The air was filled with the shouts and noises of the great Oriental metropolis; the water was alive with caiques and little steamers; and all the world of work and trade, which had grown almost to be a fable, welcomed us back to its restless heart. We threaded our rather perilous way over the populous waves, and landed in a throng of Custom-House officers and porters, on the wharf at Galata.
The Night of Predestination.
Constantinople in Ramazan—The
Origin of the Fast—Nightly
Illuminations—The Night of Predestination—The Golden Horn at
Night—Illumination of the Shores—The Cannon of Constantinople—A Fiery
Panorama—The Sultan’s Caique—Close of the Celebration—A Turkish
Mob—The Dancing Dervishes.
“Skies full of splendid moons and
And spouting exhalations, diamond fires.” Keats.
Constantinople, Wednesday, July 14, 1862.
Constantinople, during the month of Ramazan, presents a very different aspect from Constantinople at other times. The city, it is true, is much more stern and serious during the day; there is none of that gay, careless life of the Orient which you see in Smyrna, Cairo, and Damascus; but when once the sunset gun has fired, and the painful fast is at an end, the picture changes as if by magic. In all the outward symbols of their religion, the Mussulmans show their joy at being relieved from what they consider a sacred duty. During the day, it is quite a science to keep the appetite dormant, and the people not only abstain from eating and drinking, but as much as possible from the sight of food. In the bazaars, you see the famished merchants either sitting, propped back against their cushions, with the shawl about their stomachs, tightened so as to prevent the void under it from being so sensibly felt, or lying at full length in the vain attempt to sleep. It is whispered here that many of the Turks will both eat and smoke, when there is no chance of detection, but no one would dare infringe the fast in public. Most of the mechanics and porters are Armenians, and the boatmen are Greeks.
I have endeavored to ascertain the origin of this fast month. The Syrian Christians say that it is a mere imitation of an incident which happened to Mahomet. The Prophet, having lost his camels, went day after day seeking them in the Desert, taking no nourishment from the time of his departure in the morning until his return at sunset. After having sought them thus daily, for the period of one entire moon, he found them, and in token of joy, gave a three days’ feast to the tribe, now imitated in the festival of Bairam, which lasts for three days after the close of Ramazan. This reason, however, seems too trifling for such a rigid fast, and the Turkish tradition, that the Koran was sent down from heaven during this month, offers a more probable explanation.