Turkish Hands: Gesturing Your Way Home, A Hand Guide for Tourists

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A good selection of charter gulets, motor yachts and sailboats are available for week tours, while wooden boats can be rented for day trips. These options offer enough variety to satisfy every taste. Sheiks and princes, European sophisticates, seniors, amateur archaeologists, yachtsmen, mountain trekkers, young families with toddlers, yuppies looking for something different —Turkey has something for everyone.

Environmentalists especially, will appreciate the sensitive approach taken to preserve and yet be able to enjoy the friendliest nature ever found. The traditional Turkish city is typically situated along historical trade routes, notably the silk and spice routes. Built on lands unfavorable for cultivation, traditional Turkish cities display unique vernacular architectural styles reflecting regional conditions and an urbane and sophisticated building tradition.

Although each has a distinctive character of its own, all have a citadel; one or more grand mosque complexes containing religious colleges and welfare establishments; a traditional square corresponding to the western plaza; a number of old bath houses; traditional guild alleys jutting away from the bazaar area; and distinct neighborhoods where you are likely to find fine examples of traditional Turkish houses, often arranged around a courtyard. Turks are wild about soccer. Budding players will be kicking the ball around in the streets at all hours.

In shady squares the tables of coffee houses are occupied by townsmen, sipping coffee or tea, playing backgammon and discussing the issues of the day with their friends and neighbors. It is said that coffee and the coffee house are among the many contributions made by Turks to the good life. The sacks of coffee abandoned at the gates of Vienna by the retreating Ottoman army in the 16th century introduced the addictive brew to the west and made the cafes of Vienna world famous.

It is in these cities that both the high style and the vernacular culture evolved side by side, giving us the best examples of Turkish architecture as well as the best of folklore, traditional arts and crafts, customs and food. These cities were home to folk heroes such as Koroglu and the poet Sufi Yunus Emre whose simple verses offer profound meaning to humanity, and Nasreddin Hodja, the personification of folk wisdom in his humorous anecdotes which are still widely quoted and appreciated.

The popular theater tradition, with its comedians, storytellers and marionette and shadow puppeteers evolved in the provincial cities. Performances were given in public squares, at national and religious festivals, at weddings and fairs, at the inns, coffee houses and private residences. All shows, including wrestling matches, were accompanied by music, with conjurors performing to the sound of the tambourine.

Performances were often interspersed with songs and dances or both. Players performed humorous impromptu productions wherever there was an audience, impersonating watchmen, tax collectors, treasure hunters, the intellectual elite encountering the common folk, and the idiosyncrasies of ethnic groups, and so contributed, in their own way, to the continuation of an amicable coexistence. Provincial Turkish cities still celebrate the religious holidays, or bayrams, in the traditional manner.

Town elders, following the holiday greetings, participate in folk dances to the music of traditional folk instruments. Karagoz puppet shows are often performed during the holidays and for family celebrations such as the circumcision ceremony. Please go to the plugin admin page to Paste your ad code OR Suppress this ad slot. Many interesting provincial cities are on the way to popular holiday destinations and ancient sites. The silhouette of villages, accentuated by slim minarets, dot the hillsides alongside the highways. Villages reflect the climate and character of the region.

Mediterranean villages on the coast are made from stone that takes on the color of the sky when the sun is low on the horizon; timber starts to be integrated as you reach higher altitudes. Wood frame and log construction in the temperate zone gives way to wattle and daub and eventually sun-dried brick in the southeast.

You may notice interesting structures such as earth ovens, round outhouses, or dome-shaped cisterns. Houses in the mountain villages close to the Black Sea are scattered. Villagers communicate by sing-song yells and yodels which echo in the valleys. The Toros Taurus Mountains in the south were the traditional habitat of nomadic Turks who, in search of moderate temperatures, spent the summer in the mountains, the spring on the plateau, and the winter down on the delta plain.

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A real treat for the history buff is a visit to one of the villages just outside Bursa, such as Cumalikizik, handed down almost intact from the 13th century. Here one can see the origins of the typical Turkish house with its window overhangs, functional spaces relating to the courtyard and the arrangement of rooms on the second storeys, as well as the settlement layout overall with its intricate pattern of narrow streets.


Typical villages are built around a central square with the mosque, the school, the general store, and, of course, the center of male life, the coffee house. Exchanging information about goods and items related to health, child rearing, and daily sustenance happens there. You will also see villagers on their way to and from the fields or orchards on donkeys and tractors. Villages preserve the traditional dances, customs, weaving, puppet shows and plays in their original forms. The folk dramas and dances, which are still performed, carry traces of the shamanistic rituals of the Ural-Altaic region, Anatolian festivals honoring gods such as Dionysus and mythical mortals like Adonis.

Every region in Turkey, in fact every village, has its own folkdances. There is a total variety of more than Dramatizing the exaltation of nature, animals, everyday life, courtship and combat, folkdances continue to occupy an important role in village life. Their exquisite choreography and universal meaning contain a vast resource of artistic energy. Beyond the sun, sea and ancient ruins lies the working landscape. Along the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, industrial, residential and recreational land use compete with agriculture, pushing the orchards, fields and farmland further inland.

As the native land of wheat the taste of ordinary Turkish bread surpasses any other when eaten fresh-baked. The orchards, vineyards, and vegetable fields grow delicate and vibrant crops, and the cows and sheep cared for by shepherds, who play the pipe and talk their language, are as happy in their pastures as free-ranging chickens. In addition to grains, rice, cotton, sugar beets, tobacco and potatoes are among the staple crops.

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This diversity and abundance of food products have contributed to the richness of the cuisine. Reforestation is an ongoing process throughout the country. Although many of the highway signs look like billboards they actually display slogans on the benefits and sanctity of forests. The high pace of industrialization is evident in the factories along the highways. Active government participation encouraged industrial modernization during the early decades of the Republic.

All the main industries including mining, manufacturing and textiles, as well as the majority of financial institutions, were state owned and operated. Efforts to modernize the state and society started during the 19th century. Initially reforms targeted limited institutions, such as the Armed Forces. One of the first things to go was the traditional marching band of the Ottoman army Mehter Takimi , the first of its kind in Europe, to be replaced by a modern, western one.

Western forms of art and literature penetrated the culture and continued to flourish alongside classical and folk art, music, and literature.

The parliamentary system was introduced more than a century ago. Secularism and the protection of the democratic rights and responsibilities of all citizens by law are perhaps the most important of these reforms. The Turkish woman has been exalted symbolically throughout history as the mother figure and pillar of the family.

Since the early days of the Republic, well educated women, particularly in the cities, have taken on active roles in the professions, government, and business. Every social and institutional change eventually leaves its mark on the landscape.

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The reforms of the first half of the 20th century put Turkey on a course of accelerated modernization. Careful measures ensured that culture and traditions continue to live and evolve. Although the changes in the landscape were well orchestrated and significant, they were not of the magnitude of the changes that are occurring today.

The country is electrified with the vitality of a young population ready to participate in a booming economy with endless possibilities in the new world order. The possibility of breaking all ties with both the past and the landscape, which the future depends on, has never been as real as it is today. For example, the ongoing process of agricultural industrialization is taking away the apricots, cherries and the rest of the Anatolian natives, along with the happy chickens, sheep and the cows, all marching in a parade which will eventually transform them into tasteless uniformity and miserable existence.

Our hopes lie with the wise Turkish woman, who knows better and listens to her palate, searching out vegetables raised without hormones at the local market.

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The Turkish people are known for their ingenuity, quick wit and ability to adapt. In the current climate of democracy and local involvement it is more than likely that the Turkish landscape will continue to reflect a harmonious and sustainable relationship with its people. Perhaps the most thrilling aspect of travel is to become an active participant in this landscape. As in all human interaction, the basic rule is equal partnership, given the roles of host and guest. This rule defines mutual respect and a shared sense of responsibility as the guiding principle in an adventure where the parties involved are, by definition, different in their understandings and ways of life.

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When Turks entered the tourism arena not so long ago they were armed with a tradition of hospitality rather than sophisticated facilities or a service mentality. Although Turkey now has an excellent tourism infrastructure, the motivation of most Turks remains one of sincerity and courtesy. The desire of Turks to be understood and liked, to communicate and learn about people from other lands, and be on equal terms with them as citizens of the world is a much more important motivation. Interpret their enthusiasm to interact with you with this perspective in mind.

This attitude may change as the tourism industry develops more in the coming decades and much depends on the visitors. But, for now, the sweetness of the Turkish people is unspoiled.