Friday, 23 June 2017
Ramadan at the Fatih Mosque
Last June in my longest stretch of time free from the 2016 Istanbul Music Festival I started a slow progress along the hills and mosques above the Golden Horn away from the main tourist zone - which stops around the Grand Bazaar - and devoted a couple of bewitching hours to the Süleymaniye complex. I still think that should be everyone's first stop for its combination of beautiful gardens, stunning views, iznik-tiled türbes (mausoleums) and fine vast interior - not to mention the most perfect tea-garden over the cobbled street from the main entrance - but this year's subject, prior to an afternoon concert in the bazaar which proved an apt finale to my weekend of unusual events, was no pygmy either. The Fatih or Mosque of the Conqueror is named after Sultan Mehmet of said sobriquet and was the largest in the Ottoman empire at the time of its construction by Sinan the Elder (something of a mystery figure compared to the famous Sinan) between 1463 and 1470. It still remains among the giants of the Islamic world.
I understand the dates are given on the inscription over the entrance portal here. But the mosque proper was destroyed in the big earthquake of 22 May 1766, reconstructed on the orders of Mustafa II to a different plan and completed in 1771. According to the indispensable Strolling Through Istanbul by Hilary Sumner-Boyd and John Freely, 'what remains of the original complex is most probably the courtyard, the main entrance portal [note the boy on roller-skates],
the mihrab, the minarets up to the first serefe, the south wall of the graveyard and the adjoining gate; all the other buildings of the complex were badly damaged but were restored presumably in their original form'. In addition to the mosque, courtyard and graveyard, 'the külliye consisted of eight medreses and their annexes [the southern group included here, still under renovation],
a tabhane or hospice, a huge imaret, a hospital, a kervansaray, a primary school, a library and a hamam.'
Inside the walls, all human life was there, and enjoying itself - but of course not eating or drinking. My approach was via the Atatürk Bridge - not as pedestrian-friendly as the parallel new train/walkway bridge nor with the interest of the fish restaurants below the otherwise not very attractive Galata Bridge, but with similar numbers of fishermen. I rather like the industrial semi-wasteland on the messier Pera side
but clearly the skyline across the Golden Horn is more attractive, and though the cityscape isn't quite as magnificent as what it becomes towards the peninsula (this taken from the roof of the hotel earlier that morning, with the Galata Tower in the foreground)
this will do. You can just see the Fatih Mosque on the far right.
One of the great pleasures of strolling in Istanbul is walking through the districts climbing up the hillside. The Fatih area is no exception
and has its good share of old wooden houses,
some painted in unusual colours.
I came across the entrance to the complex from a lively shopping street; some shopkeepers had taken advantage of little patches of earth to grow plants and vegetables in front.
First apparent, on the approach from the south east, was the türbe complex built in 1817-18 for the wife of Abdul Hamit I, putatively one Aimée Dubuc de Rivery, cousin of the Empress Josephine and captured by pirates. In the last stages of renevation, like the medreses, its style is appropriately Baroque-empire.
Then there's the Çorba Kapisi, the Soup Gate so named from its proximity to the public kitchen.
Sumner-Boyd and Freely ask us to 'notice the elaborate and most unusual design in porphyry and verd antique set into the stonework of the canopy, as well as the 'panache' at the top in verd antique'.
I sat for a while in the shade by one of the fountains on the south side
looking over to the flags and the main mosque building
before approaching the aforementioned main gate from the west. More 'verd antique' here, with the first Surah of the Quran written in white marble letters on six lunettes. The calligraphy, according to Sumner-Boyd and Freely, is unique.
It seems appropriate to quote from the second Surah - I blush to say I haven't got much further in my reading - since I was accepted both in the courtyard and inside the mosque; no-one stared or suggested the slightest hostility. And since so many were on their mobile phones and/or photographing, it seemed it was fine for me to do that too. Here are lines which, having accepted that 'Jews, Christians and Sabaeans - all those who believe in God and the Last Day and do good deeds...will be rewarded by the Lord', go on to state (v.84): 'Remember when We made covenant with the Children of Israel, "Worship none but God and be good to your parents and to relatives and orphans and the needy. And speak kindly to people. Attend to your prayers and pay the zakat [prescribed alms]" '. Seems very even-handed to me, even if my idea of being 'religious' is a good deal looser.
You'll see that it's a lively scene. A girl on a scooter in the distance here,
that boy on roller skates whizzing past the woman and children washing or sitting at the central şadirvan with its conical cap roof resting on eight marble columns.
The portico's marble columns are just beautiful.
This man of God is perhaps reading, but on his smartphone.
Sumner-Boyd and Freely are not complimentary about the interior, though its reproduction of the standard format, four semidomes flanking the central one, gives the appropriate sense of grandeur
while the human scale is amply represented by boys half-reading,
a chap lying and talking into his mobile phone
and others just sleeping.
More reading and praying at the east end here.
Exiting by the south portal, near where I'd laid my shoes, in the company of a venerable elder being helped by another,
I walked along to the graveyard with its assemblage of cats
and flowers between the türbes - jasmin with its heady scent
From a brief glimpse inside, the main türbes didn't look up to the standard of the ones in the Süleymaniye - which are? - but there were lively crowds around them.
Much attention was paid to a seagull feeding her young on the top of a nearby tomb.
Then I made my way out, alongside bustling Fevzi Paşa Caddesi and past the Medrese of Feysullah Efendi, where I dropped my camera trying to poke it through the railings.
The memory card was damaged in the process, so I was unable to take more pictures that day (you may be relieved to know). A pity for me, at any rate, since the red-backed lunette designs in the courtyard of the beautiful Şehzade Mosque would make a nice complement to the larger-scale wonders of the Fatih. But there's always next year to return and spend more time here...
In the meantime I wish my Muslim friends and acquaintances a happy Eid al-Fitr when Ramadan comes to a close tomorrow (Saturday) evening.