Istanbul's most sancrosanct site.

Author:Hellier, Chris
Position:Tomb of Prophet Mohammed's friend Eyup Ensari

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...

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