A City Calling Out From On High

With its rich array of historical, architectural and cultural treasures, Erzurum is a city currently engaged in the pleasant task of renewing itself.

Undertaking the most important investment initiative in its history, the city is emerging onto the international scene. When I recalled at approximately 2,000 meters the last time I had been here, I realized quite a number of years had passed in the interval. Eight to be exact. The most salient difference between Erzurum natives who still live here and those who have scattered hither and yon must be that the latter more keenly sense the transformation.

Although the Erzurum described by novelist Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar has disappeared without a trace, when I asked the driver of the taxi I hailed in my haste to seek out the old Erzurum of the historic skyline, he said, “Sir, these historic sites have risen in value in the last five or six years. Had we known they were going to appreciate so, would we ever have laid a hand them?”. And that was enough to give me some idea about the city’s historic texture. This city, perched so high that when you raise your hand you can almost touch the clouds, is currently engaged in feverish preparations for the 2011 Winter Olympics.

BOTH SELJUK AND OTTOMAN
Rebuilt at the founding of the Republic, Erzurum is now attempting to reconstruct its historic texture in a quest for the old days. Let alone the impression I formed of the graveyard of the Habib Baba Mausoleum and the changing faces of the small businesses around it, I realized while seeking the Habib Baba of my childhood that the architectural and historic texture has succumbed to the winds of change and renewal. The Yakutiye Madrasa, which is being taken over for use as the Museum of Ethnography and Turkish-Islamic Art through restoration and environmental planning, has lost none of its centuries-old glory and splendor. Immediately beyond it, the Tree of Life emblazoned at the left and right of the main portal of the Çifte Minareli Madrasa is known to Erzurum natives both here and in the diaspora to encompass the city’s oldest quarters of Sultan Melik and İbrahim Paşa.

But again along the same strip, and contrary to the popular view that the Seljuks in particular invested here whereas the Ottomans built little, this thoroughfare boasts a number of Ottoman period mosques and hamams. Consider just the first few that spring to mind: Murat Paşa Mosque, Lala Paşa Mosque, Caferiye Mosque, İbrahim Paşa Mosque. Along this same axis, Erzurum Castle was first repaired by Suleyman the Magnificent and again by Sultan Mahmud. Unfortunately, the castle suffered serious damage during the Russian occupation of World War I.
 
A CITY NURTURED BY TRADE
The Ottomans’ intimacy with Erzurum was due in no small part to trade and the resulting income derived through Tabriz. A major customs entry point in the Ottoman period, Erzurum earned its name in history as a vital commercial capital. As İbrahim Hakkı Konyalı points out in his ‘History of Erzurum’, we know that livestock and leather products were exported from here to many different destinations. And it is Tanpınar again who discloses the secrets of Erzurum’s vital fabric in his chapters on saddlers and tanners.

The splendor of its architecture impresses visitors to Erzurum, and much of that impact is due to the Ulu Cami or Great Mosque. Although the actual name of this mosque, built in the period of the Saltukids, is Atabey Mosque, it is known in common parlance as the Great Mosque owing to its sheer splendor and size. With its quintessential ‘kırlangıç’ dome inspired by the shape of the swallow’s nest, the Great Mosque exhibits all the hallmarks of the regional architecture.

One of the most important indicators of a city’s level of civilization is, without a doubt, its water and water supply system. Erzurum in this sense is a city with the potential to meet any challenge. With the hamams (baths) and fountains located all over the city, each with its own distinctive taste, Erzurum has a serious claim to being a ‘city of water’ with the climate to back it up. Kırkçeşme Hamam, Murat Paşa Hamam, Gümrük Hamam with its nearby mosque and han, Şabakhame Fountain and Dabakhane Fountain are some that immediately leap to mind. On the subject of water and civilization, another related concept is the famous Erzurum Sazlık (Marsh), once a habitat for myriad living creatures.

As old-timers will remember, the Erzurum Marsh is gone today, having been drained in fear of epidemic disease and in a rush to acquire arable land. Changing geography, changing human needs, and modernism’s destructive attitude towards all things human appear to be a significant problem for Erzurum and its inhabitants today. But the erudition and humor the city’s residents have developed in the face of life’s vicissitudes persist with undiminished enthusiasm. Boasting scholars and wits like the poet Nefi, Naim Hoca, the wrestler Teyyo Pehlivan, and Gömlekçi Hatem Usta the shirtmaker, Erzurum has also produced its share of artists and scholars, such as İbrahim Hakkı Hazretleri, Avlarlı Efe, Ömer Nasuhi Bimen, Boyacı İsmail Usta and Solakzade Sadık Efendi, as well as great statesmen like Sadrazam Mehmet Said Paşa and Hüseyn Avni Ulaş, who have shaped Turkish history. Even today, with its contributions to the national government, its university and its position in the world of science and scholarship, Erzurum fills an important need in the country.

THE HEART OF THE HINTERLAND AND BEYOND
Owing to its geographical location, Erzurum has always been of strategic importance, an importance that is evident all over the city. The gates for which the city’s various districts are named - Tabriz Gate, Georgia Gate, Istanbul Gate, for example, all representing its windows on the outside world - are just another indication of the remote realms to which Erzurum’s reach extended. East of the west and west of the east, Erzurum today is busy redefining itself by discovering its own historical and cultural values. And it would not be wrong to say that this process of redefinition is going to be a vehicle for new works, new values and new personalities.

THE COUNTDOWN TO THE UNIVERSIADE BEGINS

The Eyes Of The World Are Going To Be On Erzurum Between January 27 And February 6 When Close To 3,000 Athletes And Officials From 57 Countries Will Participate In The 25th World University Winter Games.

Last things first: The job done at Erzurum for the 2011 Universiade is nothing short of extraordinary. The facilities are ready, the athletes are ready, and Erzurum has been ready since the day before yesterday. You can feel the excitement the minute you set foot in the city, every inch of which is decked with Universiade posters.

There’s a smile on every face. Almost everyone you talk with believes the Erzurum 2011 Winter Games are a step in the direction of even bigger events. They would like to see the city host the winter Olympics in a few years’ time. As for the athletes, they are continuing to train. Turkey, which is entering the competitions in a total of 11 categories, aims to use its host-country status to advantage to collect medals.

TOWARDS AN OLYMPIC CITY
Erzurum is poised to be an Olympic city, not just in heart and mind but with facilities to boot. The 2011 Erzurum Winter Games are going to be held at venues scattered around the city. A pair of facilities by the name of Konaklı and Kandilli have already been added at the Palandöken Snow Sports Center, which was built at a cost of 45 million Turkish Liras. The pistes at the Konaklı Alp Ski Facilities 17 kilometers from the city center total 80 kilometers in length, while the Kandilli Facilities to the west of the city have world standard pistes for cross-country, Nordic combined, and biathlon racing.

There are also artificial snow centers at the facilities, which boast such conveniences as emergency search and rescue, a health center and a ski school, thanks to which the snow season, which lasts until April in Erzurum, can be extended for an extra month. Meanwhile, with two towers and three ramps, the Kiremitliktepe Ski Jumping Facilities are unique in Turkey. Boasting indoor services such as a conditioning salon, a restaurant and an internet room, these facilities also offer the world’s first ski-jumping towers in a city center. Not to mention a total of five indoor ice rinks built from scratch. According to Fatih Çintimar, Director of Construction for Unıversiade 2011, the latest technology has been used at all the venues. The 3,000-seat ice hockey stadium, for example, has everything from a conference hall to a sauna. And the 2,000-seat ice skating rink is on Ebu İshak Avenue right in the town of Palandöken.

The curling rink, which can accommodate a thousand spectators, boasts a total of five sheets. What’s more, two different halls that can be used as multipurpose ice rinks can host up to 500 guests each. Cemal Gürsel Stadium, where the opening and closing ceremonies will take place, has been revamped from head to foot. In addition to a hotel capacity of 3,700 persons, additional lodging for athletes and officials has also been arranged. The 8,000-bed Games Village on the campus of Ataturk University offers a restaurant and media center as well as sports and training areas. In short, Erzurum is ready for the 2011 Winter Games and invites you to join in the excitement. Let’s go!