Years ago, when her sister was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Mahire Turk sought divine intervention.
She trekked to a shrine atop a hill overlooking the Bosporus, sat under an ornate dome near the grave of a Sufi master who died nearly 400 years ago and prayed intensely for her sister to beat the disease.
After chemotherapy, her sister was declared cancer free — and is now expecting a baby, said Ms. Turk, 40, who works in a pharmaceutical warehouse.
So to today, when worries cloud her mind, Ms. Turk, like lots of her compatriots on this ancient, sprawling city of 16 million, visits one in every of its many shrines to long-dead religious figures to hunt a spiritual boost.
“These are the protectors of Istanbul,” Ms. Turk said during a return pilgrimage to the shrine of Aziz Mahmud Hudayi, where she had prayed for her sister. “I’m sure that if I pay them a visit, they are going to protect me, too.”
Centuries of civilization have left Istanbul dotted with such graves. More than simply historical relics, many are well-kept, living sites that receive crowds of tourists in search of quiet places to hope, make wishes and unburden themselves from the woes of the trendy metropolis.
The shrines mix Islamic devotion, Turkish history and Istanbul folklore. The city’s sailors, for instance, have traditionally viewed Aziz Mahmud Hudayi and three other men buried near the Bosporus, which flows through Istanbul, because the waterway’s protectors.
Some of the shrines mark the resting places of documented historical figures. Others are of more dubious historicity, which doesn’t diminish their role within the spiritual lifetime of the town, a job that endures largely unaffected by Turkey’s contemporary political and economic gyrations.
Turkey’s religious authorities have posted signs at some sites to remind visitors that Islam forbids praying to anyone but God. But lots of the faithful still seek the intercession of the interred to assist them land jobs, buy cars, get healthy, find spouses or have children. And some express a deep affinity for the dead.
“I like him,” Fatma Akyol, a university student in theology, said of Yahya Efendi, a Sixteenth-century Sufi scholar and poet who now rests in a shrine on the southwestern bank of the Bosporus. “I visit him fairly often.”
Yahya Efendi’s tomb sits under a pistachio-colored dome in an airy room surrounded by the graves of 10 others, including his mother, wife and son. The complex has separate prayer facilities for men and ladies, each with commanding views of the Bosporus. Outside, stone paths wind through a graveyard shaded by towering trees to a terrace where visitors take photos.
One recent afternoon, cats dozed within the mausoleum’s marble entryway as visitors drank from a stone fountain and removed their shoes before entering to hope. Parents brought their children. A mosque preacher with a protracted beard said he had brought his wife and her sister “to receive spiritual health.” An adolescent in a Metallica T-shirt emerged from the mausoleum, retrieved his shoes and wandered off.
Ms. Akyol said she often spent hours praying and reading scriptures within the shrine. She shrugged off warnings about in search of help from the dead, comparing it to working a connection to get a job.
“When you ask for something from God, those that are beloved by God generally is a go-between,” she said.
The shrine of Aziz Mahmud Hudayi sits on the waterway’s opposite bank.
Visitors come to hope near his grave, often returning to distribute sweets after their prayers have been answered, as they do at many shrines.
Outside, teachers told girls from an Islamic summer school to maintain quiet during their visit. A brother and sister from a Turkish Black Sea town said they each were in search of “a benevolent affair,” meaning they hoped to get married. And a retired man said the buried mystic had walked on water across the Bosporus, proving his spiritual prowess.
Omer Arik, the vice chairman of the inspiration that oversees the positioning, told a distinct version of the mystic’s story, wherein the mystic guided a boatman across the water during a storm, using a route that continues to be named for him. It didn’t hassle Mr. Arik that some visitors believed a more miraculous, water-walking version, he said, citing a Turkish proverb: “The sheikh doesn’t fly. The follower makes him fly.”
Near the northern end of the Bosporus’s western bank sits the shrine of Telli Baba, or the Father of the Threads, a figure whose story is imbued with a lot lore that even the retired sailor who oversees the shrine doesn’t claim to know his exact history, and even his full identity.
He might need served within the sultan’s army in the course of the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman army in 1453. He might need carried in his turban a length of silvery thread that brides traditionally braided into their hair as an indication of his devotion to the Almighty (probably the source of his nickname).
His grave, in a small room with hanging lamps, is roofed with silver threads. Visitors cut a chunk after they make a wish and are imagined to return it after it comes true.
Hatice Aydin, a retired teacher who cleans the shrine and feeds the local cats, said a minority of tourists wished for kids and latest jobs.
“Most of them are searching for husbands,” she said.
Sure enough, a preschool teacher soon emerged from the shrine and revealed that she had been asking for a groom. It was her third visit.
Later, a young woman appeared at the doorway in a blue hoop dress that was too large to slot in the stairwell that led to the grave. Her uncle said he had prayed there for her to get married and so had brought her back on her engagement day. They snapped photos near the doorway and left.
Fatma Yilmaz, a financial manager, got here bearing wishes for herself and a variety of others, she said. She cut 13 pieces of thread: 4 for her, five for her sister, one each for her son and her ex-husband, and two for friends.
“Now it’s on them,” she said. “If their wishes are accepted, they’ve to return here.”
Atop a hill on the other bank stands the fourth of the Bosporus’s protectors, a shrine to Hazreti Yusa, or the prophet Joshua, who’s revered by Christians, Jews and Muslims.
An indication from the local religious authorities stops wanting claiming that he is definitely buried there, noting as an alternative that the positioning has held religious significance for a lot of centuries. The site is centered on a grave — a greater than 50-foot-long raised flower bed. It could also be that long because those that built it might not have known exactly where the body was buried and desired to make certain it was covered.
One recent evening, Rumeysa Koc, 35, stood by the grave, her palms raised. She had come to Istanbul with a colleague to purchase merchandise for her women’s clothing line but had woken that morning after a terrible nightmare. The women had finished their work early and decided to squeeze in a shrine visit.
As they drove toward the shrine, she said, she had received a call telling her that the very thing she had dreamed about — she declined to offer specifics — had not come to pass.
“Without even setting foot on this hill, God solved the problem for me,” Ms. Koc said.
So on the grave she had given thanks, she said, and left feeling that her day had been miraculous.
“I’m feeling free as a bird,” she said.