Namazgah (Open-air prayer platform)

Namazgahs (open-air prayer platform) are structures in which the commanders and notables lead prayer during wartime for those on the expedition and in times of peace for those who have made their pilgrimage. They were also built for travelers and for those who were working in vineyards and farms in order that they had a place to perform their daily prayers, Friday prayers and Feast Day prayers. Namazgahs have a minbar and prayer niche and they are basically open air Masjids, some have minarets. There was a standing namazgah on the island of Midilli (Lesvos) but it is no longer extent (Konuk, 2008, pp.56-57).
 
The namazgah which is located in Karaferye impressed Evliya Çelebi who described it at length: “It is a wide, refreshing area. There isn’t any similar structure it Greece, Persia or Arabia. With the capacity to hold fifty people, it is an herb garden with tulips placed on the edge of a canyon and surrounded by a wall and a vineyard. Its benefactor decorated an area that has four gates with thousands of trees. Each of the trees has grown towards the sky. They are so dense that neither the rain nor the sun touches the ground. It is as if embroidered green velvet covers the ground. The smell of the Cypress tress is such that it affects the mind. The trees are as green as an emerald and stand strong and upright as if they are standing in obeisance of God. There are thousands of birds which sing in the tall trees and serenade the people. I have never seen such a place for prayer in my fifty-one year journey.

I have just seen the namazgah in the city of Öziçe, in the Sirem district. It is a place worth seeing too. However; the Karaferye namazgah is truly worth seeing, it is just like a big madrasah because so many intellectuals, notables, sheiks and students gather around this wooded area in the mid-afternoon, they gather on the corners as groups and they talk and chat about the divine and other such knowledge. The ulema, notables, poets, authors, historians and hundreds of others perform prayers for rain and appeal to God. This is a place of where prayers are bound to come true. The people who see this namazgah are astonished and feel overwhelmed as it is such a fanciful and amazing place. May God protect this place as long as the world exists. Actually all those who travel the land and seas should see this place” (VIII, 1966, p.35).

Even after the Muslims left Karaferye the namazgah remained for some time. The structure has a seven step minbar made of cut stone. The minbar had wooden supports and a conical top of lead. It is one of the best examples of a wooden minbar. The two photographs that have survived to this day were taken by Aristotelis Zachos (Makedonia, Through the Lens of Aristotelis Zachos, 2007, pp.269, 271). There are also images of this namazgah in the landscape paintings that are located in the Madrasah Mosque (Lowry, 2009, p.49).

Today, the Karaferye Namazgah, under the control of the Greek Orthodox Church, is a place for worship that, although it utilizes the steps of the minbar, the minbar and prayer niche have totally collapsed. Three steps of the namazgah’s original minbar have been turned into a pulpit before the image of the Saint Paul, who was born in Tarsus in 10 A.D. The namazgah, which was built in order that Muslims might worship, was reopened after many changes and repairs in the service of Christianity. ‘Altar of Saint Paul’ signs along the Veria Highway attract attention to this place. And during our studies there were busloads of visitors to the site. The cypress trees that once stood beside the namazgah are the only remains from the old times. However, it is the photographs that remain as proof, without a doubt, of what once stood there.

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