ARTICLE - PHOTO: YELDA BALER
The Bazaars Of The East
With their myriad sounds, colors and smells, the markets of the East immediately draw you in, taking you on a journey deep into the past.
Markets are life itself in the cities of the East that lie between Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean. And the trade routes that pass through these cities at the intersection of the roads running east, west and north from the Mediterranean have determined the history of the region’s civilization and its cultural development. Their markets and bazaars are where one experiences the colorful and bustling life of the cities of the East in particular, with their unique historical identities, their architecture, their traditions, their craftsmen and shopkeepers.
The pounding of hammers lures you in to the narrow lanes of the coppersmiths’ market in Gaziantep. The sharp smell of the tin and the designs that materialize on a copper tray at each blow of the hammer stick in the memory... What stories could the long-handled pot for making bitter Turkish coffee (mırra), or the old bowl with a seal standing on the shelves, tell if you only had time to listen? When you’ve had your fill of the coppersmiths, be sure to visit the mother-of-pearl workshops. Learn all the secrets of the trade as you watch the skilled hands of the master craftsmen producing mother-of-pearl inlay. The coppersmiths’ market is followed in turn by the saddlers, the makers of wooden bath clogs, the makers of wooden pails for oil and yoghurt, and the makers of rawhide sandals. Who knows what stories Hayri Usta has concealed in these traditional flat-heeled shoes that are piled high to the ceiling of his shop? Who can fail to be moved by the scars that score the calloused hands of Cevdet Eldemir, who weaves the coarse cotton cloth known as ‘kutnu’ in one of the large commercial buildings known as khans. Even a lifetime would not suffice for pausing to chat with every master craftsman here. When you’ve made your way through all the khans and go downstairs, you will come to the spice merchants’ market, and the cheesemakers. And this time your head will spin with the pungent scent of the spices. The Tahmis coffeehouse is one of the most delightful venues in the Gaziantep bazaar. When you’ve ordered your ‘Menengiç’ coffee and have started puffing on your hookah, it’s time to sit back and listen to the story of coffee. Just taking a seat in a corner of this coffeehouse, which was built in 1640 during the reign of Sultan Murad IV, and breathing its air is enough to transport a person back into the recesses of time. And since you’ve come this far, don’t forget to see the Tekke Mosque, built in 1638, which stands adjacent to the coffeehouse.
LIKE A FAIRY TALE: THE URFA BAZAAR
When you come to Diyarbakır’s Sipahi Bazaar, you may have the illusion that you are strolling through a marketplace left from centuries ago as you observe the feltmakers, clogmakers and saddlers at work. Diyarbakır, which was one of the cities on the historic Silk Road, is famous for its khans bearing traces of the past. The Çiftehan, Yeni Han, Deliller Hanı and Hasan Paşa Hanı are must-sees, khans where you will encounter weavers of carpets and kilims and the hands of masters deftly tooling silver, now just as in the old days. As you proceed to the Mardin gate, you will come to the cheesemakers’ market. The scent of the Euphrates will accompany the aroma of the coffee you sip at the coffeehouse by the bazaar entrance or in the courtyard of the caravanserai that has been converted into a hotel.
But among the markets of the East, it is the Urfa bazaar that surpasses them all as a place of haunting, fairy-tale beauty. The historic buildings and khans that appear before you as you stroll through the streets of this market, the artisans themselves and all the items sold here are spellbinding in the rays of sunlight slanting down from above. This market has eight covered bazaars and one underground bazaar. The silk textiles and embroidered fabrics and shawls will surround you with their colors and the herbalists’ market with its scents at the Kazzaz Bazaar, which was built in 1562. Besides the beating of the hammers in the cauldronmakers’ bazaar, the glow of the fire for melting iron in the ironsmiths’ bazaar, and the rugs and kilims of the carpetmakers’ bazaar, one of the most fascinating places here is the pigeon bazaar. You can see the most beautiful pigeons in the world here, where hard bargaining takes place in the early morning hours. When you come to the Urfa bazaar, don’t miss the auction. In most of the markets it is unfortunately impossible to find as many artisans practicing their trades as there were in the past. The bazaars of the upholsterers, the cotton merchants, the cloth merchants, the tinsmiths and the butchers, the tobacco bazaar, the Hüsniye Bazaars, and the Kavafhanı Bazaar are other must-see places in the Urfa bazaar. These markets surround the Gümrük Khan, one of the most impressive buildings not only in Urfa but, to my mind, in the entire East. The Urfa natives who sit on low stools and play checkers or dominoes under the mulberry trees and the century-old plane tree in this 500-year-old khan will cling in your memory as one tiny aspect of the magic that permeates this space. And as you sip a glass of tea here, the calloused hands that hold the dominoes, the aged eyes that strain to see them on the ground and the expressions on the old men’s faces as they pursue the game will be among the unforgettable memories you take away
BRINGING THE PAST TO THE PRESENT
When you leave the narrow lanes of Mardin, where poetry is written on stone, and turn to the marketplace, you’ll be inspired with poetry yourself. If you start from the Sokulbakar Bazaar and continue on to the Great Mosque passing the Bezzazlar, stovemakers’ and butchers’ markets on the way, you will come to the brokers bazaar, the boilermakers’ bazaar, and, my favorite of all, the coppersmiths’ bazaar. Passing by the saddlers, the clogmakers and the wood carvers, be sure to stop when you see the hoary old man with a long beard pounding copper. Notice what pleasure he takes in his work. You won’t be able to resist stopping to chat with him. As he tells you about himself, he will also describe the pictures of the ‘Şahmeran’ (a legendary serpent-queen who lived underground) under glass that his grandson Yusuf makes in a nearby shop. Like his grandfather, you too will be fired with Yusuf’s infectious enthusiasm. You will know that this 15-year-old youth is going to preserve the history of the city and region where he lives, its culture and the traces of its past for years to come, becoming a true chip off the old block. You can spend hours as well in the antique shops along the main avenue through the city. If you want to see how the old filigree that you will find here was made, just step into one of the workshops to see what happens to the grains of silver that dance before the fire and how the fine silver wires are bent into shape. As you stroll through the markets of the East, you are going to meet wonderful people who are struggling to keep alive the crafts they learned from their masters or fathers. Wonderful people who are transmitting the past to the future with every beat of the hammer, every carpet knot cast, and every Turkish coffee pot set to boil on the brazier.