Ramadan in Istanbul is a very special time. People from all walks of life, young and old, rich and poor, students and teachers, in short, everyone, eagerly waits for this time of the year and once it comes, they all take care to make the most of it with great excitement and jubilation. Even non-Muslims and tourists join in the festival spirit once this month knocks on the door.
However, Ramadan in Sultanahmet is an entirely different experience. It is a mix of history, mouth-watering food, relentless hospitality and festivities. The magical atmosphere and all-embracing feeling of welcome can be felt everywhere during this holy month.
Sultanahmet Square is the former Hippodrome of the Byzantine Empire, which was used as a sporting and social center. After the Ottomans conquered the city, the area kept its importance and the most significant monuments of the Ottomans, such as the Blue Mosque, the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art and the Basilica Cistern, were built here. Even back then, the square teemed with life and activity. Especially during Ramadan, it would host many legendary bayram (Eid) celebrations as tables for thousands to eat at for free were set up. There were candy statues made for children to eat and look at, people dressed in costumes, scale models of galleon ships and giant castles as well as interesting decorations and treasures; young men would try to impress their betrothed in contests and the Sultan would stand on the alcove of the İbrahim Paşa Palace to throw handfuls of gold down to the waiting crowds.
Today the area is still thriving with life. Every year it is visited by millions of tourists that wish to have their own taste of the Ottoman era. During Ramadan, it explodes with festivities and celebrations. Once iftar is completed and the nightly festival atmosphere kicks in, everyone is absorbed by the magical atmosphere. The twinkling lights, colorful ornaments, illuminated minaret mosques, the wafting smells of delicious pastries, the happy laughter of children running around and the cheerful banter of people passing by and the brightly colored buffets lined up on the sidewalks come together to build a unique experience.
Turks have always loved guests. This character is amplified by ten during Ramadan as almost every family works their best to organize large feasts with family and friends. Meticulously preparing mouth-watering food and the most inviting setup possible, Turks make sure to carry on this tradition of hosting large iftar dinners in an atmosphere of love and friendship. And it is no wonder that this spirit of generosity overflows on to the streets of Sultanahmet, especially during Ramadan. Whether you’re a local or a tourist, you will not go long before you are stopped for offerings of free food and sherbet, as well as dessert as you pass by various buffets, stands and shops.
Once you are filled with delicious food, which is everywhere you look, take time to focus on the carnival atmosphere. This district during Ramadan makes you feel like you have been sent back to a night in the Ottoman times. Shadow puppet shows, majestic mosques looking even more striking with their illuminated minarets, artists’ stands of traditional ‘Ebru and calligraphy’ arts, Ramadan in Sultanahmet offers a pause of modern life with a fresh breath of art, life, culture and festivities.
Adnan Oktar's piece on Diplomacy Pakistan News: