- Life Style
It was Friday prayer time. The resonant, melodious sound of azan, the call to prayer, overwhelmed the vast marble plaza surrounding Eyup Sultan Mosque and Tomb in Istanbul with instant silence. Nothing was heard but the footsteps of people hurrying to offer their prayers, merged with the chirps of birds from a huge plane tree in the courtyard.
Built in 1458, it was the first mosque established by the Ottoman Turks after putting hands on Constantinople. The real attraction, however, is the burial site for the later sultan, known also as Abu Ayoub al-Ansari, a close companion of the Prophet Mohamed, after whom the mosque is named — Eyup is the Turkish version of Ayoub.
The cozy working-class neighborhood, which holds the same name of the mosque, is a magnet for tourists and locals alike. Both come to enjoy a laid-back day in the handful of restaurants scattered across from a fountain and the mosque’s differently sized domes and pencil-shaped minarets. Specialized authentic food and Turkish coffee, served in tiny, inlaid copper or porcelain cups, add to the traditional Turkish atmosphere, scented with bukhoor (scented natural woodchips).
Entering the great gate of the mosque, a huge Ottoman-style chandelier hanging down from the ceiling was the first thing to grab my attention. However, this is not the only thing inside created for the eye’s pleasure. There are verses of Quran inscribed in golden, handmade Arabic calligraphy on the walls that perfectly match the color of the elaborate carvings on the minbar, the Islamic pulpit, and the mihrab, the prayer niche.
On the other side lies the tomb and a short biography written on a marble plate, recounting that Ayoub hosted the Prophet at his home in Medina during the first months of the hijra, or migration, as well as the glorious battles of Islam he joined.
Behind the historical site, little souvenir shops occupy the uphill road that eventually leads to a long line of colorful cable cars. On my ride to the top of the hill, I passed a wide array of tall trees that shade dozens of white marble Islamic tombs facing the turquoise waters of the Bosphorus, the narrow strait that separates Asia and Europe.
This piece was originally published in Egypt Independent’s weekly print edition.