Journey to the Holy Land and the City of the Crescent: Ida Pfeiffer – Journey to the East

Hatice Mert Yunak
9 minutes

Three o’clock in the morning. Like a tiny drop on a silk sheet in the cold waters of the Bosphorus, Ida Pfeiffer’s ship moves silently. It docks at one of the docks of the city that has not yet woken up, that has not yet emerged from its twilight shell. He cannot take his eyes off the awe-inspiring skyline of Constantinople, which he has been looking forward to stepping foot on for months. The more he sees the elegant minarets, the majestic mosques, the wooden mansions, the tall cypress forests that seem to touch the sky, the more he admires Istanbul, the magnificent city that has made a name for itself in Europe.

Ida Pfeiffer was born in Austria in 1797, the only girl growing up among six brothers. With the influence of the environment she grew up in and the support of her father, Ida developed a grounded, but at the same time fierce and tough character. From his childhood onwards, the most striking characteristic that his relatives saw in him was his determined and stubborn stance.

His father, a wealthy merchant, had a one-meal diet that was often excessive, and although it affected him as a child, like all his siblings, it helped him to survive the arduous journeys he undertook later in life. The endurance of pain, hunger, indifference and courage that she had to learn at that age were the mainstays of Ida’s life’s purpose, her travels.

One day, after the Austro-French War and France’s victory, Napoleon arrives in Vienna, the city where Ida was found. Seeing the decline of her country and her city at that age affects Ida deeply, even though she is still a young child. Napoleon arrives in Vienna and people gather in the squares to greet him. He states that he would never salute a commander who had conquered his land, but is forced by his stern mother to attend the ceremony. And he refuses to salute Napoleon, preferring to turn his back instead of watching him pass proudly through the crowd. Thanks to her tough and incorrigibly determined character and her endurance in the face of uncomfortable conditions, Ida Pfeiffer became the first woman traveler in the early nineteenth century to make two world tours and to travel to many countries.

As a Catholic woman who was very devoted to her religion and culture, Ida had a long-cherished goal: to visit Jerusalem, the Holy Land. Without wasting any time, he boarded a ship from Vienna with his modest savings of many years and began his journey along the Danube River, first to Istanbul, then to Beirut and finally to Jerusalem, the original city. Ida explains that she is taking a trip to Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, the city of the Crescent, just to avoid the reactions and attempts to prevent it by relatives and friends.

Ida’s journey to the East takes place under the roof of three important cities: Istanbul, Jerusalem, Beirut and Egypt. Of course, the city she is most looking forward to visiting is Jerusalem, the city of Jesus Christ. Ida writes her memories in her notebook day by day, adding every city, town, landscape and her own ideas she observes during her journey, unaware that in the future these travels will be collected in a book and will bring her great fame and prestige.

He carefully and attentively notes down every single detail, from the ports of call of his steamship along the Danube River, to the behavior and manners of the passengers getting on and off the ship, to the cabin he stays in and the vegetation they pass through, without missing a single detail.

After a long and arduous Danube River journey, Ida eagerly awaits the day she will enter Istanbul. However, due to some problems, its entry into the Bosphorus coincided with darkness in the morning. Alone on the deck hours before, despite the cold weather, he wants to record this first moment of his life in his eyes and waits sleeplessly for Istanbul in the fog to wake up.

He carefully observes, picking out each faint light in the twilight, one by one. As he approaches the shore of Tophane, he watches the movements of small boats, whose lanterns have not even woken up yet, swaying gently in the waters of the Bosphorus and crossing to the opposite shore.

He describes those moments so effectively and enthusiastically that we stand on the deck next to Ida as we read. Just like him, we wrap ourselves in our thick coats and watch the Istanbul of the 1800s together, startled by the chill breeze hitting our faces. Ida describes her excitement at that moment, “I was afraid to blink my eyes for a moment, so as not to miss any detail.”

He stays in Istanbul for a few weeks and travels from neighborhood to neighborhood and reports from there. He depicts Üsküdar as a paradise of gigantic cypress trees visible from the opposite shore. Pfeiffer, who carefully examines the life of a Muslim community, especially that of the women, emphasizes that the Muslim women were dressed very simply, were smiling, sat and ate with other women who were apparently slaves, and were polite and tolerant towards slaves.

In the large cemetery in Üsküdar, he depicts women and on some days families with men and women having picnics, sitting peacefully under the shade of cypresses side by side with those who have already passed away, and then praying together. All these observations had a great impact on him as a European. He is struck by the ease with which women take part in daily life, and he is self-critical of his own culture, comparing the value given to women in Europe with the respect, comfort and peace that women enjoy in the East.

Like many other Europeans, one of the important places he had heard about and wanted to visit in person was the Mevlevihanes and the dervish performances that began with the dervishes kissing the ground after laying down their skins. One day he goes to the Mevlevihan in Galata. He praises the ease with which women mingle in society with their veils and proper outer garments. He even reports that people who realized that he was a non-Muslim gave him a seat in the front row, allowing him to watch more comfortably, and again he cannot help but make a comparison between East and West. At this point, he emphasizes the sensitivity of men to women and objectively states that European society has not yet reached this level.

Ida also talks a lot about her notes from neighborhoods such as Cihangir, Beyoğlu, Kadıköy, Tophane, Sultanahmet. Finally, he recounts that one of his most vivid experiences in Istanbul was attending the Friday prayers of Abdülmecit. Just as he is describing this scene, we see Abdulmecit, a well-groomed nineteen-year-old man with a bright face and a stern temperament, standing on his horse with his majesty. We witness him greeting the people in his military attire with a large diamond brooch on his lapel and the people showing him great love and respect.

Pfeiffer, whose stay in Istanbul was prolonged for various reasons, finally boarded the ship weeks later and began his pilgrimage. And he bids farewell to the imperial city with these lines. “…I gazed longingly at the vanishing imperial city, until at last a slight darkness, combined with increasing distance, obscured everything as if with a veil, and only occasionally the top of a minaret waved to me one last time.”

While passing through the Marmara Sea, Gelibolu, Çanakkale, Troy, Bozcaada and Izmir, Cyprus and Cyprus in the Aegean, he gives extensive coverage to his observations.

Taking advantage of the fact that his ship calls at the ports of Syria, Lebanon, Beirut, Sidon and other coastal cities, the author visits them on foot during the day. The Prophet in the city of Sidon He also records in his notes the strong spiritual feeling he gets from following Elijah’s trail.

The captain of the ship cannot dissuade Ida and her friend who decide to get off the ship at Caseria and continue on foot and on horseback to Jerusalem. From here, Ida set out with horses. Passionate to smell the scent of Jesus, to see the places where he has trodden, he moves forward with determination. In the book we see the valley where they stopped a few hours before reaching Jerusalem. They stop by the river with an old stone bridge over it. It is believed that this is the Prophet’s house. It tells of the place where David took the five pebbles he used to fight the giant Goliath. This part of the book turns into a spiritual journey that traces the footsteps of the prophets in a fairytale-like manner.

“Finally the Mount of Olives was in front of us, and then Jerusalem…” he says, and one morning at dawn, he went to Jerusalem, to the Prophet Muhammad. He sets foot in the holy town of Jesus. He describes every street, house, people, churches, Christians and Muslims he sees here. Sometimes he even makes comparisons between the Muslims living here and those living in Istanbul. He mentions that the people here are more simply dressed, more lively and more respectful towards Christians. In particular, they meticulously preserved the Dome of the Rock because the Turks – here he uses Muslim and Turk interchangeably – were also followers of the Prophet Muhammad. Jesus and his mother Jesus. He emphasizes that they venerated Mary.

On the first day in Jerusalem, “the most beautiful morning was dawning on me,” the author impatiently sets out on the Path of Suffering. Thinking of the suffering of his prophet as he walked that long and difficult path under the weight of the cross, he is moved to step on the old, shiny stones on the ground. And Hz. He experiences deep sorrow in his heart, stopping at every point where Jesus stopped, unable to bear the pain. Hz. By visiting the place where Mary ran to her son, the church where Jesus was crucified and his soul ascended to heaven, he indicates that he has reached the goal of his journey.

Ida Pfeiffer writes about the strong conviction that brought her from Vienna to Jerusalem. “With a sense of longing I stood on deck and watched the life, the hustle and bustle, the hustle and bustle that prevailed on every side and corner before such a long journey. And once again I stood alone in the chaos, relying only on God and my faith. You are not alone as long as you believe in God.”

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