When she puts one foot on the grass, she already feels it, says Şerife Bayraktar. ‘The park in Eyüp is not just another park”, she says. “There’s a spiritual atmosphere here. I live quite far away from here, but it’s worth the trip.”
Şerife and her husband Ali and teenage son Osman are sitting in the grass among hundreds of others. They eat chicken and salad and drink fruit juice. A modest menu compared to the food of the other families, who barbeque chicken and lamb on the spot and besides salad have bread, nuts, cola and cans of tea. Men take naps against trees or play cards, women are knitting or embroidering, children climb trees or run around with a ball. And along the edge of the park, an ongoing smelly column of buses, mini buses and cars is slowly passing by. Welcome to Eyüp, at the end of the Golden Horn, offshoot of the Bosporus. You can see it as a field of grass alongside a traffic artery, or you can see it, like many do, as an important religious destination.
Eyüp is famous among Muslims all over the world. In the seventh century, Eyüp Ensari was born here, standard bearer of the prophet Muhammad. In his honour, a mosque was built here in the fifteenth century, which became dilapidated and later, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, was replaced by the present mosque. Between the park and the mosque is a path. The path is just as busy as the park, and lots of business is being done: there’s trade in Korans and headscarves, besides more worldly stuff like tea to lose weight and sweets. The square in front of the mosque, with a fountain, is as lively as the park, even though as an outsider you wonder a bit about what people are actually doing here. They sit, they stand, they saunter around, children eat candy floss, adults drink another cup of tea. Near to the mosque, quite a few brides and grooms are to be seen: they come to give their marriage an extra blessing, and with many others, in the mosque’s courtyard, they say a special prayer. When the call to prayer starts, people flock into the mosque.
Western tourists are rare in the park and around the mosque. They head straight for Pierre Loti, a famous coffee house on the hill above Eyüp. It can be reached by the still rather new ‘teleferik’ (wait in line about an hour, pay 1,40 lira one way, the equivalent of € 0,75) or by a steep walk through the burial grounds of Eyüp. There are graves from the Ottoman times, but also recent family graves. Pierre Loti and the many other terraces around it are worth going to, not least because of the spectacular view over the city and the water of the Golden Horn.
Getting to Eyüp is a piece of cake, and beautiful too: you take a ferry from Eminönü (the harbour close to the historical centre of Istanbul) and after about four stops it brings you to the Eyüp wharf. To do it Turkish style, take roasted chicken, cucumber, tomatoes, bread and cola, and of course a rug to sit on.
(Published in monthly magazine Onze Wereld)