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Kakopetria Village: Beauty, Serenity and Tragedy

Kakopetria (Greek for place of stones) is one of those villages brimming with history and begging to be explored.

view-of-streets

Nestled into the side of the Troodos Mountain some 2200 feet high and surrounded by thick forest, Kakopetria is the highest village in the Solea Valley. The Troodos Mountain was formed from an explosion of a volcano in the area. When the lava stopped, it became solid.looking-toward-sea-from-Kakopetria

The higher our tour bus crept hugging the heavily vegetated roadside, the more I felt I was shifting further into the center of the earth. It’s difficult to describe the beauty and serenity – and, of course, photos never do justice – but try to imagine the lush green vegetation popping in and out of a forest of pine trees, majestic oaks and even wild olive trees. Hillside terracing spotlights various fruit-bearing trees, such as apple, pear, plum, cherry, apricot and fig that the villagers grow and cultivate.

waterfall-in-KakopetriaA gentle waterfall spilling into the basin within the old village offers melodic serenity and natural beauty. The village was built on the banks of two rivers, which join in the center of the 1500-inhabitant 14th Century village. A hike to the top of the village provides the most beautiful vista of the surrounding landscape as far as one can see. In fact, on a clear day the sea is visible off in the distance.

The entire village is under the protection of the Department of Antiquities requiring special permission if homeowners want to change the exterior appearance of their home. The village’s uniqueness are the narrow crooked lanes mostly impassable by car, and the distinct home construction. The lower portions are constructed with stones while the upper part with clay, mud and bricks. The houses all have tiled roofs and wooden balconies. I found the architecture very appealing.cool-architecture

Almost half way up the steep main street, we came upon the nondescript Church of the Transfiguration. We spent a few minutes inside the small church lighting a candle and snapping a few photos of the interior. I was surprised that even in this tiny remote village, the Greek Orthodox Church also boasted an impressive interior of iconostases. The elderly nun inside knew no English making it impossible to learn anything about the church.church-in-Kokopetria

Back out on the slippery and uneven stone-cobbled road, we walked past numerous winding side lanes the width of a bicycle path and not much more. I can imagine how easily it would be to get turned around if you were trying to find someone’s home. Fortunately for one enterprising homeowner, visitors searching for Irene’s house have a sign indicating the way. Lush green foliage and multi-hued flowers dotted the lanes and flower boxes adding color to the mostly shaded homes. Homeowners lucky enough to have room for a carport utilized the space to grow their own grapes.Irene's-house

There is another reason why this charming village has gained notoriety. Anchored at the start of the climb upward to the residential area is the famous Stone of the Couple. Following an ancient pagan custom of honoring Aphrodite, the goddess of love, newlyweds performed a ceremony by walking around the stone and making a wish. One couple was crushed to death when they lost their footing and tumbled down the rocky incline. From then on, the rock became known as the Stone of the Couple, although locals often refer to it as the Bad Stone. Even today a few couples honor the custom. Eleni, our tour guide, explained that many Cypriots continued to practice pagan customs after the advent of Christianity as many of these practices were deeply rooted in Greek mythology.stone-of-the-couple

Kakopetria is a popular summer and winter resort since its location offers visitors a respite from the sun-scorched temperatures of the large cities, most notably Nicosia, Cyprus’ largest city, an hour or so drive down the mountain. In the wintertime, the mountains are snow-laden offering outdoor activities popular with Cypriots. On weekends, people flock to the village and its handful of hotels are fully booked.

Wandering the narrow lanes and catching glimpses of older Kakopetrians in their windows and doorways smiling as we passed was an enjoyable reconnection with simplicity.

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Larnaca Fort: Cannons, Tombstones and Gallows… Once Upon a Time

After a steady diet of Greek mythology and archaeological ruins, touring the small somewhat restored Larnaca Fort in Larnaca, Cyprus was a nice diversion.

Located a few blocks from our hotel on the southern edge of the coastal corniche road, the fort is classified as a Byzantine structure, but there are two drastically different versions of when it was constructed. It is generally agreed upon, however, that the fort’s purpose was to defend the southern coasts of Cyprus, and in particular, Larnaca’s town harbor, and was later used as a prison, artillery center and an outpost.Larnaca-fort inside-Larnaca-fort

Since it is unclear as to when exactly it was built, most historians accept the late 12th century theory as the initial period given the fact that Larnaca gained great importance as a seaport during the medieval ages. Written accounts add credence to the claim that the fort was built during the reign (1382-1398) of King James 1 of Cyprus. The form of the entrance arch suggests a 14th century date.

fort-layout-diagramIts original shape was never decisively determined, but the fort appears to have taken the form of a square tower, and based on restoration of a monument, the foundations of an earlier phase were discovered indicating that the original fort was larger than the current structure. Documentation exists to support the evidence that it was rebuilt in 1625 during the Ottoman period.

Today, located in the center of the stone-walled fort is a small, nicely landscaped courtyard. Its north-facing entrance consists of a two-story building, now a museum, and is believed to have been from the Ottoman period. This is based on the Turkish inscription above the main entrance. The courtyard is currently used for cultural events, and the day we visited a stage was in place along with about 50 chairs in anticipation of a final concert of the season.

A sign on the grounds explains that the fort was ransacked, destroyed and rebuilt several times “since it was at the center of conflicting economic interests, which had to do mainly with the export of salt from the port of Larnaca.”

According to the fort brochure, famous explorer Abbot Giovanni Mariti, who lived in Larnaca during the first half of the 18th century, records that “the fort was built by the Ottoman Turks, but was already in a semi-ruinous state at the time, even though a garrison was still maintained here.” The abbot also wrote that the fort was mainly used as a firing-gun salute to passing Christian warships.4-medieval-cannons

By the late 18th century, Larnaca Fort lost its importance and the Turks abandoned it. Apparently the next written documentation comes during World War 1 when the Germans occupied the fort from 1914-1918 using it as a military outpost. At the end of the war, the British retook it and converted it into a prison where a gallows was installed to execute prisoners. The last execution was held in 1945. In 1948, the fort was converted to the current archaeological museum, but not opened to the public until 1969. The installations of the gallows were discovered during conservation and restoration works, but a date was not given as to when that discovery was made.

gallows-photoA sign above the gallows states that relatives and friends of the condemned were allowed to watch the execution from the courtyard, but far enough away, where they could not hear the sound of the trapdoor opening. Looking down the steep ladder to the deep hole of the former gallows was certainly an eerie feeling.

Highlights of the fort include a number of cannons on display in the courtyard – some dating to the medieval ages – and a room of tombstones dating from the 14th Century that are mainly from gothic churches of Nicosia, a town about 20 miles away. A second room featured various inscriptions carved into stone on the walls in various languages. Yet another room that faced the sea had a cave where numerous tombstones were originally uncovered.

As I clambered up some metal stairs to the two-room museum on the second level, a quick view of the calm blue sea beyond the old stone wall reflected the medieval character of the fort. Ducking inside the old door, I discovered displays of pottery, including crude utensils and dishware the soldiers used, along with photos from Early Christian churches (4-7th Century AD), Byzantine mosaics of the Early Christian period (same centuries as above), and Byzantine and Medieval Cyprus monuments from the 4-16th Centuries AD. A second room portrayed wall paintings of Cypriot Byzantine dating from the 11-16th Century AD.utesils-used-at-fort

No graceful architecture or any furnishings, for that matter, provided any hints of how comfortable or crude the fort must have been. Based on its size and the display of common household pottery discovered on site, this barren structure must have been sparsely furnished and somewhat lonely; probably not conducive to a “home away from home” for its occupants.

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Ancient Agora: Shock and Awe

Ancient provides a pretty broad frame of reference provided you can get your head around it. The shock of the importance and awe of the Ancient Agora site solidifies its place in Greek history. Now a field of humble ruins for the most part, this heart of the ancient city of Athens continues to tell its story all these centuries later.

The Ancient Agora was the center of Athenian democracy for more than 800 years. It was here that the most important administrative and judicial functions and political assemblies took place. Speeches were given, political announcements made, and a place for demonstrators to gather. Close your eyes and envision the chaotic scene.

Ancient-Agora-mapThe Agora, meaning ‘to assemble’ or ‘to gather’, was a 10-acre rectangle on the northwest slope of the Acropolis, home to social and religious activities, and featured a bustling marketplace – can you hear the sellers hawking their wares to the crowds? It also hosted theatrical performances under the stars, and was the site of numerous athletic competitions. Excavations show the area has been continuously inhabited since the Neolithic Period (3,000 BC). Now that’s ancient!

Archaic Period – 700-480 BC
The Archaic Period – much younger than the ancient period – and onwards is the timeline in which the Ancient Agora expanded and developed with more public buildings, temples to the gods, fountains, statues and tree-lined boulevards. Stoas were an important architectural element of most main buildings. These covered walkways provided shoppers and ruling officials protection from the sun and rain and offered much welcomed shade. The massive columns holding up the stoas were perfect for leaning against to rest a bit or maybe even engage in some good old-fashioned gossiping.inside-stoa

With the establishment of a democratic government and reforms in 508/507 BC, extensive building began in earnest. The Agora’s first and main buildings included the erection of the Old Bouleuterion (council chambers) the Royal Stoa (seat of the ruler), and the well-preserved Painted Stoa (Temple of Hephaestus) on a hill overlooking the ancient Agora grounds. The Agora, however, would reach its peak during the first two centuries after Christ.

The Ancient Agora was repeatedly destroyed and pillaged throughout its history. Its persecutors included: the Persians (480 BC), the Romans under Sulla (86 BC), the Herulians (267 AD) and the Slavs (580 AD). In the tenth century AD, following a long period of desertion, a Byzantine neighborhood formed in the Agora area, and the small Church of the Holy Apostles – which is charming and quaint – was built.commercial-street

Invaders again destroyed the area in 1204 AD as well as in 1826-27 during the Greek War of Independence. By the late 19th century, the Agora was buried under the new city of Athens. Site excavation began in the 19th century and continues today.

Attalus Stoa
The long Attalus Stoa is now a museum filled with excavations from the Agora. The most important exhibits are connected with the functions of Athenian democracy, which date back to the Classical (8th century BC) and Late Classical periods (300-600 AD).long-stoa

Because the museum presents the daily life of its citizens, many of its findings on display were discovered in houses and shops of the Agora, as well as in tombs because part of the area was an early cemetery. Figurines, coins, lamps, everyday cookware and utensils, and inscriptions to and sculptures of various gods are also exhibited.

Also unearthed and displayed are clay-created public measures, official bronze weights, part of a marble ballot box, jurors’ ballots, a clay water clock used for timing speeches, important inscriptions denouncing tyranny, and names of ancient politicians etched in stone and marble.ballot-box-from-ancient-Agora

Central Area
In the marketplace center was the Odeon of Agrippa, constructed in 15 BC, and used for musical performances. Later on, lectures were delivered from it as well, including teachings of St. Paul. It was destroyed in 267 AD and rebuilt as a gymnasium. Not only did the new space feature athletic competitions, but also educational forums as well as entertainment venues.

Imagine the monuments and temples springing up on all four sides of the agora hemming in the bustling square. Sprinkled with temples and altars among trees, statues and fountains, Athenians had ample Emperor-Hadrian-statueopportunity to make an offering to their gods before going about their daily business. They met their friends here, did their shopping, listened to discussions with revered philosophers, took in plays and concerts, and probably enjoyed a goblet or two of sweet red wine in a nearby tavern. Imagine being one of these social magnets! The Agora was not simply for the wealthy or strictly for men; on the contrary, middle class and even lower middle class men and women routinely gathered here.

Church of the Holy Apostles
One of the most “modern” structures is the charming little Church of the Holy Apostles. It was constructed around 1000 AD on the ruins of an ancient temple atop a sacred spring, and commemorates St. Paul’s teaching in the Agora.

This church became the prototype for later Athenian – and Cypriot – churches in that the floor plan consists of four equal arms topped by a single dome and featuring tall horseshoe-shaped window arches. Bricks creating Kufic calligraphy script, popular in Muslim mosques, encircle the church’s eaves. Over the years, 17th century Byzantine-style frescoes have been uncovered, and though badly faded, have been restored as best they can to their original state. At the top of the dome is a painted icon of Jesus, which appears in every Greek Orthodox church.church frescoes

Temple of Hephaestus
Perched on the top of Agoraios Kolonos Hill and overlooking the Ancient Agora is the Temple of Hephaestus, in all its grandeur, also known as the Theseion.

It is a smaller version of the famed Parthenon; built between 460 and 415 BC (during the reign of Pericles and prior to the Parthenon) with the same pentelic marble and the same 13 columns on its long side and six on its narrow side. According to the sign at its base, an unknown architect designed the temple.

Temple-of-HephIts relief sculptures depict the feats of Greek Mythology heroes Heracles (Hercules) and Theseus (son of Poseidon) along with other stories.

Following decades of wars and destruction, the temple was one of a handful that still had a roof. During the early years of Christianity (7th century), the temple was converted into the Church of Saint George. During the Ottoman rule, the Turks allowed the church to remain open but permitted services only once each year – on St. George’s Day. Sometime after 1821, the temple was used as a museum; the first national archaeological museum of modern Greece, until the 1930s.

If walls could talk, think of the stories and secrets this grand temple could tell.

temple-statuesAgora’s Legacy
To an extent, history repeats itself, but not necessarily in the same form. Now that the Ancient Agora for the most part is no longer, other areas of Athens have become hallmark locations of what once was the case for the Agora. For example, people shop at the Central Market now for their fresh fruits and vegetables; modern malls for clothing; Syntagma Square is the government center of Athens; the light rail has replaced the Panathenaic Way, the main street of Athens that led from the Ancient Agora up to the Acropolis; and Monastiraki Square is the new hub of social life for modern day Athenians.

It’s a shame the Ancient Agora site is not better preserved, as the scattered ruins do not do its storied history and importance justice. Then again, consider what ‘ancient’ takes into account, and the awe value quickly returns.

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The Ancient City of Salamis, Cyprus Lives On Through Myth and Culture

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Being buried beneath sand for more than a thousand years saved Salamis from destruction. The ancient city originates back to 1100 BC – after the Trojan War – when Salamis was the capital of Cyprus. Coins discovered from the Middle Ages around the city’s basilica indicate there were still inhabitants living in the ruins up to around 1300 AD.

Due to Salamis’ location along the sea, it became an important trading center once the “dark ages” of the Mediterranean world came to an end around the eight century BC. In 648 AD after yet another Arab raid, the remaining inhabitants had had enough and finally moved to what would become Famagusta.

The Salamis archaeological site is regarded as the island’s most spectacular; not only because of the extensive ruins, but also because of its extremely well-preserved state.

Ancient ruins in Europe were considered “free-for-all quarries” for builders of medieval castles. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that various governments began forming antiquities departments and banned site looting. Therefore, Salamis was not immune from the looting of statues, marble columns and pre-cut stones.

According to historical accounts, the city was built and destroyed several times due to earthquakes. The ruins evident today are mostly of the Roman time.

Three major areas of the Salamis archaeological site uncovered consist of the gymnasium, theater and baths. On the other side of town are ruins of houses, the basilica and temple of Zeus, all of which encompass a large area and are still being studied. Excavation stopped in 1974.

Gymnasium
Salamis-gymnasiumThis public structure – built during the first century BC – is where young Greek men gathered for physical workouts and cultural training. “Every year one person from the town was elected to financially support the gymnasium and provide the athletes with olive oil,” Elani, our tour guide, explained to us.

Before the games, the athletes would slather their bodies with olive oil. The popular games then took place in the large gymnasium, an open courtyard surrounded by column arcades.

Two swimming pools occupied the two ends of the eastern colonnade just prior to the bath area.

A marble inscription on the floor leading to the Gymnasium is dedicated to Ptoleme V Epiphanes who ruled from 205-180 BC.Marble-floor-inscription

Baths
I found the bath area the most interesting part of the ruins, and this area has still not been fully excavated. The Roman baths were customarily located near the gymnasium, just as they are at Salamis. Here we visited four large rooms known as the frigidaria (cold room), tepidarium, caldarium (hot water baths) and sutatorium (sweating rooms).

People gathered in the first bath entry room to socialize and conduct business deals – a type of meeting place – while the second room was strictly for washing and bathing.

The first bath room – the frigidarium – was the room with cold water. Here the slaves or workers provided massages. From here, the men went to the gymnasium to work out before returning to the other rooms of the baths.

Salamis-bathsThe baths were lavishly decorated with marble statues, colorful mosaics and mythological paintings. The entire area was encompassed in rich marble.

After visiting the frigidarium, the men proceeded to the tepidarium and caldarium. The tepidarium room was for medium hot water while the caldarium for hot water.

It was interesting to learn how they heated the water. They used a system known as ebocostas. With charcoal they produced hot air, which passed between tubulars; the same system used for cold water in the frigidarium. Some of the tubular system is still evident.

The sutatorium was the steam room, where we saw the brick pillars that the hot air passed through. When the hot air passed under the marble floor, there was a system in place that heated the water. The small sutatorium needed only a small amount of water; when the water evaporated, it caused steam. Here men would sit and sweat before entering the “cool down” frigidarium room once again.Salamis-sauna-tubular-system

Above the arch in one of the bath rooms was a partially restored fresco painting recounting a folktale. The story, as told by Elani, goes something like this: Before an expedition, Hercules asked his friend Elus to fetch water for the boat and journey. When Elus reached the well, a beautiful nymph placed a spell on him. (The painting depicts the moment the nymph – a woman with black hair and water dripping from her hand – casts the spell, and Elus cannot move.)

frescoes-on-arch-ceilingMeanwhile, Elus has been gone longer than it should have taken, and Hercules realizes something must be wrong. He goes in search of his friend, finds him paralyzed in place, and somehow manages to get him back and free him of the spell.

Theater
Of the three excavated theaters thus far in Cyprus (Kourion, Soli and Salamis), this one is the largest. When it was first constructed during the first century BC, the theater had 50 rows of seats (now there are 22) and accommodated 15,000 spectators (now it seats 6,000). Elani stated that a town’s population back then was determined by multiplying the theater’s capacity by four. Thus, Salamis’ population was about 24,000 when the theater was constructed.

Roman style theaters had a half circle orchestra with an auditorium arch of 180 degrees. In the center was the altar. Prior to a performance, the townspeople placed offerings to the god of entertainment upon the altar.1st-4-original-rows-w-altar-in-center

Two centuries later, a three-foot high wall was built around the orchestra and filled with water to provide sea re-enactments. Earthquakes destroyed the theater and it was not rebuilt until 1959 by the Dept. of Antiquities. It is used today for musical performances.

Elani pointed out the two first rows of seats, which are the originals. These seats were reserved for the VIPs of the town. The remaining seats – different color and shape – were reconstructed.

Strewn around the Salamis site are many statues, with the majority having been relocated to an archaeological museum. All had one thing in common: They were missing their arms and heads. There were two reasons for this, according to Eleni.

First, the Christians could not accept that there were still people who believed in the 12 Gods of Olympus; so they destroyed many of the statues as a type of retaliation. Secondly, due to the many Arab invasions, when statues are toppled obviously the first pieces to break are those not directly attached to the body – the arms and heads.Salamis-headless-statues-cropped

The folklore and innovation associated with Salamis, and the baths in particular, are almost as amazing as the actual ruins. I can only imagine the liveliness of the games, the seriousness of the “business” meetings, and the laughter and applause ringing the theater that certainly was emitted from this ancient city.

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Celebrating Palestinian Heritage in Doha, Qatar

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Bathed in black, the jubilant men methodically made their way in my direction amid drumming, clapping and shouts of well wishes. As they came into view, the groom was quickly hoisted up onto the shoulders of two men in the wedding procession while the bride, the only woman, followed behind. Garbed in a white traditional gown with a red patterned bodice and wearing a matching red and white headscarf dotted with jewelry pieces dangling against her forehead, the Palestinian bride took her place in the spotlight alongside her husband-to-be. The audience in the overflowing room of now standing-only spectators was about to witness the enactment of a traditional Palestinian wedding. The dozen male performers, heads swathed in the commonly wrapped black and white checkered scarves securely tied in the back, enthusiastically danced reminiscent of a New York chorus line. It was an incredible experience.

The wedding enactment was just one of the highlights of the inaugural Palestinian Heritage Week recently held at Katara the Cultural Village in Doha, Qatar, and co-sponsored by Katara and the Qatar-Palestinian Friendship Association.Image

In addition to the live wedding enactment, the Ibdaa Palestinian Troupe, who were featured in the wedding, performed 30 minutes’ worth of lively and high energy folk dances. “This traditional folk dance extends for numerous years and features holding of hands to reflect the unity and solidarity of Palestinians,” explained the festival organizer.

Ibdaa, which means ‘to create something out of nothing’, is a grassroots initiative of Dheisheh Refugee Camp. Founded in 1995, Ibdaa reportedly serves more than 1500 children and young people annually through various programs, while providing job opportunities to more than 60 families in the Palestinian camp.

Ibdaa’s mission is to provide an environment for the camp’s children and young people to develop their ability, creativity and leadership skills through social, cultural and educational activities that are not readily available in the camp. It strives to empower the children and instill in them confidence and strength to face their difficult future, while educating the international community on the Palestinian refugee issue.

The Ibdaa troupe performs dance pieces that tell the history, struggle and aspiration of Palestinian refugees by intertwining debkeh traditional Palestinian dance, and theatrical choreography. This traditional folk dance has existed for many years and is recognized by the holding of hands to reflect the Palestinians’ unity and solidarity.

The Askalan Palestinian Band took to the stage next singing folk songs. Their music featured keyboards, vocalists, background singers and an electric oud. A male and female singer took turns belting out traditional songs with uncanny passion. Although everything was in Arabic, and I was at a loss to know the story and meaning behind the song’s lyrics, it was a very moving performance.

Handicrafts
As part of the weeklong event, an artisanal exhibition highlights homemade crafts, such as silver jewelry created from olive leaves (a symbol of peace), mother of pearl pieces including a large replica of “Dome of the Rock”, glass blown products, ceramic items and floor tiles, olive oil soap, time-honored embroidered clothing and tapestries, and crafts made from olive tree wood. Most of the embroidery work, including abayas, scarves, accessories and bags, features traditional Palestinian embroidery, known as tatriz, which is produced through a woman’s collective.

The eclectic fusion of blue, green, brown and turquoise colored glass products caught my attention. I quickly purchased two beautiful and delicately-appearing matching goblets. The twin wine glasses make a stunning conversation piece and are heavy and well made. Though non-dishwasher safe because of the glass content, they will withstand steady use and future moves.

The collective at Ibdaa Cultural Center in West Bank provides an alternative income source to the families. It also strives to preserve the ancient cultural heritage that has been passed down through generations of Palestinian mothers and daughters. Women from West Bank and Gaza have made all of the products displayed.Image

As part of Adel Fair Trade initiative, Palestinians are striving to build an economy under occupation. Adel is a pioneer national marketing program supporting products and cooperatives of marginalized families in terms of fair trade and fair price principles for both producers and consumers with the goal of improving their economic situation.

Some of the Palestinian-made products available to sample and for sale included olive oil, olive paste, makdous (stuffed baby eggplants mixed with nuts), atayeb, a dried tomato and olive mixture using all non-chemical ingredients, which we purchased, sheep cheese, red chili sauce, sweet pumpkin jam, natural honey, grape molasses and various whole wheat and couscous products along with an array of dried spices, and an impressive and mouth-watering selection of sweets, such as harissa and kanafeh. All of the Palestinian recipes are passed through generations, authentic and grown and produced using local raw materials free of unsafe and unhealthy chemical ingredients and preservatives. Information passed out claims the product’s standards match international and national standards.

Emad Abu Zuluf, chairman of the Palestinian-Qatari Friendship Association explained to the press that apart from strengthening relations between Palestine and Qatar, the association has been instrumental in becoming a bridge that has facilitated cultural communication by sharing and promoting its culture.

The music was upbeat, the audience multinational, and the evening highly entertaining and educational. Seeking out other nationalities and learning about their cultures is one of the great rewards of being an expat in a foreign country. It is a journey of constant discovery.

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The Many Colors of Turkish Art & Culture

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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
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.

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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.Image

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.

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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.

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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.

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A Tradition of Hospitality Still Exists Today in the Arab Culture

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Bedouins traveling with their camels throughout the desert needed enough water to reach the next well. To refuse a traveler refreshment in such a place as the desolate desert is to let him die; to threaten the openhandedness nomadic peoples must depend on to survive.

Nomadic traveling in the harsh desert climate necessitated the need for water. Bedouins have always been welcomed when stopping for water. That tradition continues today. The Arab Bedouin culture of hospitality is as strong today as it was in the past.

In many areas of Doha, especially the traditional Bedouin areas, water spigots are lined along the sidewalks for laborers and anyone else needing a refreshing cup of water. This is in addition to all mosques that have the water stations where Muslims will wash their hands and feet before entering the mosque to pray.Image

I’ve seen many water “stations” in various forms both in Bahrain and here in Qatar.

Because we live in a former Bedouin neighborhood, there are numerous stations – at least one per block – on area streets. So the other day, I decided to take a few photos of them.

I came across one that resembled old earthenware pottery, while the majority are “modern contraptions” mounted on a wall. Some are relatively primitive and in poor condition, while others more decorative and modern.

All of these are within a 10-block radius of our Doha compound. An interesting bit of culture. Enjoy!

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