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Experiencing holy Ramadan in Istanbul

Due to the difference between the Islamic and Gregorian calendars, Ramadan starts some ten to eleven days earlier each year.

Its start coinciding with the end of summer for a few years now, Ramadan this year begins smack dab in the middle of summer on August 1st. Entertainment is planned to run late into the night during this Ramadan when the fast won’t be broken until 8:30 - 9 in the evening. We have chosen for you a few itineraries for an enjoyable Ramadan evening in Istanbul, where the traditions of the month of fasting are alive and well.


There is no doubt that Sultanahmet Square is the place where the cultural richness of the historic peninsula is at its zenith. All the great monuments--the Hagia Sophia, the Blue (Sultanahmet) Mosque, the Hippodrome and the obelisks--have stood here for centuries. This year as in past years, the Sultanahmet Ramadan Events and Fair is being held at Sultanahmet Square and historic amphitheater. The purpose of the fair, which runs from the first day of Ramadan to the eve of the Feast of Eid, is to market the products of Istanbul’s trademark firms as well as promoting the old professions which are on the brink of oblivion. Stands representing these forgotten professions fill the square along with an exhibition of the Islamic artifacts including the traditional handicrafts of calligraphy, illumination and book marbling. Animation artists in authentic costumes circulate around the square every day representing figures like the Istanbul Lady, the Istanbul Gentleman, the Fire Brigades, and the Man with a Peg Leg. 


Concerts, traditional storytellers and informal chats are some of the activities that run throughout the month. In addition to artists from Turkey, writers, poets and musicians from various countries around the world are taking part. There are plenty of alternatives too for the hungry or those with a hankering for the local treats. Sweets, fruit juices, sorbets, kofta sandwiches, Turkish ‘döner’ and spicy ‘sucuk’ sausage are some of the big favorites. And a range of jewelry, accessories, locally produced textiles and other gift items make Beyazıt Square a lively scene.


On the banks of the Golden Horn, the district of Eyüp and its environs attract both tourists and Istanbulites year round. Every Ramadan a gift item and book fair is set up at Eyüp, whose historic and cultural treasures create a unique atmosphere. The building and garden of the historic Feshane (Ottoman fez factory) is another area where Ramadan fervor is experienced most intensively. This year too the Holy Quran is being recited by the country’s renowned hafezes at Eyüp, where chants and concerts of Sufi music are being held as well as shadow theater plays, jugglers, puppets, magicians, fire-eaters and men on stilts for the children.  Those who spend Ramadan in Eyüp will be making a journey back to the Ramadans of yesteryear. An Eyüp Sultan fast-breaking dinner (iftar) is being held the first day on the old Galata Bridge on the Golden Horn. Eyüp Municipality is organizing open air iftar dinners in all the district’s quarters and on the Eyüp Sultan Coronation Route. Ottoman-style houses have been set up on the banks of the Golden Horn in this historic district, and an open air cinema fest is planned as well.


Istanbul is a perfect shoppers’ paradise with a whole slew of modern shopping centers offering all the latest and most quality world-class brands. The selection is endless including everything from textiles and cosmetics to electronic and technological gadgets and household appliances. And the Grand Bazaar on the city’s historic peninsula is another essential stop for antiques, rugs and authentic knickknacks.


Ramadan ends following a month of fasting. As the initial enthusiasm gives way to the pain of separation, new excitement is already waiting at the door: The Ramazan Holiday, ‘bayram’ in Turkish. Coming at the end of a month of fasting, this three-day holiday is a time of visits to parents and grandparents, neighbors and friends. And in Istanbul it is celebrated in a big way! 


One of the world’s oldest cities, Mecca is also home to the Kaaba, the first temple of monotheism. Known as ‘the mother of all cities’, it is the city to which millions of believers turn every day to pray. For centuries Muslims from all over the world have flocked to the city to perform the pilgrimage that is a sacred obligation of every believer once in their lifetime. Topping the list of places visited by travelers to Islam’s holy cities of Mecca and Medina are the Masjid al-Haram and the Kaaba as well as the Masjid al-Nabawi (Mosque of the Prophet). 


The Plain of Arafat is about 20 kilometers from Mecca. Located here is Jabal ar-Rahmah, the Mount of Mercy, where the Prophet Muhammad delivered his Farewell Sermon. 


Coming after Arafat on the Hajj pilgrimage, Muzdalifah is a word meaning to come closer. Pilgrims on the Hajj gather at Muzdalifah to worship and pray.


Hajj pilgrims spend three days on the Plain of Mina, where they worship and pray and hurl pebbles to reject the devil.


Located near the exit of the Masjid al-Haram, the House of the Prophet Muhammad is used as a library today.


Some five kilometers from the Kaaba on the Jabal al-Nur, the Cave of Hira is a place where the Prophet Muhammad came frequently to meditate and where he received the first revelations of the Islamic religion. 


Some four kilometers from the Kaaba, Jabal Thawr harbors the cave where the Prophet Muhammad and his close companion Abubakr took refuge during their migration to Medina.


The Prophet Muhammad’s first wife Khadija and some of his children are buried here at this eternal resting place together with some of the most important figures in the history of Islam. The nearby Masjid al-Jinn is one of the earliest mosques.


Zam means stop in Arabic. The Zamzam well, which was generated instantly when Hagar, mother of Ishmael, was frantically seeking water for her infant son, has survived for thousands of years, quenching the thirst of pilgrims. High in mineral content, its water is known to be beneficial to the metabolism. Meanwhile dates, a desert miracle high in fiber content, are extremely nutritious. And the miswak, or toothbrush tree, whose essence is known to promote oral health, is used today in the production of toothpaste while the twigs, with their pleasant scent, make a natural toothbrush.


This mosque, which houses the tombs of the Prophet Muhammad and the early caliphs Abubakr and Omar, is the third holiest site in the Islamic world. 


The Prophet Muhammad laid the foundation stone and worked on the construction of the Masjid al-Quba, the first mosque of Islam. 


This mosque, whose name means the Mosque of the Two Qiblahs, stands on the spot where the orientation of the Qiblah (direction Muslims turn to pray) was changed from the Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem to the Masjid al-Haram, in other words, the Kaaba at Mecca upon a divine revelation to the Prophet Muhammad. 


This area of seven small mosques, built in close proximity to each other near the ditch that was dug during the Battle of the Ditch, is another place you can visit in Medina.


Thousands of companions of the Prophet Muhammad as well as his wife Aisha, his daughter Fatima and several prominent figures in Islamic history are buried in the eastern section of the Jannat ul-Baqi cemetery near the Masjid al-Nabawi.


The Prophet Muhammad’s uncle, Khamza, as well as the Muslims martyred here in the Battle of Uhud, are buried in this cemetery. You can also visit the battlefield’s famous Archers’ Hill.


Last stop on the Hejaz Railroad, a project undertaken during the Ottoman period, the Medina Station building is another place you can visit in the city. (skylife)