Eşkişehir

Its laid back atmosphere goes back centuries. Since the time of Yunus Emre the city has found its voice in his verses. Soft, slow, from deep down inside, almost like the sound of silence. A lyrical city like a poem, an old city like its name, Eskişehir (‘oldcity’).

Some lose their childhood, others their city. Almost as if a person is separated from his childhood in order to lose it. Losing it is perhaps the end of childhood. But occasionally a city appears that, even if you have long since left it, will never abandon you or your childhood. And it proves this to you with its largesse every time you go there. As a middle school student in Eskişehir, I dreamed of strolling along the banks of the Porsuk at Köprübaşı. Having read about festivals in other cities in Turkey’s Hayat Magazine of the time, I thought this city had a soul, a texture, eminently suited for hosting art, music and culture. That was almost 45 years ago. Later that childhood dream of mine came true. For years now a festival of music, dance, jazz, theater and cinema has been held in Eskişehir every year in late October/early November. I’m not there, but who cares!

Lyrical moments
It is a movement first observed in Bologna, the ‘slow city’ movement. Here in Turkey we too had our ‘slow’ city, without the need for any ‘movement’ at all: Eskişehir, Old City, Slow City, Quiet City. Its laid back atmosphere goes back centuries. Ever since the time of the mystic poet Yunus Emre (1238-1328), the city has found its voice in his lines, almost like the sound of silence. Later that silence was occasionally broken by the roar of jets taking off from the nearby airbase. To it was added the roar of cheers in 1965. Cheers for the local soccer team that resounded like heartbeats in this silent city. To the children’s laughter tinkling on school playgrounds were added the fresh young voices of their older brothers and sisters in the university. Voices that brought new life to the city. But always soft and slow, from down deep inside. As its name indicates, Eskişehir is an old city, a lyrical city, like a poem. Not a city even, but a neighborhood. For this degree of peace and quiet is commensurate only with a neighborhood, not a city. The neighborhood spirit, forged of people, the geographies from which they came and the language they invented to explain themselves and understand one another. A spirit that was renewed every year in the Hıdrellez spring festivals of my childhood. No one left his identity behind when he entered this city. Everyone came as he was but lives now as a native. Eskişehir today is a ‘mosaic’ city in Central Anatolia, a city modern yet modestly shrouded in tradition, a city that owes its neighborhood spirit to the enrichment of tradition with innovation. Consequently it strikes one now as a neighborhood, then as several different cities rolled into one, even a Balkan or Central European city. Like a true meeting of East and West, friendly and exuding boundless tolerance.

A river runs through it...
The river runs slowly, as do rivers through its sister cities of Sarajevo, Granada, Prague, Venice... Once plied by caiques, the Porsuk today offers Amsterdam boat cruises and Venetian gondolas. Gliding beneath magnificent bridges like those of Paris and Prague, you must take in Yalıman Island from end to end. On either side of the river you will see cafes and tea gardens crowded with families and young people, and students stretched out on the grass chatting. With its entertainment venues, Doktorlar Caddesi welcomes young people day and night. The Haller Youth Center is crammed with eating and drinking establishments, an ice-skating rink and a lovely brick theater building. Anybody familiar with the savory pastry known as Tatar Börek knows that the real thing is found here in Eskişehir having been brought here by the Crimean Tartars themselves. Meanwhile the quarter of Taşbaşı is an old market lined with shops arranged according to the Ottoman guild system: cobblers, jewelers, spice merchants, and pastry shops. Here you can also try the famous poppyseed buns that always bring back childhood memories. Besides the performances of the City Theaters and the State Opera and Ballet, you will also notice a host of intriguing sculptures as you stroll around the city. If you like, take a jaunt through Yediler Park and then stop at Aladdin Park where you can admire the splendor of the historic Ataturk Lycée with its typical Republican architecture. There, too, on the hill known as Bademlik, you can climb the slope and say like the poet, “Yesterday I looked down on you from above, dear Eskişehir,” á la Istanbul poet Yahya Kemal about his city. The Kurşunlu mosque complex will immediately catch your eye. Built in 1525, it includes a madrassa and caravanserai. And in the cemetery at Odunpazarı you will see the tomb of Şeyh Edebali, one of Eskişehir’s three universal sages who expressed all the human virtues in his advice to the early Ottoman sultans. As you make your way back down you will pass the Odunpazarı houses, and the Museum of Contemporary Glass Art will also attract your attention.

From Yunus Emre to Nasreddin Hoca
All along Yediler or the Hamamyolu you can see the city’s famous baths. At the end of this road you will find yourself at the bridge, or Köprübaşı, where you absolutely must stop in at one of the gift shops selling the city’s famous Meerschaum pipes. The City Park boasts a 350-meter artificial beach, offering summer sunbathing on the banks of the Porsuk as on the Seine in Paris. Meanwhile Musaözü Dam, Şelale, Fidanlık, Karataş, Çatacık, Hasırca forest, Kalabak Başı with its natural springs, Şoförler fountain, and Regülatör are among the city’s many picnic and recreational areas, while Kızılinler and the Sakar Ilıca with their baths and therapeutic waters are spas located outside the city. If it’s air sports you’re after, you can go to the Turkish Aeronautical Association’s Inönü Training Center 36 kilometers from the city. In the Valley of the Phrygians meanwhile prepare to be bowled over by the famous Midas Monument at the heart of this ancient Roman province. There are numerous monuments and natural geological formations here reminiscent of the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia. Among Eskişehir’s three sages, the natives never tire of praising mystic poet Yunus Emre, who came here from Sarıköy in the town known today by his name and where his grave is also located. Not only that but Nasreddin Hodja, notorious for having declared the village of Sivrihisar Hortu where he was born the ‘center of the world’, is another of Eskişehir’s amiable native sons. And the mosque complex at Seyitgazi, built in honor of Seyyid Battal Gazi, who led the Islamic armies into battle with the Byzantines in the Umayyad period, boasts a tomb and oft-visited shrine. Eskişehir also stands out for its hospitality. When the idea arose of bringing the great Turkish poet Nazım Hikmet’s remains back from Moscow, the village of Doğançayır was the first to act, opening its arms to this poet whose last wish was to rest eternally in the shade of a plane tree in Anatolia. Hikmet is remembered here every year on June 3. There are many reasons to go to Eskişehir and these are just a few of them.

WHAT TO EAT
‘Çiğbörek’ savory pastry, poppyseed buns, toyga soup with chickpeas, yoghurt and mint, and a host of other local specialties such as ‘kıygaşa’, ‘cantık’, ‘harşıl’, ‘met’ halvah, nougat halvah, okra soup, stuffed cabbage, hard candy and hot-from-the-oven simits made from Eskişehir flour and Kalabak spring water.

WHAT TO BUY
Sorkun ceramics, Alpu silver, and Meerschaum bracelets, necklaces, pipes and cigarette holders are among the items you can find in the shops at Köprübaşı and the Eskişehir railroad station.

HOW TO GET THERE
Turkish Airlines flies to and from Eskişehir daily except Thursdays and Saturdays.