While Pierre Loti Hill is well-known for its spectacular views, the Eyüp Sultan complex located below is a place to experience Istanbul’s holiest scene.
By Yao Hsiao
Mosque, tomb, cemetery, and hill; you should not miss any of them when visiting Eyüp. Pass through the main plaza paved with marble and begin your tour with the Eyüp Sultan mosque. It is named after Ebu Eyyub el-Ensari, known as Eyüp Sultan in Turkey, who was a companion of the Prophet Muhammad and died during a failed Arab siege of Constantinople in the seventh century.
After the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the Ottoman Sultan Fatih Mehmet II discovered the place, where Eyüp Sultan was buried, according to the dream revealed to one of the sultan’s spiritual guide. “This convenient discovery provided a charismatic link between the new capital and the Prophet himself,” Philip Mansel explained the importance of Eyüp in his book Constantinople: City of the World’s Desires, 1453-1924.
A mosque was then constructed beside Eyüp’s tomb in 1459, and the place became the pilgrimage site of the empire. With a medresa (educational institute) and hammam added later, the site developed into the first social complex built outside the walls of Constantinople. After Mehmed the Conqueror’s reign, the mosque became the place where sultans were girded with swords during their coronations.
The complex has been renovated several times and was seriously damaged during an earthquake in 1766. In the nineteenth century, Sultan Selim III replaced the old mosque with the present-day one, adorned with Baroque style decorations.
While the hammam, which is also a part of the complex, is currently under restoration, you can visit Eyüp Sultan Mosque and the tomb, where some of Muhammad‘s relics of are displayed. As it is one of the most sacred destination for Muslim pilgrims, make sure your outfit is appropriate before entering the premises.
Up to the hill
The path behind the mosque leads to the cable car station operating from 8am to 10pm. With your Istanbulkart, you can take a ten minute ride to the top of Pierre Loti hill, getting fabulous views over the Golden Horn. Due to its limited capacity, there is always a long line of people waiting to get on the lift. You will want to avoid the line especially during weekends; take a 15 minute walk through the cemetery to reach the destination.
Strolling along the cemetery paths is quite pleasant during the daytime. As one of Istanbul’s oldest and biggest burial grounds, the privileged location possesses a stunning view of the city overlooking the Golden Horn. You’ll find people hanging out on the blocks of the pathway; it is also a popular photo spot. Take a look at the signs and quotes written on the stele and walls, you might recognize some names of politicians, writers, scientists, and public figures buried in Eyüp cemetery.
After the little workout, you’ll reach the large café area filled with people sipping tea and eating gözleme. If all tables are taken, go to the vista point. Located at the northwest of the Golden Horn, the view from Pierre Loti hill is surprisingly different from the one of Bosphorus. With the tranquil waterway, lavish greenery, and the peaceful residences, visitors can see a different side of the city.
Pierre Loti and Eyüp
Why is the place known as Pierre Loti hill? Pierre Loti, the pseudonym of Louis Marie-Julien Viaud, was a French author and navy officer who fell in love with Istanbul after his first visit in 1876. Instead of settling in Pera district like most Europeans, Loti moved to the holiest neighborhood of the city, which non-Muslims barely visited at the time. “Access to [the tomb] has always been forbidden to Christians, for whom even its immediate precincts are none too safe,” Loti wrote in his semi-autobiographical novel Aziyadé.
As a resident of Eyüp, the author describes the splendid view from the hill: “Away to the east is the Golden Horn, with thousands of gilded caiques dancing on its water; then the whole of Stamboul foreshortened, mosques, domes and minarets, all huddled together in one confused blur.” Although the cityscape Loti appreciated is no longer the same as the one we see today, the hill remains a precious, serene spot offering a unique view of Istanbul.