Religious Holiday in Turkey
15.11.2010 - 18.11.2010 70 °F
November 12 Deronda, my American friend living in Istanbul, and I left early for our 8AM flight to Gaziantep in southeastern Turkey. We both were interested in seeing this part of the country far from the carpet shops of Istanbul. The terrain is very different with jagged peaks, scorched plains, and few tourists. We would have 10 days that included the Kurban Bayram holiday to explore. Before the Selcuks and Arabs conquered this area, the Persians, Alexander the Great, the Romans and the Byzatines all left their imprints on the region.
Welcome to Gaziantep.
Gaziantep is considered a food mecca. As the city where bakalava is from, there is a shop every 20 feet selling bakalava and it is delicious! They also have lots of dried vegetables, pistachios, fruits and spices for sale. Pistachios in the barrels
Traditional way of transporting Turkish breakfast snack of semit. Amazing how they are stacked and his ability to walk at a quick pace.
We enjoyed a meal at Iman Cagdas which is known for their meals throughout Turkey. The city has an old bazaar and a wonderful spice market and copper market. We met a very nice man and his family who had his sons lead us to the restaurant we were looking for. The boy is holding dried red peppers.
The big attraction in Gaziantep is the museum of mosaics from the Roman site of Bekis-Zeugma. The mosaics were removed before the site was flooded by the Birecik Dam. They are from the 3rd and 4th century BC. This is the Gypsy Girl which is one of the most well known mosaics from Zeugma. Nova has some pictures of the mosaics and video of house where many were found. Click on the link.
Additional background on the mosaics can be found here.
Gaziantep has a fortress built on the hill and beautiful sunsets.
Next stop Mt Nemrut. We left by dolmus, shared taxi, for Kahta via Adiyaman. The next day we arrange for a driver to take us to Mt Nemrut A German engineer hired by the Ottomans to assess transport routes, found the site in 1881. Excavations did not begin until 1953. The summit was created when a pre-Roman king cut two ledges in the rock, filled them with colossal statues of himself and the gods (his relatives as he thought), then ordered an artificial mountain peak of crushed rock to be piled between them. The guide books all say travel in Nov is risky because of the potential for snow. We dressed warmly but as you can see had a beautiful warm day with clear blue skies and great views.
Earthquakes have toppled the heads from most of the statues, and now many of the colossal bodies sit silently in rows with the 2 meter heads on the ground. You can read more here on Mt Nemrut.
We had given ourselves a day to travel to Urfa. Click for background, a pilgrimage city as the birthplace of Abraham and area where Job, Jethro, and Elijah also lived. The history of the city dates as far back as 8000 BC. It was the cradle of earlier Mesopotamian civilizations. The Hittites ruled this area beginning in 1370 BC. King Nemrod is thought to have founded the city and Christianity was adopted by the people prior to its becoming the official religion of the Emperor. It is influenced by its proximity to Syria and has a middle eastern flavor. We wanted to find a place to stay prior to the Feast of the Sacrifice holiday. It is similar to Thanksgiving or Christmas for us. People travel to be with their families (so the roads are crowded) and most stores and restaurants are closed. We did not want to be traveling that day and we hoped to find some restaurants open. We found a very nice pension in a 1700's stone house in the old section of Urfa (Aslan Guest House). The architecture is similar to Syria.
Streets are very narrow and a small door leads through a room and into an open courtyard with rooms of the house opening off the courtyard. High ceilings in the rooms.
The night we arrived the streets were full of people doing their last minute shopping and all the stores were open late. As we headed down the street to the Bazaar we were surprised to see the tops of cars being used to display merchandise.
The next day we saw everyone dressed in their best clothes as they were going to have dinner with family and friends. We also saw the sheep being prepared for sacrifice. Click on the link for background.Feast of the Sacrifice is a special religious holiday in Turkey.
Urfa does not have the restrictions on performing the sacrifice in the streets that Istanbul has. We saw the remains being hauled away and a pile of sheepskins the following day stacked on the corner. I have read that they are donated to charity. It is the custom to divide the meat from the sacrifice into three portions. One is for the poor, one for relatives and neighbors, and one is kept for the household.
The next day we visited the mosque that is built over the cave where Abraham is thought to have been born and saw the cave that had separate areas for women and men to enter and view. Views of the Abraham Memorial Pools.
The tables seem even lower than in Istanbul. Similar to what I saw in Vietnam. The stool is very comfortable and gives support to the lower back.
Harran is an hour south of Urfa and is believed to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited places on earth. The book of Genesis mentions Harran where Abraham lived for a few years in 1900 BC.
After three nights in Urfa, we go to the bus station for our three hour trip to Mardin which is perched on a hillside dominating Mesopotamia, midway between the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers.
The history of Mardin is said to have dated as far back as the Flood. The city was under the rule of the Hurri-Mitani, Hittites, Surs, Babylonians, Persians, Romans, Arabs and the Seljuk Turks. Mardin was formerly known as "Marde" by the Persians, "Mardia" by the Byzantine, "Maridin" by the Arabs and "Merde-Merdo-Merdi" by the Syriacs. The name of the city became "Mardin" after the Turks occupied the area. It is the smallest of the towns we visited with 55, 000 people vs a million or more in the other cities.
Views of the plains looking toward Iraq.
We knew accommodations were short in the city but were surprised we could not find a single room for the night. So we headed to Diyarbakir which is a much larger city and many more hotels. We were fortunate to run into a couple that had stayed in the same pension in Urfa and had taken a day trip to Mardin from Diyarbakir where they were staying. We rode back with them and stayed where they were for a couple of nights enjoying the bazaars and ancient city walls of Diyarbakir that still encircle the older part of the city and then returned to Mardin.
We stayed in one of the boutique hotels on the hillside of Mardin.Antik Tatlidede Konagi
We enjoyed seeing the architecture of the honey-colored stone houses and the old churches. The views from the hills are lovely.
There are many churches and monasteries in the region.
For the final night of our trip we were fortunate to find a restaurant with a large courtyard open to the sky that had a band playing traditional music with an opportunity for dancing. It was a lovely evening.
We saw a lot in our 10 days and it was hard traveling, but we walked away with an appreciation for this part of the country, the warm hospitality of the people, and the many cultures that have inhabited this land over the centuries.