Centuries old art forms and textiles. Traditional shadow puppetry and children’s games. Music, dance, Turkish coffee and ethnic food. It was a showcase of everything made in Turkey. And it was all displayed in grandeur at the inaugural Turkish Festival held at Katara the Cultural Village in Doha, Qatar this past April.
Turkey has an undisputable rich cultural heritage, particularly in music, dance, and various performing arts. Historical evidence points to the influences of several empires as the reason, in particular, the flamboyant Ottoman Empire’s legacy, but has European influences as well.
Turkish art is a combination of various forms of Turkish culture. It broadly refers to paintings, architecture, literature and other fine art forms.
Silk painting represents the synthesis of Turkey’s eastern and western cultures. Inspired by Turkish motifs, silk painting embellishes wood, marble and traditional Turkish and Ottoman motifs on silk scarves by brush with trademark Turkish colors.
Turkey is famous for its Iznik tiles, dating back some five centuries, the beautiful raw quartz found locally in Iznik. It takes about 40 days to make one tile, since they are all handmade. The process involves pounding the quartz into powder, then forming them into squares. The tiles are then heated, designed, contoured and, finally, colored. At first, blue and white were the prevailing colors in the pots and wall tiles in this category. During the 16th century, turquoise was introduced. The embossed red of the wall tiles in Istanbul’s Süleymaniye Mosque (1555) marks the peak of Ottoman tiles and ceramics, as red is very rare and difficult to colorize. Almost every Turkish mosque and palace prominently features tile works while many homes also showcase tile.
Paper marbling, an art of ornamentation, was an important branch of both art and business during the Ottoman reign, and remains popular today in Turkey. The ornamentation patterns result from specially prepared colored dyes floated on water and then carefully transferred onto paper or fabric. Methods include ink brushes and straws to fan the colors into patterns resembling smooth marble. Marbling was widely used in book covers and stationery.
Calligraphy, another visual art, utilizes a highly decorative and beautiful writing style. It was significant throughout the world and preceded typography and the printing press. Many exquisite examples were on display.
Eye dazzling jewelry and engraved handmade silver platters, taking two months from start to finish, were also showcased in the Turkish Grand Bazaar.
Similar to the Turkish culture that has become rich and influenced by several empires and their own set of practices, Turkish clothing also has a rich tradition of its own. Many interesting styles adorned a full wall.
Shadow puppetry was extensively highlighted along with an area designated for children to color puppets. Turkish children have grown up watching this unique type of puppetry, which according to display information indicates stories of Aladdin and other fairy tales. The puppets dance on sticks behind a wall of thin veil fabric. A screen and table is set up in the dark with enough light to cast shadows on the puppets. The audience can actually see the shadows, but cannot see the hand behind them.
Historically, the two lead characters of Turkey’s traditional adult shadow play puppetry are Karagoz, who symbolizes the illiterate but practical public, and Hacivat, a level-headed member of the educated class. The central theme of the plays is the contrasting interaction between the two directed toward an adult audience. Today, these humorous plays are more closely associated with Eid and are in a “toned down” form intended for children. It is unclear when the plays were first performed, but have been documented at least during the 14th to 15th centuries. What is known, however, is that the puppetry art form was being performed well before the advent of electricity.
Mehteran Band Music
We anxiously waited for the start of the musical portion of the festival that did not get underway until after 7 p.m. First up was the popular Mehteran. Just as they were getting settled onto the stage, the power tripped and all went dark. They began playing to a delighted crowd anyway.
In Ottoman, mehteran means band. Ottoman military bands are thought to be the oldest variety of military marching band in the world. Modern day military marching bands got their start after being modeled by the mehteran bands sometime in the 16th century. Today, Mehteran band music is largely ceremonial and considered by most Turks as an example of heroism and a reminder of Turkey’s historical past.
The performance was very good, and the male band wore colorful traditional robes wrapped in colorful silks and high ribbed hats that were flared at the top. The group played interesting and unfamiliar instruments. The standard instruments used are the giant timpani, which is a large hemispherical brass or copper percussion instrument with a drumhead (the flat surface of a drum that has leather stretched over it); a small kettle drum, bass drum, cymbals, zurna, a reed-type wind instrument; a kind of trumpet and the cevgen, a type of stick bearing small concealed bells.
Turkish Dance and Music
Another important and inseparable part of the rich Turkish heritage is dance, which consists of several forms.
The Folklore Dance Ensemble performed later in the evening, and unfortunately, we were unable to stay for it. (Photo is courtesy of the local newspaper.) Reportedly, this group performs in colorful authentic national dress based on their region in Turkey playing folk instruments with a goal to preserve folk culture in a pure form so generations may appreciate and become familiar with this tradition. A hallmark of Turkish dance performances is their variety and “immaculate choreography”. These dances feature a variety of tempos, such as very slow and then very fast.
Turkish music is divided into two major groups: classical and folk. Classical is actually the Ottoman music that is associated with the higher society that has developed through centuries. Military music is a form of classical music.
The Turkish World’s Music Ensemble concert was a third musical offering of the evening, which we also missed. These musicians played music from all seven districts of Turkey, and newspaper reviews reported that there were costume changes with every region and their moves and choreography showed almost no repetition.
Although it was disappointing that the two music ensembles didn’t start until very late in the evening, overall, the entire Turkish Festival was a wonderful time and the enthusiastic crowds in obvious agreement.