Here is an introduction to Turkish culture, for those who are planning to visit this country for the first time.
İts is unique in the world because it has influenced and has been influenced by various civilizations for centuries. Although rich and diverse, its roots are in Middle East, Anatolia and Balkans, the cradle of many civilizations. This culture combines elements of the Ottoman, European, Middle Eastern and Asian traditions. Ottoman Empire was a multiethnic one, and the republic which succeeded it is also a transcontinental country, European and Asian. As Mustafa Kemal Ataturk transformed a religion-driven Ottoman Empire into a modern nation-state with a strong separation of state and religion, a corresponding increase in the methods of artistic expression arose. Because of the different historical factors defining the Turkish identity, the culture of Turkey combines efforts to be "modern" and Western, with a desire to maintain traditional, religious and historical values. It is one of few countries that contain every extreme of Eastern and Western culture together with the fusions between the two. Hospitality Turks are famous for making one welcome. The majority of people you meet are friendly to strangers, whether they're foreign or not. If you find yourself invited to a home, which happens a lot if you're out of the main touristic areas, it's an opportunity that shouldn't be turned down. In the average Turkish home you will be treated as an honoured guest, as is any visitor.
The Carpet Shop Tea
As a tourist you'll be offered tea by everyone who is trying to sell you something. It's not rude to refuse and it it's probably not a selling tactic, a lot of people are happy to talk to you about where you're from, what you do, how much you earn… If you're comfortable in a shop and like looking at the stuff, then have a tea. No one's going to expect you to spend money on a carpet because you got a free glass of tea. If they do then you're better off out of there anyway.
Unlike the cigarette is smoked not to relieve tension but to enjoy good company, to think and to while away time. It will remain popular as long as people are in search of ways to relax amidst the modern day stresses.
Hamam (Turkish Bath)
The historical Baths built by the Sultans were made of marble. They were fine pieces of rich and ornamental architecture. Today what you find in the cities are more functional Baths, but they are still a great experience. a steamy hot bath.
Turkish Coffee (Turk Kahvesi)
İts not only a beverage that you have in the midst of a busy day to have your daily caffeine fix. It is a way of life for the Turkish people and quite central to their social customs. Both men and women socialize over coffee in Turkey and coffee houses are a central place for meeting.
Coffee houses in Turkey have become social institutions where men gather to meet, talk and exchange views on different topics. It is interesting that you can have your fortune read from the coffee remains in the cup. After finishing the coffee, you should overturn your cup along with the mud. The pattern formed by this remaining ground coffee can tell you much about your future.
This fortune reading is called `fal` and is still practiced among women. If you visit any of the coffee houses in Turkey, you may be served the American style coffee so ask for Turkish coffee and specify which way you like it: sade (without sugar), az sekerli (with a little sugar), orta (slightly sweet), cok sekerli (very sweet).
Turkish Delight (Lokum)
İts a delicacy which is a national institution, and tourists made it famous all over the world. It is a flavored sweetmeat or a candy, prepared from starch and sugar, filled with dry fruits or nuts. It has a sticky texture and comes in cubes with powdered sugar on them. It usually accompanies tea or coffee.
Evil Eye (Nazar Boncugu)
İts a stone bead worn to protect oneself from evil looks, envious and greedy eyes and it can be worn in a neclace or a bracelet. There is probably no culture in the world, which is free from the superstitions, but in Turkey, this amulet is almost like a national symbol. Some form of this belief is present in every culture of the world.
We always talk of cold, mean or cruel eyes.
The Nazar Boncugu is blue and the old Anatolian belief is that it is actually the blue color of the stone, which holds the protecting power and absorbs the negative energy. The evil eye pendant is attached to anything that can attract envy, in front of a house, office or inserted into its foundations, hanging from the neck of newborn child…
What is more, there is no religious bar in the use of the evil eye pendant.
İts red, with a white crescent and a star dominate the foreground. It is referred to as `Ay Yildiz` (moon star).
The flag is extremely important and well respected in Turkey, that sometimes it may seen exagerated. You can see it everywhere around and all year long. It is a representation of the national proud and independence.
Bread is the main item in a Turkish meal. Borek is a special pastry where thin sheets of dough are layered with cheese, meat or vegetable mixes, folded or rolled and then baked. Pilav, another main dish, is fine-grained rice cooked in butter with meat or vegetable meals. The typical Turkish meat item is Kebab. The popular varieties are the `sis` kebabs and the `doner` kebabs. Sis kebabs are grilled pieces of skewered meat. Doner kebabs are made by stacking alternate layers of ground meat and sliced leg of lamb and grilling them over a slow fire. The dish served is generally an `Izgara` or a mixed grill dish consisting of lamb chops, `sis kebabs` and `kofte`. `Kofte` is ground meat mixed with spices, eggs and onions, shaped into balls and then fried or boiled. Among vegetables, eggplants are a special favorite. Olive oil is generally used for cooking. A special Turkish food item is `Dolma`. Vegetables are stuffed with rice or spiced meat fillings and cooked in olive oil. `Dolma` is eaten with yogurt sauce. Meze is a starter that accompanies alcoholic drinks. Slices of honeydew lemon, fete cheese with bread, dried and marinated mackerel, savory pastry and cold vegetable dishes are generally served as meze.
Drinking tea is a way of life in Turkey. Black tea can be drunk at any time of the day or night. If you visit a Turkish home, you will surely be offered a cup of tea because it is an integral part of their culture. The Turks always drink their black tea, glass after glass. It is served in small glasses. You can see the color of the tea through the thin glasses. The tea should be crystal clear and of a deep mahogany. Sugar cubes may be added but milk is a strict no. Very strong tea is poured into the glasses and it is then topped up by cutting it with water to make it as strong or light as you choose. You can have `acik cay` light tea or `koyu cay,` the stronger variety. The tea is hot, so make sure you hold the glass by the rim or you may burn your fingers. The sight of cheerful `cayci` or tea-waiters carrying trays of tea is a sight that will greet you everywhere in Turkey. Turkish tea is healthier than most others because no pesticides or chemical additives are used for its production, and it does not contain too much caffeine.
Eau de Cologne (kolonya)
In Turkey, it is an important tradition to offer cologne, usually the lemon one, during guest visits, on bus trips and in restaurants. During holiday family gatherings and on funeral days it has also become something like a ritual.
If you have chance to visit a Turkish house, the first thing you will be offered is Cologne and candy. This is meant to refresh a guest who is just off a trip and to help eliminate the outdoor germs from hands. The candy that is offered with the Cologne, represents the Turkish belief that a sweetened mouth will open a sweet conversation.
Kilims and Carpets
They are a remarkable tradition maintained by women of Anatolia for hundreds of generations. Turkish mothers and daughters maintained this mysterious handicraft for the last thousand years as Turkish tribes settled in Anatolia.
The majority of pieces represent geometric and stylized forms, and if you are lucky enough to meet a carpet expert in Turkey, you can hear a lot about the history of carpet and kilim handweaving and the meaning of symbols that appear on them. Foreigners find it very interesting to watch women creating this art in workshops.
Hand painted ceramics in Turkey are among the finest quality in the Mediterranean. The rich colors and designs prove great artistic talent. Many craftsmen and women in Turkey have dedicated themselves to a revival of the ancient traditions of Ottoman ceramics and have rediscovered the secrets of materials, glazing and colouring.
They are produce great examples of the original designs, hand-painted in individual ateliers following the ancient tradition. The quality of the work is great, the design very free and imaginative, and used colours are bright and dramatic. Figural art is very rich in tiles, adorning both secular and religious reliefs monuments. The subjects include nobility, servants, hunters, trees, birds, lions, sirens and double-headed eagles.
This is among the most significant traditional procedures related to the child in Anatolia, and it represents boy's passage from childhood into manhood. No parents ever wish to break away from this custom. People who have not been circumcised at the socially acceptable age are usually humiliated and criticized. Nowdays, it is more a tradional than religious act, and it is celebrated usually during summer. That day, a boy is dressed and treated like a king and gets presents, usually a gold coin. It is one of the most important days and celebrations in the life of a male in Turkey.
Henna Party (Kına Gecesi)
This is an occasion which ocurres the night before the wedding, usually at bride's home, and assembles mostly females, bride, her friends and female relatives. Bride wears heavily embroidered dress or costume and her face is covered by red veil. The henna would be brought on a silver tray with two burning candles by the groom's relatives. The bride and her friends, carrying lit candles, approach the guests while coins are scattered over the bride's head as symbols of fertility. Fruits, nuts and candies are given. Special songs are then sung in an attempt to make the bride cry, in belief that it brings good luck. Then, the bride sits on a cushion and her mother-in-law places a gold coin in the palm of her hand, which is a symbol of good luck and abundance. Finally, a woman known to have a happy marriage covers the palms and fingertips of the bride with henna. The bride's unmarried friends also tinge their hands with henna, believing this would help them to get married soon.
History has been incredibly generous to Turkey, which has been vital in the history of the three major Western religions – Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Turkey is one of a few countries where all three religions have co-existed peacefully for centuries. There are a many important sites in Turkey of interest to people of all faiths.
More and more people are discovering the important role Turkey played in the history of Christianity. Travelers can visit many magnificent churches, some nearly as old as Christianity itself, and can retrace the footsteps of Saints Peter and Paul from the Biblical city of Antioch to the underground churches of Cappadocia.
Many of the most important events in Christian history occurred in Turkey. Born in Tarsus, the Apostle Paul spread the word of Jesus Christ across Anatolia. On Turkey's Eastern Mediterranean coast is Antakya, known in biblical times as Antioch.
This ancient city was home to the first important Christian community, founded in 42 AD by St. Paul. Jesus' followers were first called "Christians" in Antioch and from here Christianity spread to the world. St. Paul departed from Antioch on his three missionary journeys.
The city holds the Church of St. Peter, a cave-church where the apostles Peter and Paul are believed to have preached. In 1963, the Vatican designated the site a place of pilgrimage and recognized it as the world's first cathedral.
The Seven Churches of Revelation, a series of communities located near the Aegean coast, is where St. Paul preached and built the early church. Their ancient names - Ephesus (Efes), Smyrna (Izmir), Thyatira (Akhisar), Sardis (Sart), Philadelphia (Alasehir), Laodicea (Eskihisar) and Pergamon (Bergama) are familiar from the New Testament's Book of Revelation. Ephesus, perhaps the most prominent of the Seven Churches, is where St. Paul wrote his letters to the Ephesians, and where St. John the Evangelist brought Virgin Mary to spend her last years.
The Vatican recognizes the Virgin Mary's house, located in the hills near Ephesus, as a shrine. Just outside Ephesus, in Selcuk, is the Basilica of St. John where he preached and is believed to be buried.
St. Nicholas was born and lived in Demre (Myra) on the Mediterranean coast. A church dedicated to the original Santa Claus still stands.
Visitors to the biblical area of Cappadocia can explore more than 200 carved rock churches beautifully decorated with frescoes, and a seven-story underground city where Christians took refuge from their persecutors.
The stunning Monastery of the Virgin Mary located near the Black Sea in Trabzon is a dating to the 4th century. Built on the edge of a l200 foot cliff and accessible only by foot, it housed some of the Orthodox Church's greatest thinkers.
Istanbul became the center of Christianity in 330 AD and it was here that the largest church in Christendom at the time, Haghia Sophia or the Church of the Divine Wisdom, was dedicated by Emperor Justinian in 536 AD.
The Kariye (Chora) Museum, a Greek Orthodox Church from, is famous for its incomparable Byzantine frescoes and mosaics.
Judaism has had a continuous presence in Turkey since ancient times.
Signs written in Hebrew and menorahs carved into stone at historical sites such as Ephesus, Kusadasi, Priene, Hieropolis, and Pamukkale attest to long history of Jews in Turkey.
In Sardis, near Izmir, the remains of the largest ancient synagogue in existence date to the 3rd century AD. Jewish Patriarchs Abraham and Job made their mark in eastern Turkey.
Sanli Urfa in southeastern Turkey is known as the city of Prophets. A cave there is said to be the birthplace of the prophet Abraham. It has become a place of pilgrimage and is now surrounded by the Halil Rahman Mosque. The Prophet Job, is believed to have spent seven years recovering from illness inside another cave located in the district of Eyyübiye two kilometers south of Sanli Urfa.
Jews have enjoyed tolerance and peace in Turkey for centuries. After the Jewish communities in Spain and Portugal were exiled in 1492 during the Inquisition, Sultan Beyazit II welcomed them to the Ottoman Empire.
Istanbul is of particular significance to Jewish visitors. In the city's old Jewish Quarter is the 19th century Neve Shalom Synagogue, the Zulfaris Jewish Museum and nearby, the 15th century Ahrida Synagogue.
The first Jewish printing press began operating in Istanbul in 1493 and Jewish literature and music flourished during this period.
In Bursa, visitors will find the Gerus Synagogue, built at the end of the 15th century by the first Jews who settled in the city after being expelled from Spain. Izmir, located on the Aegean coast, has several synagogues, including Beth Israel Synagogue, Bikour Holim Synagogue, and Giveret Synagogue.
Visitors to Turkey are often touched by the call to prayer from lofty minarets. The call is heard five times a day, inviting the faithful to face towards Mecca and pray from the Koran.
Although Turkey is a secular democracy which guarantees freedom of religion for all people, Islam is the country's predominant religion.
People of all faiths may visit Turkey's mosques.
Islam's roots in Turkey date to the 10th Century. In the ensuing centuries Seljuk and Ottoman Turks constructed impressive mosques with elegant interior decorations and imposing domes and minarets.
Virtually every Turkish city has a mosque of historical or architectural significance.
Sultanahmet Mosque in Istanbul stands as the most impressive and it is more known as the Blue Mosque because of its magnificent interior paneling of blue and white tiles.
The Suleymaniye Mosque is the largest in Istanbul. Other cities also have impressive Islamic architecture.
The Ulu Cami (Grand Mosque) with its 20 domes and Yesil Cami (Green Mosque) in Bursa, was constructed between 1419 and 1420.
Haci Bayram Mosque in Ankara was built in the early 15th century in the Seljuk style and was subsequently restored by the master Ottoman architect Sinan in the 16th century.
Selimiye Mosque in Edirne reflects the classical Ottoman style and Sinan's lasting genius.
As the capital of the Seljuk Turks from the 12th to the 13th centuries Konya was a center of cultural, political and religious growth.
During this period, the mystic Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi founded a Sufi Order known in the West as the Whirling Dervishes. Mevlana's mausoleum and museum is Konya's most famous attraction.