Established at time of the conquest, Eyup was Istanbul’s first Ottoman Turkish settlement. The district is located beyond the city walls on the south bank of the Golden Horn and takes its name from the tomb of Eyyub al Ensari, a companion of the prophet Mohammed, who is believed to have died there during the Muslim siege of Constantinople in the 7th century.
Eyüp began to develop shortly after the conquest of Istanbul. The first tangible sing of this were the tomb that Sultan Mehmed, the Conqueror, had built over the grave of Eyyub el-Ensari after his mentor, Aksemseddin, saw the place in a dream and beside it a mosque. The first settlers were from Bursa and the first eight neighborhoods given the names Cami-i Kebir, Kasim Cavus, Uluca Baba, Abdulvedud, Sofular, Otagcibasi, Fethi Celebi and Mehmed Bey.
The most intense period of development occurred during the sultan Süleyman’s period in the 16th century. As well as the mosques, several schools, fountains, tombs, hamam (turkish bath) and alms kitchen that suddenly appeared, a succession of mansions and pavilions began to line the shores. The Tomb of Eyup el-Ensari, commonly known as “Eyup Sultan Türbesi” in Turkish, has changed little over the years and occupies a central place in community life today, just as it did in the past. After an extensive restoration period which lasted for 4 years, the mausoleum was re-opened to public in June 2015.
Besides the ceremonies of the sultans, one of the most striking features of Ottoman times was the girding of swords at Eyup Sultan. The ceremony, which was performed to prayers, had a religious – spiritual quality and served to recall the significance of the new sultan’s standing. However, the tradition probably dates from before the conquest. The power of the head priest at the Leon Makelos monastery which was sited here in the Byzantine period, included girding the emperor, military commander and nobles as they left for ward and consecrating the swords.
Another peculiarity that Eyup Sultan Türbesi brought to the settlement was that many Ottomans wished to be buried there in order to be close to the saint who lay entombed. The result was that a number of large cemeteries sprang up, which give the district its mystic quality. Eyup craftsmanship of the tombstones and the catalogue of inscriptions they bear are famous and good examples of the stone-carving art. At the same time, the cypress trees looming from among the graves seem to highlight the co-existence of life and death. As well as the average man on the street, a large number of prominent public figures have chosen Eyup as their final resting place during both the Ottoman period and the days of the Republic.
Eyüp Sultan Türbesi, which is perhaps one of the most celebrated sites of Eyup, draws vast crowds on religious feast days and public holidays. It is also place of pilgrimage for newly-weds and circumcision parties. But Eyup was also famed for a host of other things; The fishermen who sell their bountiful catch from the Golden Horn, its florists and dairies, shoreline cafes, toy tambourines, drums and whistles; the toy makers of Eyup would have been kept busy under the spiritual leadership of Eyup Sultan, who is believed to have adored children. However, the advent of the industrial age at the end of the 19th century and rapid spread of shanty towns after the 1960’s has more or less destroyed the traditional character of the district.
Another popular sight in Eyup neighborhood is the Cafeteria of Pierre Loti, dedicated to 19th-century poet who wrote his poems from this hilltop inspired by the views of the Golden Horn. The cafeteria gets busy every day with local people and foreigners who come here for a Turkish coffee or tea, enjoying the views.