Join our Irish roving reporter Caroline on her travels around Turkey.
Anatolia’s ancient gem.
After our dinner Yilmaz and I left the car parked safely and took a stroll on foot around the cobbled streets of the old city, where we had driven earlier. We were actually on a secret booze hunt as he fancied a beer or two, and I wouldn’t have minded a Raki. Although Sanliurfa, as a religious, conservative city is officially ‘dry’ Yilmaz assured me that in some of the old stately homes open to the public alcohol can sometimes be found.
Our tour took us into some beautiful ancient homes dating from the early Ottoman era, where the owners happily showed us around but no drinking there tonight! We ended up walking to the Ruha Hotel, a lovely old building constructed around ancient caves where we could relax on ‘divans’, mattresses on a platform and drink super expensive Efes and Tekel Raki. This hotel is an institution in Sanliurfa, close to all the major sites, beautifully restored with the aforementioned caves incorporated into the structure.
The next morning, after a simple Turkish breakfast of olives, tomatoes, cheese, bread, honey and of course cay, I waited outside the hotel for Yilmaz. As usual he screeched to a halt in his battered Renault Symbol. “Kerri come!” he ordered as I jumped into the passenger seat. Yilmaz couldn’t pronounce my name, so I became Kerri, and in his imperious tone I became known as ‘Kerri come’, ‘Kerri sit’ or ‘Kerri hesap’ ( bill)! We had an arrangement where I paid for a full tank of petrol, our lunches and dinners, and bought him a pair of trousers for the upcoming Kurban Bayram. This worked out much cheaper than going on an organised tour to Gobekli Tepe and Harran, and Yilmaz could show me off to all his friends and family. A win win situation. That morning we visited the lovely old Ottoman covered bazaar, dating back to 1 562, called Gumruk Han or Customs Hall. The narrow lanes were jammed with people, locals and tourists from I ran and all over the middle east, all busy preparing for Bayram. It was easy to spot the various nationalities, not only through their language, but by what type of covering the ladies wore or what type of head gear the men sported. As we pushed our way through the crowds, I noticed the beautiful wooden cross vaulted ceiling of the Huseyniye Bazaar which houses the Coppersmiths, possibly the noisiest of all the bazaars in the Gumruk Han.
Hammering, smelting and engraving was carried out in tiny stalls, and the most beautifully crafted copper coffee pots, trays, pans and pepper grinders were displayed. The slightly less crowded Sipahi Bazaar is allocated to carpet, kilim and felt vendors, and the Kazzaz Bazaar sells womens’ and mens’ clothing. As Yilmaz stopped by one of his friends to look at some winter jackets, I had a chance to inspect the quality of some of the clothing in the surrounding stalls. I was impressed by the sturdy workmanship, nothing shoddy here in these shops, and all the clothing is made locally – nothing from China. Also the prices were a little higher than I had experienced in Istanbul or Izmir, but bargaining and haggling is fine. Yilmaz bought his nice blue down jacket for 70 Lira, down from 85! There is a wealth of industry going on in this wonderful, authentic old Bazaar. Woodworkers, electrical repairs, saddle makers, leather workers, tailors, jewellry makers, shoe repairers, carpet and kilim weavers, all so busy and hectic. I was loving this slice of Ottoman life, as porters rushed through the crowds wheeling huge crates and boxes of cotton, silk, beverages and foodstuffs. Atmospheric hardly begins to describe the organised chaos of Gumruk Han. Eventually we emerged into a beautiful, quiet courtyard where lots of men in their various head coverings sat under the trees, drinking tea or coffee, playing backgammon and dominoes. Overlooking the courtyard are rooms set inside arched verandas, which were tax offices during the Ottoman era, and today the clothing we saw in the bazaar downstairs is manufactured there.
We relaxed with our menengec coffee and I asked permission from a group of men to take their photos. They obligingly agreed and carried on with their games and chat without posing. This is typical Sanliurfa, everybody just gets on with it and accepts that they are part of a unique society and region, with all it’s history and deep traditions. On the subject of traditions, Yilmaz told me that an old institution exists in Sanliurfa called ‘Sira Geceleri’, meaning taking turns to host nights shared by friends who enjoy the same ideals, world views and pleasures. The friendships formed from these nights are so strong and enduring they become like a fraternity. After the first World War, the French tried to occupy Sanliurfa but leading families successfully resisted, and this rebellion was supposedly born during one of the ‘Sira Geceleri’. Another beautiful tradition in the Sipahi Bazaar where the carpets are sold is a communal prayer by the shopkeepers wishing their neighbours a prosperous day. Nowhere else in Turkey is this tradition practiced.
Read more of Carolines adventures in next months issue.