Category Archives: Turkey

Turkey, including travels, the crafts and the culture

Pomegranate: Icon of the Silk Road

A pomegranate trinket on my desk

It was my ten-year-old daughter who first alerted me to the iconographic importance of the pomegranate. At Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar she pointed out the myriad trinkets—ashtrays, paper weights, ampules, candles, vases, key chains, pendants—in the shape of pomegranates. (She really wanted a ceramic pomegranate for her window sill, and I obliged her.) I wondered why the pomegranate was so favoured by souvenir makers, whereas there was no trace of any object in the shape of, say, a pear or a raspberry.

I also recalled that last year, when I travelled to Armenia on behalf of Arastan, I had found that in this tiny country locked away in the Caucasus, the pomegranate is a much-loved, ubiquitous symbol that augurs fertility, abundance, and prosperity. It was everywhere, from friezes carved in medieval khachkars, to tabletop ornaments, to cheap fridge magnets sold at the airport.

Without trying very hard I began to notice the …

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The Carpets of Konya

Kilim Runner from Van, Turkey

Come, Come, Whoever you Are Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving. It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vow a thousand times Come, yet again, come, come.

Mevlana Rumi, Sufi Mystic and Poet whose tomb lies in Konya

And they did come … at the turn of the last millennium, travellers, traders, nomads, empires, swept into Iran and Anatolia from Central Asia and beyond.

Konya is one place they met and traded and settled right from the 11th century through to the 16th century.  The Seljuk Empire that dominated a huge swath of Eurasia during those centuries created a cultural melting pot that extended from Turkey to China. It was out of that melting pot, fuelled by continual exchange of commodities and ideas along the Silk Roads, that Konya, Bergama and other well known cities came into prominence and …

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Our idea of a holiday: 3000km driving later…

Tiya at Kizkalesi

We drove from Antakya to Kizkalesi (Maiden’s Castle) which was just what the doctor ordered. Sand, sea (with fantastic views of a castle thrown in for good measure) and fish.

From there we drove on to Mamure Castle and Anemurium. The former is a child’s ideal of a medieval castle: fantastic location by the sea, ramparts walk with impressive battlements, surrounding moat, and almost deserted. And a mosque in the middle! Anemurium was pretty but eerily quiet. I had that sinking sensation in my stomach when I realised I was walking on (and crushing) 1400 year old bits of brick, mosaic and pottery (the town was abandoned in the 7th century AD so I did the maths!). Years ago I once stopped my taxi while travelling in Punjab, ostensibly following the path of the Saraswati river – I know, one of the many strange things I have done – and loaded …

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Nemrut Dağı and Antakya (ancient Antioch)

Antakya Mosaic

We drove to Nemrut Daği, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is probably the most common image everyone sees of Turkey. I have to say I found the “heads” a bit bizarre but could see why Antiochus I (69-34 BC) built this funerary mound where he did. Looking around, you are above the clouds and do feel on the top of the world.

Antakya (Antioch), different to everywhere else in Turkey in every which way, is only 60 miles from the Syrian border crossing and indeed once was part of Syria under French rule. It was a bit of a trudge from Nemrut Daği but I am glad we went. It is a happy buzzing town steeped in history. Established in 300 BC by one of Alexander the Great’s officers, the city became an important centre for religion. What is possibly the world’s earliest Christian church, the Cave Church of …

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South-east Turkey: Gaziantep and Urfa

Zincirli Bazaar, Gaziantep

Sorry, this post has taken a long time in coming. Lots happening, mostly good, so should be keeping up with things again from now on…!

And that was the end of my sourcing trip and the beginning of a short holiday. Mike and Tiya joined me in Istanbul and we all flew to Gaziantep (“Great” Antep). I was expecting a sleepy old town and was in for a bit of a surprise. Gaziantep is a buzzing city that is the machine-made carpet and pistachio capital of Turkey. It has its own unique handicrafts and whilst the copperware was excellent I didn’t much care for the thickish mother of pearl work. It is also famous for its food. We ate at the Imam Cagdas two nights in a row where the kebaps and pistachio baklava (they only make the pistachio filling in this town) were delicious – their website is in Turkish but …

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Istanbul – Sightseeing and Carpets (of course)

Rüstem Pasha Mosque

Everyone clapped when we landed and I felt like joining in – I love Istanbul and it feels good to be back. The immigration officer rattled away to me in Turkish. I think he was commenting on the couple who were in front of me and had been sent off to get their visa but who knows. When I explained that I was Indian and did not understand he seemed truly surprised. So I have now been mistaken as Turkish, Uzbek, Iranian, Moroccan, Israeli, Spanish, Arabian. I’m beginning to feel like a true world citizen.

Giving myself the day off I went to see the fabulous Rüstem Pasha and Süleymaniye mosques. I will let the photographs speak for themselves. It was very cold and I am beginning to wonder why it is that I attract freak (always cold) weather wherever I go.

Carpet heaven! I spent the day with a wholesaler …

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Day 5: Diversion to Bursa

Original Door Canvas at Great Mosque

I travelled from Kutahya to Bursa and then back to Istanbul. The city was originally called Prusa and named after its founder Prusias who founded the city in the 2nd century BC to honour Hannibal, King of Carthage. Hannibal together with his soldiers sought refuge with Prusias after losing a final battle with Rome.

Bursa is a bustling city where new and old mix quite amicably. We visited the Ulu Cami (Great Mosque) which has the original 14th century door canvas displayed on a wall and has an ablution pool cum fountain within the building.

The antique bazaar is actually about six shops and not worth the effort but the silk caravanserai (Kozahan) is impressive. I found gorgeous silk fabric with traditional Iznik patterns that is now part of the Arastan collection.

This is also home to Turkey’s chestnut production and I managed to meet one of the larger exporters …

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Day 4: Kutahya – Ceramics and Chicken Soup!

Potter at Work

I travelled to Kutahya which is the centre of ceramic and porcelain production in Turkey. The town has a long history with the Ottomans taking control in 1428. Tile workers from Tabriz in Iran were resettled here and in Iznik in 1514 and it became the centre for the Ottoman ceramic industry.

While there are large factories producing porcelain (I was reliably informed that the industry is controlled by one family who are amongst the richest in Turkey), ceramic work is done in small unsigned studios. Each studio supplies its wares to specific customers and I got to see three different ones. There is production line precision to the entire process (with specialist potters, painters and kilns) but what remains is the freehand painting done by the artists. Magical to watch and stunning when completed! I particularly like the traditional iznik pattern tile panels (there is something about those tulips …

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Day 3: Istanbul Grand Bazaar in a Whirl

Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

The day passed in a whirl (although not of the dervish variety). Made two separate trips to the Grand Bazaar for multiple meetings and in the process manage to see quite a lot of the bazaar and its many interesting architectural features. When I was here last I remember being completely overwhelmed by it all. This time around, I have found it much easier. Everyone speaks some amount of English and are incredibly helpful, so if you ask for directions you get there faster than by looking at a map!

Met a vendor who makes gorgeous Ottoman lamps in every shape and colour. Watch this space.

And of course I managed a Gözleme (Turkish spinach pancake), Adana kebap, some Ayran (equivalent of the Indian buttermilk) and baklava meant for queens (and kings!) while weaving my way in and out of the many lanes of Sultanahmet!

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Day 2: Shopping in Istanbul

Tree of Life

I had arranged to meet someone who was to introduce me to several vendors and we started at 9:00am little realising we would be on our feet till 9:00pm! A long but very fruitful day.

We started by meeting a master craftsman who is famous for making Sikke hats and has made the ones for the tomb of Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi (‘c’ pronounced as ‘j’ in Turkey) in Konya. I discovered that feltmaking is actually quite difficult as it involves opening up the wool, laying it out with the end object in mind, applying just a touch of soapy water and then rolling it in reed mats. The end products are very impressive and I now have my eye on both Turkish and Kyrgyz felt for the Arastan collection.

We also met several carpet vendors. Turkey has always been a trading point between the East and the West and the …

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  • Welcome to Arastan

    Arastan was an online store that curated rare and handpicked treasures from exotic bazaars along the ancient silk route. Unfortunately we ceased trading in early 2014.

    You can read about the reasons for closure.

    You can still browse some of the products we used to have via the category links above, although none of these are available for purchase.

    Relive our travels and stories by browsing our articles and archives from the menus below.

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