Fatih Mosque is without its famous plane trees

The famous plane trees in the garden of İstanbul’s Fatih Mosque were cut down following complaints that they were preventing the mosque from being seen by visitors. (PHOTOSUNDAY’S ZAMAN, ÜSAME ARI)

August 12, 2012, Sunday/ 15:16:00

The famous plane trees in the garden of İstanbul’s Fatih Mosque were cut down by the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality’s Directorate of Parks and Gardens, upsetting those who mourn the plane trees that used to surround the mosque.

Trees are essential for mosques to increase the sense of peace for those visiting or those who come to the mosques for prayers. However, Fatih Mosque is now bereft of its famous plane trees which had long beautified the garden around the mosque after the municipality cut them down.

The trees were cut down after receiving complaints that they were preventing the mosque from being seen by visitors. Additionally, others suggested that the roots of the trees had dried up and were causing harm to the water channels under the mosque.

Professor Ünal Aysan from İstanbul University’s forestry faculty stated that with the help of a machine, one could check if the roots of trees were truly dry. “The roots of some trees might be dry even if their appearance does not seem so. The roots or the branches of a tree should be cut down when the tree causes harm to the surrounding construction. Leaving aside the significance of the trees in terms of providing oxygen, they provide many benefits to the public. Moreover, if a tree has monumental significance, it should never be cut down,” elaborated Aysan. He further added that at some mosques, people cut down the surrounding trees saying that tourists cannot see the mosques properly or take photos of them but such an attitude is completely unreasonable.

The plane trees had a special significance for the Fatih Mosque because of a story about the Ottoman ruler Fatih Sultan Mehmet whose mausoleum, which is located in the garden surrounding the mosque, was surrounded by the plane trees that had been planted there years ago.

It is said that the sultan saw an old plane tree while Topkapı Palace was being constructed. Known for his love of the trees, the sultan ordered the workers to build the palace garden in a way that the plane tree would be part of the garden and would prevent the tree from being cut down. Years later, a handmaiden was wandering near the tree and a man who encountered her advised her not to walk in the garden as maidens were not allowed to walk around the garden without permission. To prevent her from being spotted, the man hid her in a large space within the truck of the tree. Fatih Sultan Mehmet learned of this incident and called for the man, wanting to reward him for his good deed in protecting the maiden.

When asked by the sultan what he wanted, the man said he desired a space to be provided near the tree for a new guild where the palace guards could carry out their duties. Years after, the area remained a location where sultans sat, sipping their coffee and janissaries congregated.

Fatih Mosque, which was recently reopened by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan after its restoration, does not appear as beautiful as it was before its trees were cut down. Many have voiced their dissatisfaction with the matter. “Mosques are beautiful with trees; greenness is what attracts us to mosques. Old people used congregate around the plane trees after they performed their prayers. The ones who performed ablutions would relax under the shade of the trees. The mosque was like a heaven, now it looks as though it does not have a soul,” said an old retiree who often comes to Fatih Mosque to pray.

The absence of the plane trees which were cut down one night and subsequently used as timber makes those who have fond memories of the mosque and its garden mourn their loss. Moreover, others who have seen some trees being pruned and marked at Taksim Gezi Park at İstanbul’s Beyoğlu district are inevitably asking if a similar thing will happen there.

The fate of the plane trees at Fatih Mosque recalls the lines from “Beş Şehir” (Five cities), a book by famous Turkish writer Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar: “The number of trees in İstanbul is decreasing day by day. It is not similar to the loss of our traditions. Traditions are lost if people do not need them or new traditions take the place of the previous ones. However, the loss of a tree is something different.”

The feelings of those who are familiar with the mosque’s garden are similar to Tanpınar’s words. “I have been coming to Fatih Mosque for many years. When I saw that the trees were gone, I was shocked. People can build skyscrapers in a year, but one cannot grow a tree in a year. It is as if the feet and the hands of the mosque were cut down.

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