Beyond The Grave #7: Eyüp Cemetery

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Is it strange, when visiting a vibrant city, to seek out the local dead? Why do cemeteries – full of old stones and ancient history - attract so many modern travelers? Momondo asked our city bloggers to unearth an explanation and give us the low-down on the neighborhood necropolis. You'll read about the best burials in Berlin, the most entertaining interments in Prague, the graves of American heroes in New York plus tips on what JP Sartre likes on his Paris grave and about Soeren Kierkegaard's and Karl Marx's last resting places in Copenhagen and London. Are you ready to go beneath the surface?

Eyüp Cemetery

Written by Ayla Albayrak

If I could choose a place to be buried, I'd choose the cemetery of Eyüp, which dates back to the 15th Century when Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople, today's Istanbul.

The cemetery has a magnificent view to the Golden Horn and it is home to stray cats who like to cuddle up beside the tombstones.

A modern car cable car takes people up and down between the quay and the top, but my friend Irem and I decided to walk up to the top of the cemetery.

Irem is quite a cemetery expert, having visited several in London, Vienna and Pakistan. "There isn't a single dark corner in this cemetery", was the very first thing she noted. And she's right; this cemetery is not a gloomy one. Some of the tombstones even have humorous descriptions written on them.

"I could have died as well without a doctor than with the quack that friends set upon me", and "Oh, passer-by, spare me your prayers but please don't steal my tombstone!"

Other of the tombstones, which Irem and I came across had more sad writings (we could only read descriptions in modern Turkish, not the ones written in old Ottoman and Arabic script).

The most saddening tombstone we found belonged to a 12-year-old girl who died in 1960: "I was a fresh, young tree in the orchard of Fener (district in Istanbul), one day just cut off, I tasted the death before fully enjoying my youth, devastating my unlucky father".

Another tombstone told about a young mother who couldn't be cured from her cancer despite numerous visits to doctors. Nearby, a tombstone reminds the visitor that one day he or she will also die and should prepare for the afterlife by getting rid of all sinful habits, before it's too late.

Many European writers have throughout the last centuries been attracted to the special atmosphere of Eyüp cemetery. One is French novelist and journalist Pierre Loti (1850-1923). He spent so much time here enjoying the view over the Bosporus while smoking waterpipe (nargile), that the cemetery’s small hilltop café is named after him.

Today Eyüp cemetery is a popular site for both local and foreign tourists as well as Muslim pilgrims. The pilgrims come here to pray and make wishes at the tomb of Eba Eyüp Ensari, Prophet Mohammed's friend and standard-bearer. The presence of the holy man's tomb makes the cemetery an attractive place to be buried among Muslims – not to mention the fabulous view, of course.

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Ayla Albayrak is a Finnish-Turkish journalist living in Istanbul. During her five years in the city, Ayla has covered all kinds of stories ranging from culture to Turkish economy and politics.
Currently writing a travel book on Istanbul, she roams around the city with a growing fascination and respect for its beauty and long history. Istanbul is never "conquered" - just as Ayla thinks that she knows every part of the city, Istanbul reveals another surprise!

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