31 October 2014

A Walk Amonst the Dead

I wanted to do a kind of spooky post today in honor of Halloween and thought a recent photo and grave rubbing expedition to Eyup Cemetery would fit the bill. Until I started reading about Ottoman cemeteries.

Clockwise from top: fez, Sufi hat, fez, & turban

An Ottoman graveyard was created in such a way that it was to be a garden where people could wander peacefully without morbid thoughts. Morbid or peaceful doesn't matter to me; I love me a graveyard. There's an old one near where I grew up and when we were kids my sister, brother, and I would bike to it often. Somewhat creepily it does lie right next to what is now a fairly popular campground. The majority of the graves are old, 19th century, and we'd often speculate as to how people died. Especially when an entire family died within a year of each other.

I suppose there is a kind of peace to that cemetery; if a bit of a spooky one. With people that long dead there are few, if any, family members to tend to graves and nature is beginning to reclaim the land. The cemetery in Eyup is facing similar problems despite new burials every year. But even with knocked down headstones, broken steps, and overgrown underbrush it maintains the charms it must have once had. The old stones are carved with Ottoman Turkish but even if you cannot read the script, the decorations give some indication as to the person beneath; sex, rank, and even the number of children someone may have had are recorded on the stone. For example: the size of a turban* reflected a gentleman's status; fezes mark pashas or public servants, a particular kind of hat indicates someone belonging to the Sufi order, and women's graves are carved with flowers; one for each child.

Wandering through the cemetery to the famous Pierre Loti cafe at the top of the hill isn't the only way to find peace in Eyup. This small area of Istanbul is, despite if having been left outside the city walls, one of the most religiously important places for Turkish and non Turkish Muslims. Mehmet the Conqueror contracted the (original) mosque built here in honor of his standard bearer Abu Ayyub al-Ansari (aka Eyup Sultan), close companion to the Prophet Muhammad. Prominent Ottomans wanted graves close to his tomb and mosque and thus was the cemetery created.

Eyup is a charming bastion of quiet away from the bustle and hustling of Sultanahmet and I like to come here from time to time to enjoy the city from afar. The mosque is currently undergoing renovation but that doesn't detract from the peacefulness of the village square, the cemetery, or the amazing view from the Pierre Loti cafe. And if you're not into cemeteries like I am; or you just don't want to walk up; there's always the cable car!

Eyup Sultan Camii

Eyup Sultan Camii
So be it spooky or not...Happy Halloween!

*No gravestones after the 1829 ban feature turbans.

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