2011
03.17

SYNOPSIS:

I spent the day exploring this very small town, its castle and its single attraction: a mosque-hospital complex which is the least-visited UNESCO monument in all of Turkey.

The market owner from downstairs who provides the hotel guests with breakfast and some English services, an overweight young man, was horrified when he realized that I was about to hike into town – all of 4+ kilometers!  He suggested a taxi.  But I assured him that I was all right with the walk.  He made one more attempt of dissuading me by taking me to a point from where I could see the tip of the mosque’s roof in the hazy distance – that’s how far it is!

But there really is nothing to do in this town and time was not an issue.  Aside from that, this was one of the first days in a long while when I felt warm.  I had woken up to a toasty 20/70 room, the sun was shining, the sky was blue, and my little thermometer showed 18/66 outdoor temperature.  This is spring!  With a mere three layers I was warm, and happy to enjoy the day walking.

I live in what I would call a satellite town of Divrigi.  It’s 4+ km away and consists of 7 story apartment buildings, nothing much else; a mosque, a stadium.  It was probably built about 30 years ago when the town grew.  Who knows?  But the Divhan Hotel definitely makes it worth it.  And those 4 km are not a bad walk either.  You can see the old town all the way.

I passed by the train station and purchased a ticket for the train which heads out east once a day.  It will take me all day to get only half-way to my next destination.  Oh well…  I knew this part of the trip would take time and involve a lot of transit.  In town, I passed by a sign for a hotel whose days have long gone by.  That’s perhaps, why the Lonely Planet does not have any overnight suggestions for Divrigi?  But I also saw another sign for a small hotel much closer to the old town.  So, there is no need to stay away and no need to sleep in the park!  Come on out, visitors, to little Divrigi.

It is not often that the UNESCO grants world heritage status to a single building.  But the Divrigi mosque and hospital complex from the 13th century are a rare example of just that.  Neither the mosque nor the hospital is big.  Since they were conceived at the same time they are one building with two distinct parts.  What make them stand out are three doors that are filled with exceptionally rare carvings which are stylistically unique in this region if not the world.  You have to understand a lot more about regional styles than I do, to be able to sort this out.  But even without any art historical background, one can appreciate the decoration frenzy of these doors and admire the chaos of geometric patterns, calligraphy, and medallions, and the deep undercuts which defy any definition of relief.

The regional ruler Ahmet Sah and his wife Fatma Turan Melik, who are the patrons behind these two buildings, could not have been more than marginal overlords.  Ahmet’s official title was emir.  That does not sound like much.  Divrigi was never the naval of the world, or the center of an empire, or much of anything historically speaking.  I had to think of someone who lives in a modest bungalow in a small little hick-town in the Midwest who would put a gold plated marble portal on his house…   Somehow it seemed completely idiosyncratic.  But what fun.

One of the explanation plates mentioned that part of the UNESCO designation was for the fact that the hospital was commissioned and operated exclusively by women.  This, so the sign, demonstrated the gender equality of the 13th century and therefore was worth preserving.  Huh!?  I think this is just a bit of a stretch.  Gender equality in the 13th century?  Unless Divrigi was a revolutionary, enlightened backwater where contrary to every other practice women were equal, I am not sure what to say.  The money dear Fatma spent on the complex most surely was earned on the backs of her villagers.  That her staff were women is wonderful, but as far as I am concerned it proves nothing.  I tried – contrary to one of my travel rules – to Google more information on this, but got nowhere.  Most writings on the site were in Turkish.  The few in English did not address the issue.  There is some homework to be done.

The visit of the complex is free, which surprised me.  There must be upkeep!  A very nice middle-aged man in a suit attended to the site.  He opened the door for me, turned on the lights, gave me a wonderful free brochure in Turkish, and then invited me to drink tea with him.  As you guessed, he was not exactly busy.  I asked him about attendance numbers.  He told me that annually about 15,000 people visit here of which only 2,000 are foreigners.  Compare that with Cappadocia where 5-6000 people roll through the Goreme UNESCO site every day, of which most all are foreign visitors.

During the couple of hours I was there, a Turkish middle-school class of boys came by, a car full of business men, an old couple and then a whole van full of people who had a huge TV camera and who filmed every move of a guy in a pink tie!  When the call to prayer came, Pink Tie went inside the mosque.  I retreated and became the center of attention for the people who had come with him.  “A political man” – one of the women explained to me.  “First man from Sivas.”  I guess we were dealing with a politician of some stature whose cultural intake had to be immortalized.  The idle crew conducted a mock interview with me more to their amusement than anything else.  None of them spoke any English worth mentioning, and so we got stuck very quickly.  Then they all wanted their picture taken with me…  When Pink Tie came out of the mosque, they introduced me to him.  He shook my hand and posed for a photo!  I should have gotten an autograph; at least I would know now whose hand I shook.

In between looking at the site, I climbed up to the dilapidated castle north of it.  This was the citadel in which the emir and most of his villagers used to live, but not much was left.  The mosque complex was laid out on a north-south axis below the citadel.  I realized that the afternoon sun would make for the best pictures of the doors.  So I dillied and dallied to make time go by and as I was waiting, all of a sudden, I felt a chill!  From behind me, a curtain of clouds had gathered which was obstructing the sun just about at the time when I was counting on it!  What a bummer; no sunny pictures after all.

I hiked back the 4 kilometers to my suburb and had another micro-waved bowl of soup for dinner downstairs at the market.  The overweight owner had been on the job since 7 AM and was still going until 10 PM.  Most of the day he sits around eating or chatting with some chaps from around, but still – what kind of work hours are this?!  This is cruel.

Tomorrow and from here on out, a cold front with lots of rain and ultimately snow again is expected.  I am glad I made the best of the sunny day today.  Tomorrow, in the train, it should not matter.

I will check in again when I have arrived, somewhere, at some point.  My next destination:  Sumela Monastery near Trabzon.  The train for starters will take me to Erzurum.

Good night.

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