ARTICLE: RIFAT YILDIRIM
Song Of The Steppe
Talas, which hosted the World Paragliding Championship last year, offers visitors beauties of nature and history in the heart of Anatolia.
Ali Dağı is a mountain in the foothills of Erciyes, one of the most majestic peaks of the Anatolian steppe. And when you let your eyes wander slowly down from its steep slopes a very charming settlement will suddenly appear before you. Its name, Talas. Talas, meaning ‘steppes with clean and beautiful air’ and used in the sense of ‘city’ in Mahmud of Kashgar’s famous 11th century Turkish dictionary, the ‘Divanü Lugati’t-Türk’, was the name given to their homeland by the Turks, who made a stop here following their arduous journey from Central Asia and had no intention of going any farther. There are however a large number of monuments in the region indicating that settlements belonging to a variety of civilizations actually date back much further. Perhaps people were smitten by its natural beauty, perhaps by its pure air or water, but the fact is that Talas has been a homeland for numerous communities since the earliest times.
TRACES OF ALI SAIB PASHA
Drawings found on the walls of caves in Derevenk Valley in the southeast of the township and the underground cities, some of which have been opened to visitors while others continue to preserve their mystery in the depths of the earth, are proof of a history dating back to 1500 BC. Following the battle of Malazgirt in 1071, the Turks became the latest rulers of this region, which had earlier been a Persian satrapy, Mazaca, under Cyrus before falling under the hegemony first of Alexander’s great empire and then under the Romans as Caesarea Mazaca. Although there are no vestiges of the Seljuk period apparent at Talas, which thereby came under the influence of a new civilization, evidence of the Ottoman Empire is quite marked, a phenomenon in which Ali Saib Pasha, who was born in Talas and rose to high offices in the empire, including that of serasker or commander-in-chief, clearly played a key role. The mosque named for this Pasha, who was known as a good soldier and an honest administrator, is one of Talas’ most significant cultural legacies. The construction date is recorded as 1886 in the inscription on the mosque, which also bears the coat of arms of the Ottoman army on its door.
A bath and fountain also bearing his name and dating to the same period indicate what an important personage Ali Saib Pasha, whose tomb at Istanbul is adjacent to the türbe of Sultan Mahmud Han, has been for Talas.
AN OTTOMAN STREET IS BORN
Another important historic structure in the township is the Harman Mosque, which bears an inscription dated 1860 on its upper portion as well as the tughra of Sultan Abdülmecid. This mosque, constructed on a square plan along a north-south axis, is built of cut stone. It is not at all surprising for Talas, which has embraced so many different civilizations and culture over the centuries, that the names of the prophets of several different religions appear around the rim of the dome of this mosque, which is situated on a square of the same name.
In all probability this gesture was made during one of the repairs to the mosque in earlier periods as a reminder of the contributions of people of different religions.
Another of Talas’ important cultural legacies are its traditional houses. Displaying the matchless stone workmanship of the region, which was a major commercial center until the end of the 19th century, these houses are famous for their windows and door knockers and the doors themselves, which were decorated in a variety of motifs. But functionalism takes precedence in these dwellings, which reflect the aesthetic values of the past in all their beauty. Wells sunk at the entrances to the houses in periods before water distribution systems existed are a clear indication of the high degree of comfort their inhabitants enjoyed.
Now the municipality has rolled up its sleeves to preserve Talas’ houses, which continue to be used today, transmitting vestiges of the past into the present. The Kiçiköy quarter, where the mosque and fountain are located, has even come under protection by the Talas Municipality. Meanwhile the houses, which exhibit the inevitable signs of ageing, are undergoing restoration one by one. And as they are restored, an authentic Ottoman street is beginning to take shape and gradually evince an authentic historic atmosphere. Some sites are even being nationalized within in the scope of a project approved by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The Okutan Mansion, for example, which is thought to be 500 years old, is being turned into a culture center which will house a cinema, a theater and an Ottoman-style coffeehouse. The city, which harbors within it rich examples of the local architecture, is hoping to acquire new vitality when the Talas Municipality’s street rehabilitation and restoration project is completed.
AN INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION
Regarded as one of the most popular resort areas in Kayseri, one of Anatolia’s provinces undergoing the most rapid economic and social development, Talas is also a candidate for becoming a leading center of nature sports. At an altitude of 1700 meters, Ali Dağı and its environs, which combine an unmatched landscape with a taste of sport, is one of Turkey’s most sought-after venues for trekking and paragliding. Talas, which last year hosted the World Paragliding Championship in which 120 sportsmen from 27 countries participated, has also become a focus of international interest, and a large number of sports enthusiasts from both Turkey and abroad are knocking on Talas’ door today. The star of this charming settlement in Cappadocia, the Land of Beautiful Horses, is definitely in the ascendancy. Whether you prefer to enjoy sunset on the steppe or make an enchanting tour into the depths of history, take the road to Talas if you want swoop like a bird on a hang glider from the slopes of Ali Dağı. You won’t regret it.