Today, we're exploring some of the intesting locations in Constatniople's neighborhood of Haskeui.
Beyond the crest of Haskeui’s hills is the vast empty heights named Ok-median by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, from the Turkish meaning “Field of Arrows”. The field begins east of Kaliji Oghlu and Haskoy and extends west over Kassim Pasha. Ok-Meidan’s heights give a fantastic view of the Golden Horn and the vista of Stambul’s northern shore.
Freed from the cramped city streets, Ottoman Sultans and their most prized soldiers came to Ok-Meidan to train and compete using bows and arrows. The trials on Ok-Meidan valued the strength of the archer’s draw, not the accuracy of their aim. Small pillars and monuments memorializing particularly impressive arrow flights and spear throws rise out of the brush on the plane. Sultans often used foreign idols taken from their conquests as targets for their soldiers. Visitors to Ok-Meidan still find old, lost arrows lying on the ground.
In a modernization of this tradition, the Ottoman army uses Ok-Meidan as a drilling ground to prepare their troops for the war in Crimea. No arrows cut through the air, but recent shipments of British and French weapons and equipment made their way to the heights for testing and training.
During a plague outbreak in the 1590s, the Grand Mufti and the Greek Patriarch chose Ok-Meidan as a gathering place for the faithful of both faiths to pray for Constantinople’s deliverance from the disease. Since that massive assembly, congregants of all faiths return to Ok-Meidan after earthquakes, fires, or droughts to pray to the Heavenly Host for mercy.
During Haskeui’s days as an idyllic forest free of the city, the Sultan Ahmed I built a pavilion surrounded by gardens in sight of the imperial ship yards. The beautiful view of Stambul and the Golden Horn drew following Sultans to expand the pavilion into a palatial complex with quarters for the imperial harem, a treasury, barracks, baths, and mosques.
After signing a peace treaty with the Ottoman Empire in 1718, the Venetian government sent Sultan Ahmet III a set of ‘mirrors as tall at poplar trees’, or “Aynalıkavak” in Turkish. The Sultan had the mirrors installed in the palace and their fame gave the palace its name.
Sultan Selim III tore down most of the buildings to expand his shipyards leaving only the pavilion, a beautiful example of Ottoman architecture. The pavilion sits on a terraced hill with two stories facing the Golden Horn, and one story facing Haskeui. The lower floor was devoted to servants, the main floor to two large halls, a magnificent domed Reception Hall, and a rectangular Inner Hall with quarters for quests. A calligraphic script praising the pavilion stretches across the cornice curving around the large windows and door frames of the Reception hall. Some thaumaturgists believe Turkish sigils might be buried among the letters. Like most palaces on the northern shore, the Aynalıkavak Pavilion is under renovations funded by Sultan Abdulmejid.
The Greek Aluminat faithful of Constantinople believe an agiasmata (a spring of holy water) linked to Saint Pantaleon flows in the pavilion’s gardens.