, dressed in voluminous white, stood out from an otherwise sombre crowd. Nearby stood a young boy in a circumcision hat and suit awaiting his passage into manhood. While beneath a giant plane tree families prayed at the entrance to the tomb of Eyup Ensari, friend and standard-bearer of the Prophet Mohammed.

The tomb at Eyup is the holiest shrine in Istanbul and an important destination for Muslim pilgrims. One of the leaders of the first Arab siege against Constantinople (674-678), Eyup Ensari was killed during the five year stand-off with the Byzantines and buried outside the city walls.

Various stories were subsequently told about Eyup's tomb. Several Arab historians claim that its preservation was a condition of the Arab-Byzantine peace treaty; while the seventeenth century Turkish traveller, Evliya Celebi, described how the city's Ottoman conquerors rediscovered the tomb in the fifteenth century after searching for seven whole days.

Whatever the truth of the matter the tomb was known and revered by the Byzantines and became an important focus for Sultanic ceremonies. After Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror captured Istanbul in 1453 he redeveloped the whole site, enlarging the tomb building, constructing a mosque and an associated complex comprising a religious school, Turkish baths and a market.

Subsequent sultans, in a ceremony equivalent or coronation, were girded with the sword of Osman at Eyup. They then marched at the head of an elaborate procession back to the palace, stopping briefly at other holy places along the way. The keys of Makkah were also received for an elaborate thanksgiving ceremony at Eyup mosque after they were recaptured during the Arabian Wahhabi revolt in 1818.

As well as its ceremonial and religious importance Eyup was a popular burial place for leading Ottoman dignitaries. Approaching the village from the ferry terminal on the Golden Horn one passes through a distinct Ottoman streetscape dominated by clusters of domes. Behind imposing stone facades lie extensive "kulliyes", building complexes built by pious foundations and often including "mektep" (primary schools), "medrese" (religious schools), "imaret" (public kitchens), libraries, fountains and tombs.

Among the largest are the tomb complexes of Mishrisah Valide Sultan, Selim III's mother, and Sokullu Mehmet Pasha, one of the ablest grand vizirs of the sixteenth century. Surprisingly, however, only one sultan, Mehmet V Resat, is buried at Eyup. When he died in 1918 he was laid to rest in a neo-classical tomb near the water's edge, the last Ottoman sultan to be buried in Turkish soil.

For ordinary Istanbulites, Eyup, a distant village until well into the twentieth century, was popular for day trips. Its gardens were renowned for their tulips and roses. While children looked forward to the toyshops. Nearly a hundred, according to Evliya Celebi, lined the narrow streets leading to the tomb. Today, they have largely been replaced by small stalls selling religious mementoes, Islamic books and illustrated Korans, prayer beads and framed pictures of venerated saints.

Early travellers were attracted to Eyup as much as Istanbulites. During the nineteenth century Eyup's tombs and mosques were a favorite subject for wandering artists such as Thomas Allom and William Bartlett who contributed to the classic study of the city "The Beauties of the Bosphorus".

Later on, at the beginning of the twentieth century, the romantic French novelist, Pierre Loti, set many scenes in Eyup. Revelling in the lifestyle of ordinary people he liked nothing better than "to tour the mosques, beads in hand; to stop at all the cafes, turbes, mausolea, at the baths and in the squares."

Loti lived in Eyup where he surrounded himself with "oriental" mementoes including giant brass candlesticks, narghiles, Turkish cushions, carpets and velvet drapes, many of which he later took back to his native France. Following in Loti's footsteps many visitors today head for the timber-framed "Pierre Loti Coffee-house", perched on the hillside above Eyup's extensive cemetery and overlooking the Gold Horn, the heavily polluted inlet that flows into the Bosphorus. The cafe which Loti actually frequented probably stood directly on the banks of the Golden Horn but has recently been demolished to make way for a new road. But today's Loti cafe, approached up a narrow lane and surrounded by trees and wild flowers, gives a better idea of Eyup's rural past than the built-up suburb below.

As well as an important religious center Eyup is linked with that quintessential symbol of Ottoman dress, the fez. To the south of Eyup stands a nineteenth century fez factory, the "Feshane", built by a Belgian company in 1835. Soon after opening it they caught the attention of the English writer, Julia Pardoe. "No traveler should leave Constantinople without paying a visit to the Fez Manufactory of Eyoub," she wrote, "where all the caps for the Sultan's armies are now made." Today, the former factory houses Istanbul's first museum of contemporary art, a marked contrast to the traditional religious ceremonies that still take place nearby.
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Title Annotation:tomb of Prophet Mohammed's friend Eyup Ensari
Author:Hellier, Chris
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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