. . from the ‘Tardis Files’ 15th June, 2004
J and I were off, yet again, on one of our trips to the east of Turkey – to Erzurum Province, to be exact. Our route was to take us around Ankara to an overnight stop at one of the Turkish Drivers’ Club hotels at Kırıkale; then on to our destination after a stop off to inspect the ancient Hittite capital at Hattuşa near Çorum. The earliest settlement discovered in the area so far dates back to the Chalcolithic Age and the dawning of metallurgy – the working of metals – around 5000 BC.
We had set off at 6.30am and had made such good time that we felt compelled to search out somewhere interesting to have a look at rather than spending three or four more hours gazing at the walls of our hotel room. Two places jumped out at us; Sivrihisar and Gordian. Sivrihisar was closest, so working on the basis that if it was naff we could move on to Gordian, we set off.
This Gordian, by the way, is the same Gordian that used to own that bloody great granny-knot till Alexander came along and cheated by ‘undoing’ it with his sword and taking over the Phrygian kingdom. The Phrygians were a bit cheesed off, as you can well imagine, and accused Alexander of cheating. He invited them to show him where, in the small print, it said he had to unpick it with his fingers, and anyway, his army was bigger than their army so what were they going to do about it. No contest!
So, what was in Sivrihisar that was of any interest? Well, it was a mosque. More of that in a minute. Sivrihisar was, until the War of Independece, a mixed Turk and Armenian town. The remains of the Orthodox church are a bit sad, all boarded up and neglected. Not vandalised, just falling to bits. The old merchant quarter has a number of what were once truly grand Ottoman houses, also falling into disrepair. They’re just too expensive for their owners to restore, and anyway, they’d prefer modern plumbing just like you and me! Some are still occupied, many are empty and up for sale, if they don’t fall down before someone comes along with enough money and a strong desire for the hobby of a lifetime.
How we found the church was fun. We’d learned that we’d have to waste a bit of time waiting for the mosque to open up for prayers. It’s kept locked because of antique carpets inside. The locals assured us that it would be worth the wait however. So we decided to do a bit of shopping for gifts for the local kids at journey’s end (we’d been there the previous year). There was one of those ‘Everything-a-Million’ shops nearby, so we went in for one of our renowned spending sprees! We still call them ‘Million Shops’ to this day; back then they really were. I don’t think the young owner could believe his luck because he promptly shut up shop and took us on a tour of his town, including the old church, before escorting us back to the mosque for opening time.
It would be hard to find a less pre-possessing place. From the outside it looks derelict. Cracked plaster, bits of corrugated tin, dirty, green, peeling paintwork, incongruous additions around the perimeter. Inside, ‘Harika!’ Wonderful! Can you picture this?
Imagine you have just entered a set from ‘The Lord of the Rings’. What you see is how you imagined one of the great Viking wooden palaces of legend; or how the palace of the Lords of the Riddermark would have appeared. Dim lights shine here and there. You are faced by a forest of 67 massive carved wooden columns that are supporting equally massive wooden beams that, in turn, support the carved wooden ceiling. The building is flat-roofed by the way, no domes or the like. In years gone by it would have been covered by a thick layer of earth and turf.
This is a Selçuk ‘forest’ mosque; built in 1274. The floor is covered by dozens upon dozens of carpets and kilims, some of great age. A wooden balcony fills one side, carved and beautifully crafted, as is the screened section for women off to another side. The mihrab, from where the imam conducts part of the prayers, is a wood carver’s fantasy of geometric designs. The atmosphere is utterly calming.
We were met with much interest and kindness. One old man insisted on telling us all about the place, although we struggled to understand him, before he finally headed off for prayers. What an incredible place – well worth hanging about for. A gem – hiding behind its scruffy exterior.
I would have loved to have had my own photos of the inside, but several of the men asked me not to use my camera. Like me, you’ll have to make do with stock shots from the internet.
Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü