Three days – three different cities that had importance to the Ottomans
Safranbolu, which means “city of saffron,” is an old Ottoman town that had some trade significance but also some religious significance. In addition to Safranbolu, we also visited a small village nearby. Yörük Köyü means “nomad’s village” as the people who settled here were former nomads in Anatolia. The significance of Yörük Köyü to our trip is that it is a Bektashi village. The Bektashi were a Sufi order that had achieved some support or standing in the Ottoman court in the 1500’s. The Ottomans were concerned about the Safavids in Iran, who were Shi’a, so they took on the role of the Sunni empire, but they also adopted some of the mystical orders of the Sufis. The Bektashi ideas were adapted by Balim Sultan to use with the janissaries (soldiers). The headdress of the janissary looks like a white sleeve, which signifies the sleeve of Haci Bektash, the founder of the Bektashi order. When the janissaries were disbanded in 1826, the Bektashi order was also disbanded. But can you really tell people, “you can’t believe that anymore.” No. So the order went underground. The village of Yörük Köyü was one of the places that maintained those Sufi practices, even if hidden. Many of the last names of the people in the area reflect the janissary ties. Much of the design and decoration in the houses reflect the Bektashi Sufi order. Certain numbers are considered mystical and significant, especially 3, 4, and 12, so you will find images and design elements that will be in 3’s or 4’s or 12’s. Stripes, urns, flowers, wall niches. It is very subtle, and if you weren’t told that it had significance you would think, “oh, that’s nice.”
The village itself is very old and has a simple, low-tech, feel to it. The oldest standing building is about 400 years old. The house we were able to tour, Sipahioglu Konagi, was built around 250 years ago, and the decorations in the main room were done about 125 years ago. These houses stay in families for generations. When walking around, I was reminded of Taos Pueblo or Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico; an old village with very traditional ways, but not a complete rejection of technology. This village did have electricity and telephones, and the houses now have plumbing added, but it does have a rustic charm.
Safranbolu has significance as a stop on the old caravan routes. We had lunch at Cinci Han, a former caravanserai, which was converted into an inn and restaurant. Well, you can’t really say converted, because a caravanserai is a rest stop while moving your caravan. The animals would be kept on the ground floor, and the travelers would stay in the upper levels. So it has the same role, just remodeled to fit the modern traveler’s needs. The room that we had lunch in, was quite beautiful, with vaulted ceilings and a clean, tranquil décor.
Next up was Iznik. Iznik is famous for its ceramics. The pottery medium they use has an extremely high (about 85%) quartz content, so it is a beautiful white, that the artists can then apply different colored glazes to the bowl, plate, or tile and the colors are quite sharp. Besides the type of clay used, they are also famous for the colored glazes they developed. They were the first to successfully produce a red that did not bleed when applied and fired. The original colors were shades of blue and green, along with black, but the addition of red added some variety to the designs. We went to a tile workshop that is part of a foundation that is working to preserve the art of making Iznik tile (http://www.iznik.com/english/). They were creating individual pieces, using traditional patterns, but they also make custom tile murals that are installed in office buildings, subway stations, hotels, and the like. We were watching people work on a large modern geometric design while we were there.
After the tile workshop, we visited two mosques. One was an old Byzantine church converted into a mosque. It later fell into disrepair and was abandoned as a ruin. Only recently, it was restored to use as a mosque.
The other mosque was the Yesil Camii, or Green Mosque, which was built between 1378 and 1391. It is the oldest Ottoman mosque and has greenish marble columns inside, but an otherwise modest interior. I thought it was a beautiful space – rather serene.
We also walked over to the old city walls. Iznik was once known as Nicaea. The walls showed the layers of Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman improvements.
Our last major city, and the largest of the three, is Bursa. The first major distinction of Bursa is that was the first capital of the Ottoman Empire. The first two sultans of the empire, Osman- it’s namesake, and Orhan are buried here. Their tombs are part of former Byzantine buildings, the Saint Elia monastery.
The tombs are beautiful, and the sarcophagi are unique – very simple shapes – sort of like a pentagon shaped tube that tapers from the head to the foot. In addition to the sultan, some of his wives and children are also buried there – in smaller, similarly shaped sarcophagi.
There is also a Green Mosque (built from 1412-1419) and Green Tomb, named for the green and turquoise blue Iznik tiles that decorate them. The tomb is the final resting place of Mehmet I (d.1421).
The second claim to fame of Bursa is silk. Bursa was a city at the end of the Silk Road, the trade route from China. At some point, Christian missionaries smuggled silkworms out of China (or India, depends on the account) and started production in Anatolia. There was also production in northern Persia (Iran). You need to have the right climate to grow mulberry trees, the leaves of which the silkworms eat. Bursa has that climate as it is on the edge of a mountain range (there is a ski resort nearby).
There is no large scale silk production in Bursa today, but there are still some smaller factories. Most silk comes from China or India, where it is cheaper to produce due to lower labor costs. The silk market complex, the Koza Han, used to have people buying and selling raw silk, but now it is filled with shops selling silk scarves, neckties, and meters of silk fabric to shoppers. They sell cheap imported scarves for 5 or 10 lira ($2.50 to 5), or you can venture into the store to find the locally made goods, the good stuff. Yes, there are very expensive scarves, with fine detail or woven with gold thread. But you can also find nice, Bursa scarves for under 60 lira ($30).
The third claim to fame of Bursa is the art of shadow puppetry. We toured a puppet museum, which had marionettes as well as the shadow puppets. We then watched a performance by a gentleman who has been performing for close to 30 years. One puppeteer does all of the puppets as well as the voices and sound effects.
The two main characters are Karagöz and Hacivat – sort of a Punch & Judy combination. Watching the show, they started to remind me of Ralph Kramden and Norton from The Honeymooners. The play has a basic plot of little stories, but the performer adapts some of the lines to suit the audience. He threw in some English words since he knew that there were Americans in the audience. It was charming.
My next post (coming soon) will deal with the more touristy aspects of these towns.