Black, White, and Pistachios All Over: A Weekend in Gaziantep

Over the Thanksgiving weekend I visited some friends in Gaziantep, a city in southeastern Turkey whose population currently includes approximately 1 million Syrian refugees. Though the cities formal name is Gaziantep, the “Gazi” prefix was added to honor veterans of the War of Independence (establishing the Turkish Republic) in 1928. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.

Trip highlights included :

  • Eating an authentic (Syrian) meal of hummus and falafel
  • Walking through the largest park in Asia Minor, 100 Yil Atatürk Kültür Parkı

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  • Seeing the Kale (castle) which remains standing in the city center; “Thought to have been constructed by the Romans, the citadel was restored by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century AD, and rebuilt extensively by the Seljuks in the 12th and 13th centuries. ” –Lonely Planet

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I spent a long time wandering through the labyrinth of bazaars near the castle. The largest, Bakircilar Çarşişi, includes the Zincirli Bedestem, or Coppersmiths’ Bazaar, and extends into the Elmacı Pazarı, or spice bazaar.

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I also saw a number of mosques from a range of time periods and with a variety of architectural styles. Almost all were done with a distinctive black and white striped brick pattern, often complimented by rose-colored stone, along the facades. Some mosques in the city are also converted cathedrals or churches.

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Two places of worship that I saw had or appeared to have history as sites of tassawuf (Sufism, or mystical Islam. The identity of one was made clear through a descriptive panel at the exterior of the hamam adjacent to the mosque; the other was named for a “pir,” or spiritual guide, and many women appeared to be seeking beraka, or blessing, at the tomb there with their children.

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I visited a former caravanserai which is now a handcrafts museum, with displays and demonstrations of traditional Turkish handicrafts, including ebru, calligraphy, jewelry, costuming (including bridal gowns) etc. Many craft traditions that are specific to Antep were displayed, including Antep-style embroidery, copper metalwork, kuntu and inlaid wooden boxes.

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A Fulbright friend hosted a holiday gathering at his apartment, complete with Thanksgiving decorations, Christmas music playlists, homemade mulled wine and pumpkin bread, and latkes. What fun!

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Antep’s pistachios are world renown, as are its pistachio baklava… Which of course I purchased in mass quantities for my friends and colleagues back in k town.

My trip barely scratched the surface of all Antep has to offer. Allegedly the city is working to brand itself as a place known for its museums, and it’s regrettable that time/my priorities didn’t allow for visits to some of the many museums in the city, including a local culinary museum, a museum dedicated to the Mevlevi order, the Gaziantep and Gaziantep City Museum, an ethnography museum, and the new and famous Gaziantep Zeugma Mosaic Museum, home to the famous “gypsy girl,” (which my friend has, I think, aptly described as the Mona Lisa of Turkey),  part of its massive collection of Roman-era mosaics from the area.The rapid creation of the museum is due largely in part to what is known as the GAP project, a government program which led to the damming and flooding of the region from which the mosaics came.

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A replica of the famous gypsy girl, along with other famous Zeugma mosaic replicas one of the symbols of Antep.

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