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A warm welcome at Tire
2003 / February

Apollo used to amuse himself playing the lyre on Mount Tmolos (today Bozdag) overlooking the plain of the Küçük Menderes River. The god was convinced that his music was unsurpassed in beauty. But the shepherd Marsyas who played his flute while watching over his flocks on the pastures of the same mountain was also a skilled musician. One day Apollo decided that two musicians were too many for one mountain, and invited Marsyas to compete with him before a panel of adjudicators. When both musicians had finished playing and it was time to judge between them, only King Midas of Phrygia voted for Marsyas. Apollo was so angered at the king's decision that he declared him to be ignorant of music and turned his ears into those of a donkey. Then, his rage still unassuaged, he had the poor shepherd flayed alive. About two thousand years ago a sculptor portrayed Marsyas suffering the torment of this dreadful punishment. Today this statue can be seen in the modest little museum at Tire. But the ancient city of Tire was neither small nor modest.

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A warm welcome at Tire
2003 / February

The history of the city goes back to the time of the Lydians, when it was known as Tyrha, meaning castle. The city was of great importance for Lydia, because of its strategic position on the major trade route between Ephesus and Sardis. Tire first came under Turkish rule with the Aydinogullari emirate in the 13th century, followed by the Ottomans from 1426 onwards. During this period the ancient trade road from Ephesus took a new course to Izmir and Manisa after leaving Tire. Although the city has become a backwater today, such famous figures as Timur (Tamerlane), Seyh Bedreddin and Süleyman the Magnificent visited it in the past. Jews from Palestine were settled here during the time of Alexander the Great, people from Ephesus arrived under the Aydinoğullari ruler Sasa Bey, and Bektaşi mystics in the early part of the 19th century. Then during the population exchange of the 1920s, Turks from Crete settled here. These waves of new settlers combined with thriving commerce over many centuries meant that arts and crafts of many kinds flourished. Felt makers, rope makers, saddlers,

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A warm welcome at Tire
2003 / February
tinsmiths and clog makers still produce their wares by traditional methods in rows of shops in the centre of the town. The architecture and cuisine also reflect the multicultural influences of Tire's past. The traditional houses of Tire are gaily painted in colours including indigo blue, sunshine yellow, cherry red, and leaf green. These tiny houses are freshly painted every year, and as you wander through the streets you are sure to encounter someone painting their house. The town is bejewelled by no less than 41 historic mosques dating from the 15th to 18th centuries, and their minarets, each decorated differently, shape the distinctive skyline. Specialities of the Tire cuisine include meatballs and dishes of various vegetables gathered wild from the fields and hills and cooked with olive oil. Making use of wild plants of many kinds, such as nettles, endive, chicory and fennel, reflects the influence of Cretan Turks on the local cuisine. The favourite local dessert of unsalted whey cheese with black mulberry jam wins the hearts of visitors too.
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A warm welcome at Tire
2003 / February

Another surprise awaiting you is a game called karambol, similar to billiards and known nowhere else in Turkey. It is played on a concrete area measuring about 13 x 4 metres surrounded by boards 20 centimetres in height, and the players strike the balls with their fingers. No one in Tire has any idea where or when the game originated. Tuesday is market day, and the market fills almost every street of the town, recalling its past as an important commercial centre. You will not notice time passing as you explore this fascinating market, looking at the stalls filled with tempting arrays of fruits and vegetables, and locally produced goods. The market is so famous that people come here to shop from Izmir, Selçuk, Kusadasi and elsewhere in the region. When you need a rest from wandering through the market, take a seat at one of the outdoor coffee houses shaded by great plane trees and order a Turkish coffee that will refresh you immediately. The coffee houses also serve the traditional nargile or waterpipe, which outsiders might try for the sake of tradition or fashion,

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A warm welcome at Tire
2003 / February

but local people enjoy as a restful accompaniment to conversation. The people of Tire love to converse and are always ready to chat to strangers. You can learn many interesting things about the town from them, such as the fame and strength of Tire rope, which was used to haul Ottoman ships overland from the Bosphorus into the Golden Horn during the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul in the 15th century, or the fact that Ottoman coins were struck at the imperial mint located here from the 15th until the 18th century. Something you will discover neither from books about Tire nor from conversing in the coffeehouses, but rather sense if you observe the town carefully, is that it shares characteristics with each of the three successive capitals of the Ottoman Empire: It nestles in trees and greenery like Bursa, abounds in mosques like Edirne, and is built on seven hills like Istanbul.

* Ömer Kokal is a photographer and freelance writer.

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