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Although this area lies outside the city walls, there was always a village here, as the two streams provided plenty of fresh water, and in the Byzantine period there was a church in the village and later a monastery (which was built on the steep hill behind today's Eyüp Mosque).
Being outside the city walls the area has long been used as a place of burial, there are Christian churches and cemeteries in the area as well as a large Muslim cemetery and the major Muslim shrine which gives the area its current name and fame.
Eyüp during the industrial revolution
During the 17th and 18th centuries, Istanbul grew as the fringes of the Ottoman Empire became unsettled and Turkish communities from the Balkans and the Caucasus came to the city. During this period the Eyüp area became incorporated into the city, losing some of its spiritual air as factories were built along the Golden Horn. The first of these was the 'Feshane', the factory beside the Horn where fezzes were stitched for the Ottoman armies. (The Feshane is today an exhibition centre, owned by the Istanbul municipality).
At the same time the industry and the growing population, as well as the continuing numbers of visitors to the holy places, encouraged the growth of the shopping district around and behind the mosque; the streets behind had fish and dairy markets, shops, cafes and bars for the residents of the area, while the courtyard of the mosque itself held people selling scriptures and prayer beads for the visitors and pilgrims.
From the mid-20th century onwards, the area took on a more 'working class' feel as wealthier residents of Istanbul preferred to buy housing on the Asian side of the city or further along the Bosphorus, since the Golden Horn was becoming increasingly polluted and unpleasant due to the industrial development. The industrial zone expanded as major roads were put through the Eyüp area and the market gardens and flower fields of Alibeyköy disappeared.
In recent years many of the factories have been closed or cleaned up, the Golden Horn no longer smells and it is possible to sit by the waterside. Thus the character of Eyüp is changing again. The area is now losing some, but not all, of its cosmpolitan Istanbul feel as more and more families with a conservative Islamic view of life move into the area. Forty or fifty years ago there were a fair number of pubs, gambling houses and the usual amenities of an urban population. There are few bars in Eyüp today, maybe none, although plenty of beer is sold in the corner shops and the streets are full of cafes where men will while away the hours smoking and playing cards.
The population has grown in number too with new building of apartment blocks, but the atmosphere is still peaceful, the mosques and the history still dominate and Eyüp is busy trying to emphasise its image as an area of spiritual calm and relaxation. Not only in the mosques and the cemetery, but also on the wooded hill above, where the extensive tea garden named after the French writer, Pierre Loti, has a wonderful view over the Golden Horn all the way to Eminönü and a great sense of peace, as you take your tea under the trees.
The Eyüp Sultan Mosque continues to draw tourists visiting İstanbul, as well as rather larger numbers of Turkish religious pilgrims. At Friday prayer and throughout Ramadan the area is full of visitors from all over the city. These are not just those with the most serious religious inclinations (although there are plenty of those) but families of all strata of society come to pray before a wedding or the circumcision of their sons.
In recent years a thriving market has grown around the mosque of bearded gentlemen selling prayer mats, beads, dates from Saudi Arabia, scented oils, and indeed all kinds of Islamic books, recordings of the Koran being recited and other artefacts. On Friday's a marching band plays Ottoman military music, mehter, giving the area around the mosque something of a carnival atmosphere with an Islamic twist. In Ramadan the area in front of the mosque is taken over by large tents where food is served to the poor at the evening breaking of the fast.