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  • Writer's pictureTerry Richardson

A Brief History of Eyüp Sultan Mosque in Istanbul

What is Eyüp Sultan Mosque?

Eyüp Sultan Mosque is a mosque and tomb complex built to honour Abu Ayyub al-Ansari (or Eyüp Ansari), friend and standard-bearer of the Prophet Muhammad.

Eyup Sultan Mosque

Eyüp Sultan Mosque History

In the 670s, an Arab army under the Umayyad Caliph Mu’awiyah laid siege to Constantinople, capital of the Christian Byzantine Empire. Fuelled by their religious zeal, the Islamic Arabs came close to taking this mighty walled city. Eventually they were repelled, however, thanks to the city’s six-kilometre-long city walls and by the defenders’ deployment of a fearsome new incendiary weapon, Greek fire: a combustible liquid thrown in pots or discharged from tubes that could not be put out with water.

Born in Medina and an early companion of the Prophet Muhammad, Eyüp Ansari took part in many battles fought in the cause of Islam. Despite his advancing years, he enlisted in the army sent to besiege Constantinople in 674, fired up by the hadith (a saying attributed to the prophet) that the first army to conquer Constantinople would enter paradise. Eyüp Ansari died of an illness following his withdrawal from battle in the first year of the siege. According to tradition, he was buried where he fell outside the great walls of the city, and his tomb was left undisturbed by the Christian Byzantines despite their victory.

Following the capture of Constantinople by the Muslim Ottoman Turks in 1453, Eyüp Ansari’s burial site was rediscovered. The Ottoman sultan, Mehmed II, ordered the construction of a marble tomb over the grave and a mosque was built adjacent to it. The importance of the site was such that it became the place where Ottoman sultans were girded with the sword of Osman, founder of the Ottoman dynasty, on their accession to the throne, a ceremonial occasion similar to a coronation.

The original mosque was destroyed, probably in the great earthquake of 1766, and in 1798 Sultan Selim III ordered it to be rebuilt. It’s this mosque that today’s visitors are so enchanted by, a compact Ottoman-Baroque-style structure of honey-coloured stone with a beautiful courtyard shaded by plane trees. The mosque itself is an octagon inscribed in a square surmounted by a leaded dome, its simplicity enhanced by an eclectic mix of Iznik tile panels and Ottoman Baroque gilt. Eyüp Ansari’s tomb is also octagonal in shape and is clad with tiles of great artistic merit also produced at Iznik, the town famed for its decorated ceramic.

Situated a few kilometres from the centre of the city, on the banks of the great curved inlet of the Golden Horn, the district of Eyüp surrounding the standard-bearer’s mosque and tomb, is pleasantly green and hilly. It’s also, as the fourth most holy site in Islam, of great importance to Muslims across the world, and gets very crowded on Islamic religious holidays.

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