Ramazan: The Sultan Month

Ultimo aggiornamento: 3 January 2016

Ramadan Istanbul

Ramazan is without doubt the most sacred of all the months. “All” here refers to the three holy months observed by Islam: Recep, Şaban and Ramazan. According to the Hicri (the Islamic calendar), in 2010 the Ramazan begins on 11 August to end September 8, followed by 3 days of celebration (Ramazan Bayrami). The calendar is based on the movement of the moon. Since a lunar year lasts 354 days, w the dates of Ramazan change every year, so each year the Ramazan falls exactly 11 days before the previous year.

Before talking about the fundamental concepts of Ramazan, we need to clarify exactly what the word refers to, as actually knowledge of this holiday by non-Muslims is often, inevitably, superficial.

Ramazan is the name of the whole month during which Muslims practice fasting, one of the five pillars of Islam, a binding duty for every Muslim observant. Fasting is seen as a physical and mental purification process in order to have some rest for your body and peace for your mind after finding yourself at dinner table with family and friends. We must also fast spiritually; we must not swear or get angry, we should not have sexual intercourse during the fasting hours, all aimed to achieve a state of total peace. Fasting begins at the end of Sahour, depending on the time of the first prayer of the day which changes between 4-5 o’clock in the morning throughout the year. During Sahour, you eat and drink, because you will be no longer eating or drinking anything from dawn until sunset. Break fast time is called “iftar” and it is indicated by the usual Ezan (call to prayer) at sunset time. In this way, all the people in the same geographical area break the fast at the same exact minute. Traditionally, when it’s time to get up for Sahour in the middle of the night, people are awakened by drummers who walk within the neighborhood. In a similar way, when it’s “iftar” time, a cannon shot can be heard across the city means that it’s time to eat.

Individual reasons aside, the Ramazan has a huge social relevance. An important goal is to establish an empathy with the poor, to understand their suffering and help them with donations (in a covered way without shoowing it off). Of course, the most fascinating part of Ramazan for us is the cultural aspects, thanks to all those traditions in terms of arts, food and ceremonies.

The entire month can be seen as a revolution in lifestyle. We get up and eat in the middle of the night to Sahour, fast and then eat again in the evening for Iftar. All this ritual certainly attaches great importance to the dinners. Large tables are organized and people come together, it is usual to invite family and friends over for Iftar. You might be invited to a different Iftar every night! Among the specialties of the month, the most typicals are the Ramazan Pidesi (a special kind of bread) and Güllaç (a sweet made of milk, nuts and rose syrup). Iftar takes place at the end of the Teravih, which is a special session of prayers and then the fun immediately begins. During the Ottoman period, people used to gather every night in small theaters in the neighborhood where special events were organized on the occasion of Ramazan; which included jugglers, shadow puppets and storytellers. Another tradition is called Mahya, which is an activity where people create religious phrases using candles, put together in the form of letters and hung between two of the most important mosques’ minarets.

Today, in the secular Republic of Turkey, Ramazan was naturally transformed into a more “optional” religious dedication since a modern society of workers must obviously make compromises. Those who respect the fasting to the letter are actually a minority of the population. Ramazan is seen by many as a month in which to meet up with old friends, every night a different dinner, even if you do not fast. It’s normal to find restaurants that serve food without problems even during daylight hours, with the exception of some very conservative areas of the city (such as Fatih). All restaurants prepare special menus often at lower prices than usual, some with live music, which is why it is sometimes necessary to book in advance. Some restaurants or kiosks (such as our favorite Karadeniz Döner in Beşiktaş), prefer to close for a month and take a long vacation, while others are open at night to provide meals during the time of Sahour.

At the end of 29 days of Ramazan, there are three days of national holiday called Ramazan Bayramı. These are among the very few days when the whole city almost completely stops except for people return to visit their families live in far cities, or take advantage of vacation days to travel. Considering this reason, to decide to visit Istanbul during the Bayram might not be the best choice. In fact, almost all the business is closed (even the Grand Bazaar closes for these 3 days), the city feels a bit deserted because local people with traditional roots go visit relatives in countries of origin. It needs to be told that these are not “normal” days, so you need to double check opening and closing hours of places which may remain partially closed for those 3 days. For the rest of the city, it will be over-crowded with foreign tourists (especially from Arabic countries) or visitors from Eastern Turkey, and totally emptied by the inhabitants of Istanbul. This obviously changes the perception of the city.

Ultimately, the Month of Ramadan is generally advisable for a tourist visiting Istanbul, so you can actually breathe the fascinating festive atmosphere. In each district of the city, there are cultural events and concerts organized. In addition to all these things going on in the city, every year there is a huge tent set up in Eminönü where fasting people can go eat for free with hundreds of people. Also, it is very common to see people coming together to make a picnic at the parks along the Golden Horn and Bosphorus. For the reasons stated above it is not recommended to stay in Istanbul within 3 days of Bayram.

We leave you with a small list of recommended activities during the period of Ramazan:

– Every year in the conference center of Feshane which is on the shore of the Golden Horn, there is a festival takes place with concerts and all kinds of interesting traditional shows as a real country fair.

– In Sultanahmet Square, every night there is amazing music or artistic shows.

– At Sarayburnu Port, there is this show called Sultan-ı Seyirlik which is organized as a modern reinterpretation of the shows organized back in the days of Ottoman Empire to entertain the Sultans during Ramazan.

– The new year is the Festival of Jazz: Ramazanda Caz.

– To breathe the true atmosphere of Ramazan, we would kindly advise you to spend an evening in front of the Eyüp Mosque which is one of the most sacred places in Istanbul with thousands of people who come together to pray and eat together in the big square.

İyi Ramazanlar!

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