Uşak is a rapidly expanding, modern city, a center of settlement that continues to flaunt the splendid colors of its rich, millennia-old past.
The men’s faces display noble, finely chiseled features, as if drawn by a master artist, as they sit their horses, picture-perfect Arab mares, on which they sit tall like stalwart young cypress trees. Then the muffled beat of a drum and a long drawn out whistle, and the horsemen suddenly take off, galloping full tilt ahead twirling heavy oaken sticks above their heads. Another fierce match of the ancient traditional Turkish sport of ‘jereed’ has commenced. As they dash forward like lightning, the purebred Arab horses leave a cloud of dust under their feet, and a flock of colorful birds flying up from the Banaz river heads straight for the mountain known as Murat Dağı that lies opposite.
LIKE A ‘TIME CAPSULE’
We are in Uşak. The latest model cars whiz by us along the Ankara-Izmir highway. The soft roar of diesel locomotives rises from the rail line that links Uşak with Izmir. Clearly we are in the year 2006. But when we look out across the land, we see a long, deep valley of rough crags and wild nature. In the enigmatic silence they have preserved for millennia, the famous 53-kilometer-long Ulubey canyons instantaneously transport us back two thousand years. As we cross the Clandıras Bridge over the Banaz river, we enter the period of the Lydian Kingdom that built this bridge. Later we stroll across the Çataltepe Bridge, a throwback to the Ottoman era, finding ourselves this time surrounded by janissaries on a military campaign. We seem to have landed in an invisible ‘time capsule’, now in 4000 B.C., now in 2000 A.D.
A HISTORY LONG AND RICH
We are in Uşak. All the great civilizations of antiquity passed through this city, whose history dates back to 4000 B.C. The Hittites ruled until around 2500 B.C. They were followed by the Luwians. Largely depopulated after the breakup of the Hittite kingdom, the region soon filled with Phrygians, who roiled up Anatolia on their Aegean migrations. The Lydians, history’s first ‘golden civilization’, settled here, followed by the Persians, Alexander the Great’s Macedonians, the Romans, and the Byzantines. Later the Seljuks arrived from Central Asia to settle down here. Uşak, which joined the Ottoman lands in 1429, was a township in Kütahya province during the Republican period until it became a province in its own right in 1953.
CITY OF MEDALLION CARPETS
We are in Uşak. The modern name Uşak, whose oldest known names are Temenothyrae and Flaviopolis, means ‘Land of Minstrels’ in Chagatay Turkish, but is thought to derive from the word ‘Uşşak’, meaning ‘son’ or ‘grandson’ in Arabic. As we pass through the districts of Aybey, Işık, Karaağaç and Kurtuluş in the city’s oldest area of settlement, we see houses that exude an Ottoman aura. The first storeys of these houses, which have been taken under protection by the Turkish Ministry of Culture, are made of stone, their second storeys of timber.
The houses have bay windows and gable roofs which are covered with old-fashioned brick-red tiles.
As we make our way through the narrow cobbled streets, a rhythmic beat reaches our ears. Following the sound, we enter a largish, dimly lit space. Before us stands a carpet loom and a woman weaving one of the famous Uşak carpets. Their flaming reds, caustic blues, sunny yellows and crystalline whites that seem to stretch into infinity gleam like lightning in that dusky room. These are the famous Uşak carpets, also known as ‘palace carpets’, every square meter of which boasts exactly 103 thousand knots and a selection of 500 different colors. Uşak carpets come in two varieties, the ‘star’ pattern and the ‘medallion’ pattern. And the Eşme kilims that are woven in the Uşak township of the same name are no less famous. These kilims are made with all-natural vegetable dyes whose colors rather than fading become even more brilliant with the passage of time.
THE RICHES OF CROESUS
We are in Uşak, strolling past its famous, ancient mosques. The ‘Ulu’ or Great Mosque, built in 1421 by the Germiyanid ruler Yakup Bin Süleyman, is the most illustrious of them all. Meanwhile the Burma Mosque, another historic one, was constructed in the Köme quarter in 1570. The Karaali or Kareler Mosque, which was damaged by great fires, dates to 1519. The 16th century Kurşunlu Mosque is also known as the Eybek or Büngüldek Mosque. After visiting the mosques, we proceed this time to everyone’s dream, the Treasures of Karun, better known in the West as Croesus. According to Herodotus, the Mermnads, the last dynasty of the Lydian empire, ruled the country for around 141 years. Their last king was Croesus.
The originators of the world’s first money, the Lydians within a short time became the richest country of the early ancient world, and the staggering wealth of their king inspired the expression ‘as rich as Croesus’. Known as the ‘Treasures of Karun’, a large collection of gold artifacts that were found in illegal excavations conducted in the Lydian tumuli near the village of Güre in Uşak province in 1965, 1966 and 1968 and subsequently smuggled out of the country were restored to Turkey in 1993 following a long legal struggle waged by the Ministry of Culture. These treasures, which are made of gold, silver, bronze and marble and are known to be the most magnificent examples of 6th century B.C. Lydian art, are now on exhibit in the Uşak Museum, where their millennia-old sparkle continues to dazzle visitors’ eyes even today.
CITY OF ‘FIRSTS’
Uşak is a ‘city of firsts’ in many senses. Turkey’s first silk factory, which opened towards the end of the 19th century, and Republican Turkey’s first sugar factory were located here. Uşak was also the first Anatolian town to introduce electrical lighting in 1902. And the first town in Anatolia through which the railroad passed was again Uşak.
The time has come for us to bid farewell to Uşak. But before we leave we examine the soft, woven fabrics known as sumak, zili, çeçim, hopan and tülü, which are at least as famous as its carpets, in a neighborhood market where enormous gaily colored umbrellas have been opened against the rain. We look at the Yılancıoğlu, Hacı Gedik Paşa and Deve khans and promise ourselves that on our next visit we will make time for the Aksaz, Hamamboğazı, Örencik and Emirfakıllı spas, whose praises we have heard sung but which we were unable to squeeze in on this trip. We turn now to Uşak’s culinary pleasures—its famous tarhana soup, yumurta ‘sızdırması’, bulghur with liver, ‘Arab aşı’, ‘keşkek’, ‘alacatene’ and ‘foam’ helva—and savor their tastes on our palate.