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Istanbul (2)

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The Source:

Robert Walsh:
"Constantinople and the scenery of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor" - 1st Series
Fisher, London, no date

The Case:

I will quote the Rev. Walsh:

"On the other side is a second, overhanging the harbour, and, though called by the French Petit Champ des Morts, and by the English, after them, the Little Burying-ground, is of immense extent, covering an area nearly as great as either of the former. It is not, however, distinguished by the same solemn characteristics. Lying between the various suburbs of Pera, it is intersected by avenues, which are constantly thronged by passengers like public streets; and this moving picture of life abstracts much from the solemnity of death, which the secluded solitude of others so strongly impresses. Here it is, therefore, that Franks often witness the ceremonies of Turkish funerals, without that intrusion so offensive to Turks in the less public cemeteries.

Near the centre of the burial-ground is a small edifice, to which the bodies are brought. Here ablution is performed, and all the decencies of respect shown to the mortal remains, before they are consigned to decay. From hence they are removed to the pit prepared for them : they first burn incense round the spot, to keep off evil spirits; they leave a small lock of hair on the scalp, and then sew up the body in a sack of cloth just its length, and open at both ends. A Turk believes that his corpse will be subject to a strict examination by two angels, to ascertain his fitness for paradise, and the grave is constructed with accommodation for the purpose. It is arched overhead, that the body may have room to sit up ; when the angels arrive, they seize him by the lock of hair, and draw him through the open end of the sack. He then sits between the examiners, and answers such questions as may be propounded. The arch is frequently constructed with fragments of marble pillars, but more usually with the planks of the coffin, which is taken to pieces for the purpose. The attendants on the funeral quietly sit round, often smoking their chibouques, and an Imaum sometimes reads a passage from the Koran. The Turks are particularly anxious that the tombs be not desecrated, or the posture of the bodies unsettled. They imagine some part is to remain undecayed, as the nucleus of their future resurrection. The particular member, called by them al-a'ib, is not yet ascertained by their theologians, and they are careful that no part be disturbed. The general impression, however, is, that it is that portion of the pelvis connected with the lower extremity of the spine ; so they are more careful of it after death, than of any other bone in the body.

This cemetery is marked, like others, by an appearance of great dilapidation. The marble head-stones are broken ; and a negligence is displayed about their preservation, which one is surprised to see in the burying-place of an Osmanli. But this is the effect of design. When the janissaries were extirpated, the vengeance of the Sultan pursued them even to their tombs. Many of them were reported to be vampires, their graves were opened, and their bodies pinned to the earth by stakes, to prevent their rising to suck the blood of the faithful ; while all the emblems that appeared above ground, to designate them, were destroyed. The stones that marked their graves were distinguished by their turbans. Even these were decapitated, and the marble heads cast about the ground, where they now lie.

The Date:

We do know that Sultan Mahmud II slaughtered his Janissaries in the year of 1826. So we will file this story under that date.

The Place:

Constantinople is now called Istanbul as we all know. The cemetery "Petits Champs des Morts" or "Küçük Mezarlik" as the Turkish will have it, appears to be situated on the European side of the water.

Possible Follow-Up:

Although hardly dealing with vampires apart from the passage above, the Reverend Walsh's book is quite interesting. And if you want to learn more about the Janissaries, there is plenty of documentation on the internet and elsewhere about them and about their gruesome end.

© 2015 by Rob Brautigam - NL - Last changed January 2015

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