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Text: MELİH USLU Photos: ARAMİS KALAY
The town that weaves the time
With its pristine natural surroundings, handwoven textiles and unique Balkan culture, Karacakılavuz in northern Tekirdağ has left a stamp of nostalgia on the history of Thrace.
Hey, Uncle Behlül, can you tell us about the Rumelian village of Karacakılavuz? Nestled in the shadow of the Istranca Mountains with a Marmara breeze on its back, watered by the Ergene River, once inundated by refugees from Bulgaria... Can you describe for us this renowned village? Can you speak to us of the Ottoman houses, markets and squares in the long since leveled immigrant quarter where traces of habitation date back to Alexander the Great? Can you tell us what it is that keeps you here when your childhood friends are all driving the latest model cars in Istanbul and Germany? I know what you're going to say. “Is there anything left here to describe?” But I'm sure there's a lot to tell. And maybe it is for that reason that I hit the streets to lend an ear to the secrets of Karacakılavuz.
ON THE TRAIL OF A ROE DEER
Like Uncle Behlül, the denizens of the coffeehouse on the town square are quite enamored of legends. Rumor has it that a roe deer of legendary beauty once made its home here. One day foxes went in pursuit of it. The farther it ran, the faster the foxes came on its heels. And the area youth fell in behind them to rescue the roe deer with its beautiful eyes. Across hill and dale it ran, and still they followed, until they came to the spot where the town stands today. Falling in love with this place fertile with fruit and nuts where springs gurgled merrily, they decided to settle here. And ever since that day they have said, “The deer guided us to this place, let it be called 'Karacakılavuz' (literally, 'deerguide').” Legends aside, the area has a turbulent past. It was founded by immigrants from the frontier villages of Edirne (formerly Adrianople), which changed hands between Bulgaria and the Ottomans many times from the 1877 Ottoman-Russian War, also known as the War of '93, up to the Balkan Wars. An Ottoman village of 700 inhabitants in 1884, Karacakılavuz today is an immigrant town with a population of 3,500 administratively attached to Tekirdağ. Twenty-two kilometers from the nearest coast as the crow flies, it has never regretted its lack of proximity to the sea. Thirty-two kilometers north of Tekirdağ, the town, concealed in the bosom of nature, owes its beauty perhaps to its remoteness from prying eyes.
For Tekirdağ province is one of Turkey's most developed areas in terms of livestock breeding. Parallel with the town's centuries of experience in this field, it is possible to find here the freshest milk, the finest clotted cream and the tastiest cheese. Not only that, the sunflower honey is out of this world. Production of sunflower honey, which is lighter in color than regular honey produced from flowers and much tangier in taste, is the town's major source of livelihood and has undergone a rapid development in recent years.
WOMEN WEAVING TIME
Claiming no share in Tekirdağ's touristic attractions such as grilled meatballs, drinks and hors-d'oeuvres tables, and beaches, Karacakılavuz instead creates its own touristic allure. As one of Rumelia's oldest centers of textile-weaving, the town today is keeping this traditional handicraft alive with a vengeance. Famous for the richness of their motifs, Karacakılavuz textiles today safeguard a deep-rooted culture in the glimmering lights of the historic houses scattered across the green hills. The town's centuries-old houses have been in the hands of the same families from generation to generation. And like its traditional houses, the art of weaving too remains a legacy passed down from elder to younger. Since it is no longer as lucrative a branch of work as it once was, primitive hand looms have inevitably been relegated to a single room or to the cellar of the house. But the elegance distilled in the experiments of the townsfolk, who virtually weave time itself on their looms, joining it to the past with threads worked by skilled hands, is colorfully reflected in the resulting textiles. The use of sheep's wool is an ancient tradition in the spinning of the thread, which constitutes the first stage of the weaving process. The wide array of hues in the designs meanwhile reflects the harmonious use of color unique to the Balkan peoples. Courses are offered today to encourage the younger generation to take up this work here in a town that keeps the last surviving authentic handicraft of the Tekirdağ region alive in its handwoven carpets, kilims, saddlebags, prayer rugs, cushion covers and bolsters.
THE VOICES OF THE FACES
The click of the shuttle emanating from looms in the back rooms of brick houses is a customary sound at mid-day. The spirit of this place is incomprehensible unless you take a seat amidst the curious glances that fill the coffeehouse on the square and drift into long conversations over a glass of well-steeped tea. If you're prepared to listen to a succession of life stories, each one more interesting than the last, then make sure you pass by here. For Karacakılavuz, fated to send its young people into a life of exile in the big cities, has a lot to tell about a life bound by a mere thread to the olden days, lived in the splendor of fertility in the land and trade in the marketplace.