RICH IN SPIRIT
SIVAS & DIVRIGI

Article for Anadolu Jet Airlines Magazine (Turkish Airlines) , Dec 2019.

Every journey to the heart of Anatolia, reminds you of the things you have forgotten. History springs to life, the narratives of wanderers come through at every step, and at the end of these historical journeys you reach a whole new state of existence. Sivas, where caravans used to pass, and Divriği with Ulu Mosque, one of the most beautiful structures in history, come first and foremost amongst such places.

I arrive at Sivas on a cold winter morning. Still impressed by the icy mountains, whose caps look like they’ve been painted white with watercolor brushstrokes, I head first to Sivas Castle. As I look down on the city from the castle, the fog on it slowly dissipates to reveal that it is coming to life and all that lies before me revels in the mellifluous sun. Sivas, cited by Evliya Çelebi as “a city enjoying abundance,” set up on the Silk Road where caravans once passed, the onetime important trade center between Mesopotamia and the Black Sea, extends right before me.

Nearby the castle, Gök Madrasah, which strikes the eye even from a far with its deep blue glazed tiles, is the first historic structure that impresses me. With its two minarets and dazzlingly ornamented crown gate, the madrasah, a building dating back to the 12th century, is an example of Seljuk architecture in Anatolia. Built in the same period as the Şifaiye Madrasah, it was placed right in the middle of the city like a precious gift. This structure served as a medical center (darüşşifa) during the Seljuk rule and nowadays is a meeting spot. It hides history in the palm of its hands with its walls, where blue and brick red interlock, souvenir shops from the insides of which come voices singing folk songs, and its courtyard, where people exchange words to the accompaniment of freshly brewed tea. When I take a look at the shops, the handcrafted bone combs and all sorts of prayer beads I see are all specific to Sivas.

In the square, after the Şifaiye Madrasah, I visit the Twin Minaret Madrasah, only the front façade of which is extant today, and the Buruciye Madrasah, which is enticing with its crown gate built of yellow stones. I, then, start exploring the bazaar. Wanting to taste the katmer (sweet flaky pastry) of Sivas as soon as possible, I go into one of the bakeries. The appetizing scents draw me in. Whilst the warm, buttery taste of the katmer still lingers in my mouth, a few steps ahead, the owner of a historical confectionery comes up and saying “Welcome to our city!” offers me Turkish delights. Whilst I was thinking I had my fill and won’t be having anything for a while, a group of tradesmen taking a tea break in front of another shop just round the corner offer me bryndza cheese placed in between pide. Once again, I can’t decline the offer. I head over to a place recommended during our chitchat, to the shop of Şirin Baba who has dedicated his years to the making of the traditional Sivas knives. I learn about the Ahi order (Turkish-Islamic guild system) from him and seeing his handcrafted products, I come to realize that even though I have been in Sivas only for a few hours, the people I come by and talk to, the hospitality I’m shown, turn every foreign sensation into a familiar affair with just a “ hello.” It seems like the streets are ones I have threaded for years and the friendly faces are ones that are familiar, ones that I’m closely acquainted with.

Passing through the lively crowds of Sivas Cumhuriyet Square, it is impossible not to take notice of the historical congress building, where the Sivas Congress was held, which draws attention with the epigraph “We Laid the Foundations of the Republic Here.” Just standing there and watching this structure, which now houses the Ethnography Museum in one of its sections, takes people on a journey in the pages of history. Visiting the stores surrounding the courtyard of Taşhan Bazaar, which dates back to the 18th century, where fabrics of all colors are sold, I arrive at Çerkezin Kahvesi, a coffeehouse where I take a long break. As is the case in Anatolia, a simit seller with a round silver tray on the top of his heads passes by. Some of the customers order tea boiling up in a samovar and others order Turkish coffee topped with plenty of froth served with Turkish delights. On one side, heated conversations take place. As I sip my coffee, voices intermingle and I’m reminded of Âşık Veysel who was born here. A museum was built in the village of Sivrialan in the Sarkışla borough of Sivas in honor of the bard. Though I will not have time to visit the museum this time, I head over to the Association of Sivas Bards to listen to the folk songs that have soared from his heart to hang on to words. I’m also greeted with a smiling “ hello” and as I lose myself in the lines of Âşık Veysel, time gently flies by. From the past to the present, Sivas, where various civilizations have left deep traces, has embraced its visitors with its warm-hearted people and folk songs. To those who would like not just to look but to see, it opens up its heart, telling its stories, and reveals its secrets to those who yearn to know them.

On a new day, I set on my way towards Divriği which houses the Ulu Mosque that I had been wishing to see for years, the castle Evliya Çelebi describes as “ by the banks of the Great River Euphrates, it reaches up to the skies,” and mansions reflecting the best examples of stone masonry and woodworks from the Ottoman times. The Divriği Ulu Mosque was built during the rule of Mengücek Beylik, in the reign of the Anatolian Seljuks, by Ahmet Şah and its darüşşifa (medical building) was constructed in the name of his wife, Melike Turan Melek. The structure was admitted to the UNESCO World Heritage List. The lace-like stonemasonry and the patterns that were made by the dexterous hands of master stonemasons have found life in the mosque and with an endurance that defies time, they leave an indelible impression on the beholder. The entrance and the Gate of Heaven are also impressive with the silhouettes formed by shadows cast in various hours of the day.

Following Ulu Mosque, I visit the Ayan Agha, Sancaktar, Abdullah Pasha, and Tefrüzlü Mansions of Divriği and strike a conversation with its residents at the teahouse in the marketplace. I look at its grocery stores which have colorful windows, the pide makers from the chimneys of whose shops fumes wonder upwards, and barber shops with tea brewing on their stoves -all strewn along these narrow streets, as if listening to a winter’s tale once again, years later. Passing by Çaltı Brook, looking at Divriği Castle and Ulu Mosque from afar and climbing the hills, I see that the misty mountains embracing the city stretch out as far as the eye can see. Beholding this landscape, feels like turning the pages of a book and I grow warm inside. I start to revel more and more in the warmth I find in this small town on a cold winter’s day.

© 2023 by Deniz Yılmaz Akman

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