Crossroads Tour – The Horn, astrolabes, and a holy place…

I am up and ready to go by 7:30, having three days remaining with a long list of things left to see. I step out onto my balcony to see that the sidewalk across the intersection has sprouted a rainbow of tables, and a grey haired man with a black cap and a brass shoe shine kit. I head downstairs to catch an early breakfast and am greeted by Baha and Erhan, one of his brothers, who apologize for the construction noise last night. “No worries,” I say, “not your fault…”

I decide to visit a hamami (Turkish bath) tomorrow as many sites are closed on Mondays. Baha makes a reservation for me at the Gedikpasa Hamami, a 15 minute walk from here. He asks me what my plan today is. “The Science Museum,” I say, “and the Galata Tower”. “Where is your map” he asks, which has become our daily routine. “You must go here”, he says, circling a fashion district near the Galata Tower. “And here,” he adds, circling a mosque at the north end of the Golden Horn which I must take a ferry and then a funicular to reach. “It is very important mosque” he says with intense earnest. Hmmm. That’s not something I had planned for, but I’ve learned not to question his advice.

I hurry on to the Islamic Science Museum, eager to see how it compares to the Galileo Museum in Florence. There are world globes in the entryway, but unlike the ones in Florence, these are not enclosed in glass. The first room is filled with astrolabes! Case after case, about a third of them are originals. I start snapping pictures of the originals and their accompanying signage, but take few notes as I expect that information will be in the museum catalog. Perhaps I’ll even be fortunate enough to find a replica of something here for Payne in the gift shop.

The next room is filled with sundials and clocks. The next one, siege weapons. No cases! No ropes! I am furiously fighting the urge to sit on the floor and play with All The Things…

I stroll through rooms of medical instruments, weather instruments, early steam engines, distilleries, kilns, a few books, a few maps. I reach the end. Where’s the museum store? No gift shop? No catalog? ARGH!!! Had I known that I would have taken better notes…

I take a short respite in Gulhane Park to watch the herons and the small green parrots which nest in the tree hollows. After wandering around the fountains and ponds, I am off to find the ferry…

Today’s lesson is that one cannot always rely on maps. There is construction at the Galata Bridge and I cannot follow the waterfront through to the ferry dock for the Golden Horn. I’m lost. The sun is intense today and I sit down on the curb, pulling my shawl over my head for shade. After a few minutes, my attention is drawn by a parade of people on the other side of the street. Directly across from me is the blue and white sign marking the ferry dock for the Golden Horn. I cross the street and watch where a crowd of mostly East Indians are scrambling over piles of broken concrete, winding their way towards the water. When in doubt, follow the crowd, chances are that they’re going to the same destination as you are…

I arrive at the ferry ticket office and ask for a round trip fare, following along with the pantomime that the ticket officer is outlining on his desk to make sure we are both talking about the same thing. He gives me two brass tokens, one for each way. I pop one into the turnstile and wait inside the building.

  • The Golden Horn is a four mile long natural harbor which served as the main commercial port for Constantinople during the Byzantine era. The Byzantines protected the port by blocking it with a huge chain, which was only breached twice…once by 10th century Vikings, and once again during the Fourth Crusade. In 1453 Sultan Mehmet bypassed this chain by dragging his ships from the Bosphorus, overland on greased logs through what is now the New District, and launched them back into the Golden Horn, in the space of a single night. It made him the stuff of legend.

A short ferry ride criss-crosses this waterway to the large bay at the end, where one gets off the ferry and walks to the funicular. I wait in line for about an hour for a six person tram car that takes a very short ride to the top. The tram car drops us off at the base of a graveyard. I pass a restaurant, and more graves marked by blooming iris. And houses. A passerby tells me I’m going in the wrong direction. It is nearing sunset and I may not reach the mosque in time to enter it, but at least I will be able to tell Baha that I came and I saw. 

  • Travel tip – save yourself the wait for the tram and just walk up the hill. At the top, head south to get to the Eyup Camii.

There is an entire city up here! There’s a bus. And shops. And more restaurants, all perched on top of this vertical graveyard. I see a red sign that looks out of place, and turn onto the path. There’s a group of people waiting at the top, near a gate. Thinking I have arrived at the mosque, I pull my shawl over my hair, and find a place to stand. I see a group of women and try to move closer to them, but the air is thick with emotion and so I keep my distance. Then I observe a cluster of men gathered off in the trees near a grave. Women start to stand up and kiss each other. I start to back away as I realize these kisses are not in greeting, but in comfort.

I am at a funeral…

I exit as discreetly as I can, thankful that I did not intrude on them to ask directions. After several more minutes, still surrounded by graves and those visiting them, I see the minarets of a mosque. I pass a young boy wearing the circumcision clothing I saw in the shop windows the day I visited the Grand Bazaar. I turn the corner and find myself in a courtyard, surrounded by shops and filled with people. A few steps further brings me face-to-face with two bridal couples who have just exited the Eyup Sultan Camii.

I see a long line of people carrying bottled water and take-out meals. Two men are handing out programs, so either there’s a wedding, or prayer is soon to begin. I find a place to stand near the wall where I can watch unobtrusively. I see women enter a stairwell and take off their shoes. The staircase leads to an enclosed walkway with stained glass panels, stretching over the courtyard. I follow the women in, take off my shoes, cover my head, and walk up the stairs.

There are women praying in the walkway, facing the stained glass. Through the windows on the other side, I look down into the courtyard where the mealtime pandemonium is starting to subside. I sit down next to the wall and continue to observe. A few women alternately stand and kowtow. One is on her cell phone. There are children running everywhere. Two other women sit with a prayer book in their lap but do not seem to be referencing it as they converse with each other. To my left, an alcove where women are sitting with heads covered, but not in prayer, or in fact in any form of obvious activity. The imam’s calls to prayer has begun…

I do not know how long I have been sitting here. Finally, my curiosity takes over and I stand up and quietly move into the alcove. And then I look up. Unbelievably, I am standing inside the women’s balcony of Eyup Camii.

  • The Eyup Sultan Camii is the first mosque ever built in Istanbul and is considered the city’s holiest religious site. It was built on the place where Ayyub El Assari (called Eyup Sultan by the Turks), standard bearer of the Prophet Mohammed, died during the siege of Constantinople in 674-78. The story relates that he was buried where he fell and this mosque marks that spot. It is an important destination point for Muslim pilgrims, and many bridal couples come here for blessings before their nuptials.

The wall in front of me is an iron screen, separating the women’s balcony from the men in the main mosque below. I sit down next to the screen, and peer thorough. An imam is preaching, breaking his pace frequently with sips from his water bottle. Men are sitting on the floor all helter-skelter. There are water bottles, cell phones, papers and books near some of them. Some of the men are trying to control small boys. Unlike the women who are physically engaged in prayer, the men are not following the same patterns of standing and kowtowing.

There are doors in the screen about the size of a child’s face, one is open and hung with a string of green prayer beads. It’s a perfect camera shot that I do not take because it would also capture the men at prayer.  I put my camera away and listen to the imam. After a while, the men join in as a chorus. I stay a few minutes longer before departing, humbled and moved by the experience of having witnessed a prayer service from behind the screen, at sunset, at this most holy place in the city. 

I walk back to the brick road and am surprised to find that within a few minutes I arrive at street level. Had I known that I would have never waited in line for the funicular. I cross the street and walk back to the ferry dock, slip my token into the turnstile and take a seat in a nearly empty ferry station. It is a 45 minute wait for the next ferry and people slowly fill the station. Finally, the incoming ferry docks and offloads, and we push and prod each other through the double doors, across the rough wooden planks and find seats for the sail home. The sun is setting, the fiery sky reflecting onto the waters of the Golden Horn. What an incredible view.

I reach the Hotel Han and find Cihan at his usual post. “Choose please,” I say to him with all the energy I have left. I am ushered inside when the weather turns cold and I am seated at the Captain’s table, where Baha joins me for a dinner of lamb on a bed of pistachios and cooked greens, rice, fries and yogurt, accompanied by a glass of Yakut wine. I relate the day’s events, and thank him for sending me on this quest. Baha responds with “only Allah knows when weddings and funerals will occur.”

Upstairs, I pack my bags. Two days remain and I need to make time to buy another suitcase if I need to. I have an appointment at the hamami tomorrow at 9:30, and then I plan to see the palace of Suleyman the Magnificent, and Barbarossa’s tomb, and the Galata Tower if time allows. 

I arrived here, wanting to leave immediately. Now I do not want to leave at all …

For additional photos from this day, please visit Daveno Travels.

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