THE ANCIENT TURKISH CITIES


The traditional Turkish city is typically situated along historical trade routes, notably the silk and spice routes. Built on lands unfavorable for cultivation, traditional Turkish cities display unique vernacular architectural styles reflecting regional conditions and an urbane and sophisticated building tradition. Although each has a distinctive character of its own, all have a citadel; one or more grand mosque complexes containing religious colleges and welfare establishments; a traditional square corresponding to the western plaza; a number of old bath houses; traditional guild alleys jutting away from the bazaar area; and distinct neighborhoods where you are likely to find fine examples of traditional Turkish houses, often arranged around a courtyard.

Turks are wild about soccer. Budding players will be kicking the ball around in the streets at all hours. In shady squares the tables of coffee houses are occupied by townsmen, sipping coffee or tea, playing backgammon and discussing the issues of the day with their friends and neighbors. It is said that coffee and the coffee house are among the many contributions made by Turks to the good life. The sacks of coffee abandoned at the gates of Vienna by the retreating Ottoman army in the 16th century introduced the addictive brew to the west and made the cafes of Vienna world famous.

It is in these cities that both the high style and the vernacular culture evolved side by side, giving us the best examples of Turkish architecture as well as the best of folklore, traditional arts and crafts, customs and food. These cities were home to folk heroes such as Koroglu and the poet Sufi Yunus Emre whose simple verses offer profound meaning to humanity, and Nasreddin Hodja, the personification of folk wisdom in his humorous anecdotes which are still widely quoted and appreciated.

The popular theater tradition, with its comedians, storytellers and marionette and shadow puppeteers evolved in the provincial cities. Performances were given in public squares, at national and religious festivals, at weddings and fairs, at the inns, coffee houses and private residences. All shows, including wrestling matches, were accompanied by music, with conjurors performing to the sound of the tambourine. Performances were often interspersed with songs and dances or both. The dramatic instinct of the Turkish people and the role it played in daily affairs can be found in the Turkish commedia dell'arte, "orta oyunu", and the shadow puppet theater, "Karagoz", which dates from the 15th century. Players performed humorous impromptu productions wherever there was an audience, impersonating watchmen, tax collectors, treasure hunters, the intellectual elite encountering the common folk, and the idiosyncrasies of ethnic groups, and so contributed, in their own way, to the continuation of an amicable coexistence.

Provincial Turkish cities still celebrate the religious holidays, or bayrams, in the traditional manner. Town elders, following the holiday greetings, participate in folk dances to the music of traditional folk instruments. "Greased wrestling" matches are accompanied by drum and pipe music. Karagoz puppet shows are often performed during the holidays and for family celebrations such as the circumcision ceremony.

Many interesting provincial cities are on the way to popular holiday destinations and ancient sites. Make a small detour to see the traditional character of Balikesir, Canakkale, Amasya, Safranbolu, Tokat, Nevsehir, Diyarbakir, Sanli Urfa or Mardin.



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