The first day of Ramadan; pre-dawn in Turkey. In the distance, you hear a drumbeat, mounting as the ensemble of drummers draws closer. They’re there to announce suhur – the traditional pre-dawn meal – and to let the nation’s residents know that the day’s fasting will commence soon.
The rhythm of Turkey shifts along with its meal times during Ramadan (if you happen to be in the nation itself, you’re more likely to hear it referred to as ‘Ramazan’). The holy month ushers in with it a slew of delightful traditions and festivities.
“Turkey serves up a wide spectrum of cultural activities, feasts and places to visit during the month of Ramadan and the Eid that follows. Alongside the local population, tourists visiting the nation during this period are thrilled to discover all that Turkey has to offer. Over the last few years we have seen an increased influx of visitors during Ramadan and Eid, especially from the neighbouring GCC countries,” notes Salih Ozer, Attaché of Culture and Information, Turkey to the UAE.
Bazaars, fairs and foods
Turkish nights, too, are a lot more animated during Ramadan. For one, the nation’s teashops, bakeries, cafés and restaurants are filled to the brim, the scent of local treats wafting out the doors and into the streets. But more noteworthy are Turkish mosques – particularly Istanbul’s iconic Blue Mosque (also known as the Sultan Ahmet Mosque) – the minarets and courtyards of which are extravagantly lit and bustling with activity.
In fact, the entire Sultan Ahmet Square, which is also home to the Hagia Sophia and the Hippodrome, turns into a focal point during Ramadan. Not only is the cultural richness of Turkey heavily concentrated in the square, but each year it also plays host to a trademark fair that runs from the first day of Ramadan through to the eve of the Feast of Eid, and features stalls, exhibitions, puppet theaters, concerts and folk dances, to name but a few highlights.
Also worth special mention is Istanbul’s Beyazit Square, particularly well known for its jewelry, accessories, locally produced textiles, and local cuisine: sweets, fruit juices, sorbets, kofta sandwiches, Turkish döner and spicy sucuk sausages are some popular favorites.
Incidentally, bakeries across Turkey also prepare a special type of bread – known as pide – in the lead up to the evening iftar meal; without the freshly baked flat bread included on the evening’s menu, the meal is practically considered incomplete.
“The Ramadan night bazaars across the country are generally extremely popular with tourists. And so are food joints serving iftar specials such as pide, kebabs, and traditional desserts such as baklava and güllaç. Attending an iftar meal, even if you’re not fasting, is truly a great way to sample Turkish regional cuisine. And it’s one of the best ways to experience the warmth of Turkish hospitality and culture at its finest,” comments Ozer.
Cultural and historic hotspots
A little further down, on the banks of Turkey’s Golden Horn, the district of Eyüp and its environs attract both tourists and locals year round, but visitors spending Ramadan in Eyüp are privy to a much wider spectrum of activities.
Every Ramadan, a gift and book fair is set up at Eyüp, stacked with historical and cultural treasures. The Feshane International Fair, Convention, and Culture Center, meanwhile, is another area where the fervor of Ramadan is experienced intensely, its length packed with Sufi music concerts, shadow theater plays, jugglers, puppets, magicians, fire-eaters and men on stilts.
“Ramadan can be a great time to be in Turkey; foreigners are welcome and a carnival atmosphere prevails, with stalls and restaurants offering veritable banquets in the evenings. The nation has so much to offer during this period, and is so hospitable, that we always tend to register a surge in returning tourists as well,” says Ozer.