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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Turkish Culture

Culture and Music

When the first travellers experienced the Turkish bath, they described Turkish towelling with enthusiasm. In Victorian Britain alone, 600 Turkish baths, or hamams, were built, with some still in operation today. However, this demonstrates only one aspect of the European interest for things Turkish, and on closer inspection there seems to be no limit to the influence Turkey and the Ottoman Empire had on European taste.

Turkish side bannerThe tulip, coffee, the croissant, the sorbet, the sash, carpets, long-haired cats (now called Persian) all come from Turkish culture, including angora (or Ankara) coats, the kaftan, the marbling of paper, and carpet patterns for tooled-leather book bindings. Add to that percussion and military bands, turquoise, pomegranates, tents, pavilions, harems and hamams, the fashion for Turkish dress and even the Orient Express, the list goes on and on.

The introduction of the tulip to the West from Turkey, for example, set off the Dutch tulip fever. Turks too had been obsessed with these elegant flowers, prizing it so highly that single blooms would be displayed in elegant vases: no clustering in bunches or cluttering up with other species was tolerated. In the language of flowers, the gift of a tulip conveys "I am on fire from your beauty"; its black base conveying that the lover's heart is burnt to coal.

The English language adopted the use of Turkish words such as kiosk, Ottoman, sofa, divan; and most carpets are called Turkish because they were traded there. Reading like an exemplary guide to Turkish taste, Benvenuto Cellini copied gold damascene; country houses all over Europe used Turkish designs in their gardens; Turkish smoking rooms became a fashion. From tiles to wallpaper, from buildings to fabrics, Turkish taste was all the rage and indeed it still is.

Smallpox inoculation originated in Turkey; Christopher Wren studied Turkish architecture before he designed the dome at St Paul's Cathedral; Red Turkey was the most desirable dye, based on a secret derived from Anatolian madder. The Christmas turkey, with its red face, gets its name from this dye. Plus on the subject of food, Turkish cuisine, through the Ottoman Empire, invented and spread culinary secrets all across the world.

Turkish title banner

Out from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire, one of the three great Empires that ruled the region for thousands of years, Turkey itself is so diverse it could almost be described as a continent rather than a country. Spanning such major areas as Thrace and Marmara, the Aegean Coast, the Mediterranean Coast, Central Anatolia, Cappadocia and the Black Sea Coast, it holds a legacy of enchanting cultures and more ancient sites than even Italy or Greece can boast. Historians flock to the sites, many of which are easily accessible to travellers.

In the west, mountains and pine forests frame a staggeringly beautiful coastline. The central steppe has the peculiar rock churches and underground cities of Cappadocia as well as the cosmopolitan capital of Ankara. The east has biblical rivers, a fabled mountain and haunting cities and palaces. Then, there is the magnetism of Istanbul, a city in both Asia and Europe; the Turkish cultural capital and one of the largest urban areas on the planet.

Yet along with this, Turkish history spans more than just a modern secular republic built out of the ashes of the Ottomans, one of the largest and longest lasting Empires in history. Tracing back to over six world empires and the Turkic nomads of the Orient, the Turkish name has been spoken for centuries.

Here are some posts about things Turkish:

Turkish Sights & Delights

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