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An Ottoman janissary band performs at Feshane as part of Ramadan festivities in Eyüp. (Photo: Mersiha Gadzo)

9 August 2012 / MERSIHA GADZO, ISTANBUL
“Haydi! Ya Allah!” yells the head of the mehter Ottoman band to his mehteran group as they start to perform another traditional military song at Feshane, just outside of the Eyüp Sultan Mosque. Hundreds of guests sit outside under the bright stars on Tuesday evening and listen to their mehteran perform heroic 800-year-old Ottoman music, reminding the audience of Turkey’s past.

Dressed in long, colorful robes of red and green with gold embroidery and high ribbed hats, the mehteran proudly play their zurna  (a local wind instrument) and boru (a kind of trumpet), clash their cymbals and pound extravagantly on the drums, while singing, deeply and in perfect unison, songs about the great Ottoman Empire.

(Seek) Your ancestors, your grandfathers, your generation, your father

The Turkish nation has always been valiant

Your armies, many times, have been renowned throughout the world.

Turkish nation! Turkish nation!

No doubt there is a major Ottoman theme at Feshane every evening throughout the month of Ramadan. Booths line the streets and attract crowds with their gooey Ottoman candy, Mesur Ottoman palace lokmacisi desserts, fes hats, Ottoman silk robes and personalized Ottoman calligraphic plates.

“If you want to relive the Ottoman times, this is the place to be,” says photographer Şenol Toklo, who works the Ottoman photo booth.

“I love how, here, we can all relive the Ottoman times, and the feeling is amazing.”

At his booth, a woman and her five kids sit on a white silk divan, ready for their photo shoot. An Ottoman tuğra — signature of the Ottoman sultans — engraved on a silver plate hangs on the wall directly behind them.

The girls giggle, wearing flamboyant silk robes in bright red, pink and blue, embroidered with swirls, leaves and flowers. Silver coins dangle from their hats, and the girls playfully wrap their veils around their faces so only their eyes exotically show. The boys sit at both ends of the divan, with upright postures and serious faces, making their status as Sultans clear.

They freeze in their positions, while the mother dons the proudest smile of them all, as the photographer snaps photos.

This is Toklo’s second year working the Ottoman-themed photo shoots, and he says he loves coming to Feshane for the people and the special energy that is present only during Ramadan.

It wasn’t hard to spot 18-year-old Serhat Durgun in the crowd, dressed as a sultan, with his huge white kavuk towering over the children. Durgun, from the Anatolia Sanat theater group in Istanbul, has been volunteering to dress up as a sultan every evening at Feshane for Ramadan.

“It’s really fun to make kids laugh with my costume,” Durgun says. “I like to take pictures with people and make them happy.”

As Ramadan is a time to step back and focus on community and charity, the Eyüp Sultan Mosque nearby never falls short in its own contributions. At the front entrance of the mosque, volunteers collect donations to build a mosque identical to Eyup in Mali’s capital, Bamako, the sixth fastest growing city in the world.

Huge numbers of families and friends break their fast together in the courtyard in front of the mosque. While Sultanahmet and Hagia Sophia attract a large number of tourists, Eyüp is mostly filled with locals who greatly venerate the mosque since Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, the standard-bearer of the Prophet Muhammad, was buried here during the Arab assault on Constantinople in 670.

Eyup was also the first mosque constructed by the Ottoman Turks in 1458, following their conquest of the city in 1453.

With no more room left in the mosque, Muslims spill out onto the courtyard to pray the terawih — a voluntary night prayer during Ramadan — while the imam’s Quran recitations echo through a megaphone.

“We came here for our spiritual sentiments to be aroused,” says Melek Akgül, a regular visitor to the mosque every Ramadan.

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