Saturday, July 19, 2008

Afternoon in Eyup

Last week Bulent and I took the afternoon away from the travel agency and went to explore Eyup, a place neither of us had been before. Eyup is a district of Istanbul located on the "Golden Horn", which is an estuary running through the heart of Istanbul to the Bosphorus. 

We started at "The Pierre Loti Cafe" named so, because the French writer used to frequent the cafe daily while he lived in Istanbul. We stopped here for tea under the pine trees and took in the sweeping view of Istanbul. 

Looking down the Golden Horn towards the Bosphorus. All of this view is Europe, Asia is behind. On the horizon you might be able to pick out the minarets of four major mosques. 

Ten years a go the estuary was so polluted you couldn't sit on the shores because the smell would drive you away. Since then, there has been a big push to clean up the waterway, and these days the smell is gone, the water is blue and fish have returned. Still not clean enough for swimming though. 

The districts that line the shores are also becoming nice places to live, and if I had a stash of cash, buying a few old decrepit buildings would be a good idea. One of Turkey's big developers has slowly and quietly been buying up blocks of Balat, the area the Jews established 500 years ago. 

We took this cable car down to Eyup Sultan mosque. Yes, that is an old cemetery below! Bulent made the joke that if the cable broke and fell, they would just have to cover us over with dirt. 

The Eyup Sultan Mosque is the holiest site in Istanbul and one of the most sacred places in the Islamic world. Mohammed's standard bearer is entombed here behind this wall covered in Iznik tiles. The wall is always crowded with pilgrims praying and asking for help. We decided not to go into the mosque this time because I didn't have a head scarf with me.

The area next to the mosque is filled with a pedestrianized area of restaurants and shops. We stopped for a dinner of Kumpir, which are big baked potatoes with about 20 different toppings from pickles to cheese to choose from. 

As the sun went down in Eyup, and the city's mosques started with the sunset call to prayer, we gathered ourselves up and headed back to Sultanahmet, promising ourselves we'd be back soon. 

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