Saturday, January 5, 2013

26. Angora = Ankara.

The hubster had some business to attend to in the capital this past week, so I tagged along as I so like to do! Ankara is the capital of Turkey and, with a population of ~4.5M, it's the country's second largest city after İstanbul. The highway between İstanbul on the European continent and Ankara on the Asian continent was long, quiet, and more mountainous than anticipated. (Yet, surprisingly, not up-the-mountain down-the-mountain.) The countryside was dotted with small villages with maybe 20 houses surrounding a mosque, and not a single parked car in sight.

Ankara lies in the center of Anatolia on the eastern edge of the Anatolian Plateau at an altitude of 2,800 feet (850 meters). The weather felt colder for sure. The province is mostly fertile wheat steppe land—with forest in the northeast. It's the center of the Turkish government and houses all foreign embassies. It is an important crossroads of trade, strategically located at the center of Turkey's highway and railway networks, and serves as the marketing center for the surrounding agricultural area.

The city was famous for its long-haired Angora goat with its prized mohair wool, a unique breed of Angora cat, white rabbits with their prized Angora wool (the cruelty of that trade is best left for another entire post), pears, honey, and the region's muscat grapes. Um, easy to see why it was, at one point, known as Angora!

Under the Greeks, the history of Ankara thrived. It became a new trading center for goods traveling between the Black Sea and the major cities of the region in every direction. During this Hellenistic/ Byzantine era, the Greeks gave the city its modern name, Ánkyra, which means 'anchor'. The city was an important cultural, trading, and arts center in Roman times as well, and an important trading center on the caravan route to the east in Ottoman times. It had declined in importance by the nineteenth century, but it again became an important center when Mustafa Kemal Atatürk chose it as the base from which to direct the War of Liberation. Because of its role in the war and its strategic position, it was declared the capital of the new Republic of Turkey in 1923.

What we found was a city more modern than our gritty and chaotic Istanbul. A noticeable amount of green space and considerably less traffic made Ankara seem more laid back and livable than Istanbul—yet we wouldn't choose to live someplace that feels so isolated. Truth be told, he big draw for me was the availability of a U.S. commissary. Hurray for American junk food and bacon! Both of which are hard to find in our city where East meets West.  xx

25. Whirling Dervishes!

On Christmas Eve, the hubster and I met up with our friends (who were in town from Austria) for a lovely Turkish dinner—followed by my first experience watching whirling dervishes.

Honestly, I thought these shows were true performances but, in fact, they are religious rituals. No clapping allowed. It's interesting and mesmerizing to watch the Sufis move through the ceremony with deliberation and concentration. The group we watched had a young member who really was captivating in his dance movements. It's one "touristy" event I won't mind seeing more than once.

The show was performed by members of the Mevlevi Order, a Sufi order founded in Turkey. Let's begin with understanding that a Sufi practices the mystical dimensions of Islam which they call Ihsan (perfection of worship). According to Wiki, classical Sufi scholars define Sufism as "a science whose objective is the reparation of the heart and turning it away from all else but God."

Some history: The Mevlevi Order was founded in 1273 by the followers of Rumi—who was a 13th-century Persian, Muslim poet, theologian, and mystic. They believe in performing their devotion in the form of dance and musical ceremony (sema). The sema represents a mystical journey and spiritual ascent through the mind. Turning (whirling) toward the truth, the follower grows through love and deserts his ego.

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī | Rumi

Dervishes wear tall, conical felt hats, white robes with full skirts and voluminous black cloaks above it. The hats symbolize the tombstones of their egos, white robes signify the shrouds of their egos, and the black cloaks represent their worldly tombs. At the beginning of the ceremony, the black robe is discarded to signify their liberation from the attachments of this world. A comforting and freeing thought, indeed!

The sema is very specifically practiced and performed in a ritual hall. It begins with a chanted prayer, then kettledrums, and a reed flute. There is the occasional bowing throughout, which signifies salutation from soul to soul. I like the sounds of that—kind of a namaste!

Watch and listen to a small clip.

They complete three circles, then drop their black cloaks and each approach the master with their arms folded across their chest. After bowing and kissing his hand, they spin out on the floor. During the whirling, they keep their right hand palm up (to receive the blessings) and their left hand palm down (to transfer blessings to the earth). This goes on for some time, then they kneel, pray, and start again—times four. Then the sema concludes with them praying for peace for the soul.

UNESCO has proclaimed the "Mevlevi Sema Ceremony" of Turkey as being amongst the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. You can read more about that honor here:

True Masterpieces of Humanity!