Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Tourists and visitors who want a unique local and meditative experience visit the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Balıklı in Zeytinburnu. It's history and legends date back to the fifth century and one of them lends Balıklı its name. Here the divine fuses with the city’s history
ISTANBUL – Turkish Daily News
Off the beaten track of tour guides, away from the maddening crowd of Sultanahmet tourists and vendors, in the neighborhood of Balıklı in Istanbul's Zeytinburnu district, the odd tour bus from Greece unloads visitors and worshipers in front of the Balıklı Monastery.
The monastery, tucked away from the public eye, is all but forgotten. The nuns there say Greeks and Turks alike come and visit the church, unload their chests, ask for a prayer, light a candle and talk to God.
“Turks come from all over town and they tell us their problems and we pray for them,” says Mother Superior sister Magdalena of Balıklı Monastery.
In the main chapel of the monastery she shows the Turkish Daily News how the ceiling was blackened after nationalists tried to burn it down in 1955. That was the year the monastery was shut down until current Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomeos reopened it in 1995. Magdalena pointed to an old icon on the wall that shows Leo the first, as a general leading a blind man and said, “I'll tell you the story when we get downstairs to the original chapel.” Behind the church a rooster crowed. “We have everything you find in other monasteries,” she said with a chuckle. In the courtyard of the church she showed the TDN the tombs of the 15 Greek Orthodox Patriarchs who have been buried here since 1842. Between the visitors, upkeep of the premises, prayer and tight monastic schedule there is more than enough work for the four nuns that live here. “We are expecting the Patriarch and the synod for dinner tonight,” said Magdalena.
A history full of miracles
The monastery's official name Monastery of the Life-giving Fount reflects what is said of the fountain's healing properties. “The Holy Mother has performed many miracles here,” said Magdalena.
But the biggest miracle of them all as with most Greek Orthodox churches and monasteries is linked to how the place came to be. History has it that sometime in the fifth century Leo the first, emperor of the Byzantine empire, while still a general came to that “neck of the wood” to hunt. On his way he found a blind man who was thirsty and asked for some water. As Leo was leading the blind man, they heard a female voice from heaven, the voice of the Holy mother of Christ directing them to a fountain. She commanded the blind man to wash his eyes with the water so he could see, and foretold that Leo, then an army commander, would become an emperor.
To show his thankfulness he had the chapel built at the site of the fountain and was the first and last emperor to be crowned there.
The waters of the fountain still bubbling away in the smaller chapel are said to be therapeutic and to even have brought people back from the dead. In the sixth century after emperor Justinian was cured of a bout of kidney stones, as a sign of gratitude he rebuilt and embellished the temple. The church has icons portraying some of the most notable healings of the fountain waters.
Through the centuries of wars, earthquakes, and fires the chapel and the premises were destroyed and rebuilt several times, the last time being in 1834.
Next to the fountain in the chapel visitors can receive bottled water called “Ayiazma” (holy water) to take home and use for their ailments. But the story of the fountain doesn't end there. One of the most incredulous legends ties the fountain to the neighborhood it belongs to and from which the area of Balıklı (literally with fish in Turkish) takes its name. “I'll tell you why there are goldfish in the fountain. Did you see them?” asked Magdalena. The legend says that when the Byzantine city of Constantinople was surrounded and falling into the hands of the Ottoman conquerors a monk was sitting by the fountain frying fish. “Now how exactly the monk was frying them, don't ask me, this is what the legend says,” explained Magdalena. Someone ran to the monk to tell him the news of the fall of the city to which the monk said he would not believe the terrible news unless the fish fell from the frying pan into the fountain. And thus the fish, to prove the news correct, fell into the fountain. “And to remember this legend that passed from mouth to mouth we have put these fish in the fountain,” she said.
The Balıklı Monastery is open every day to visitors.
Balıklı Rum Kilisesi, Silivri Kapı Yolu No. 3, Zeytinburnu, Istanbul.