Sunday, 14 September 2008

Ramadan festivities by the Blue Mosque

We're halfway through the month of Ramadan here in Istanbul and today, being a Sunday, I saw a daytime parade pass my apartment of the guy who stirs the neighbourhood at around two every morning banging his davul (large drum), to a hypnotic and unmistakeably Middle Eastern beat, along with his young cohorts who sing in between the pauses of the drumbeats. It all sounds very spooky at that time of the still black night. A bit in the manner of Little House on the Prairie, but in reverse, lights in the neighbourhood spring on one by one as people turn themselves out of bed for their pre-dawn breakfast, or yatsi. Today our local davulcu (drummer) has also shown himself during the daylight hours to collect the tips that the appreciative early-risers lower from their windows by means of a basket or bucket on a long rope. Already their daytime fasting is well under way and they will have to wait until sunset, around 7.30pm at the moment, for their next and last meal of the day, known as iftar

What it is: After iftar all hell breaks loose, metaphorically speaking of course, and it's time to have fun after the strictures of the day. Especially at the weekend many Turks like to walk off their multi-course evening meal by going on a gezme (promenade). One venue to head for during the holy month of Ramadan (or Ramazan as it's known here in Turkey) is the Hippodrome right by the Blue Mosque. A bit of a non-event during the day, the green space is completely transformed after dark, as if a magic wand has been cast over it with the wish to give all who stray there as much food, drink and entertainment as their hearts desire. A friend of mine says it resembles the set of a Franco Zeffirrelli opera; crowds and crowds of people enjoying the spectacle of the men on stilts, clowns, booths where you can have your photo taken as an Ottoman Sultan and even the rabbits whom, once you've handed over your 1YTL (one new Turkish lira), will pick out a folded paper containing a prophetic message. Street food is prepared with an artistic flourish that the Turks excel best at. Ottoman-style candy in rainbow colours is twisted and twirled in its hot syrupy form onto a stick by a man with an unfeasibly large moustache and a wicked grin, while gözleme (Turkish pancakes) with either a spinach or cheese filling are warmed over a charcoal-grilled hotplate at one of the many stalls that line both sides of the Hippodrome

The Blue Mosque itself is lit up with specially chosen words from the holy Qu'ran and the courtyard around the ablutions fountain hosts stalls of mostly religious or historical books. Outside the immediate vicinity of the mosque there are further stalls that sell all sorts, such as the islamic imagery seen in the photo above.

One cautionary note to foreign visitors who happen to be in Turkey during Ramazan; as a mark of respect to those observing the fasting don't flaunt food in the streets during the day and when eating out do remember that the waiters serving you have probably not themselves eaten since the early hours of that morning!

Where it is: The Hippodrome is the long narrow strip of 'parkland' to the side of the Blue Mosque with the Fountain of Kaiser Wilhelm at its start as you enter it with the tram line behind you. The nearest tram stop is Sultanahmet and it is within walking distance of Eminönü and the Grand Bazaar

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