2011
03.19

SYNOPSIS:

A town of many names and its surprising number of monuments.

Since the train had stranded me here, I figured I would stay a day in Erzurum and see what this town has to offer; more than I suspected.

With as many as five officially recorded names you can sense this town has been around.  It started out officially as Karin in the 3rd century even though human settlements predate that by thousands of years.  Under the lofty Byzantine emperor Theodosius it became Theodosopolis in the 5th century, but when Muslim Umayyads and Abbasids got ahold of it in the 7th century, it became Kalikala – the city of carpets.  Then there were refugees in the 11th century who settled here under the newly victorious Seljuk Turks, and the city was renamed once again: Erzen – taking the name of the town the refugees had come from.  To distinguish the two Erzens, this Erzen got the surname Rum, in reference to Roman presence of the past.  And before long you got Erzurum, a name which so far seems to stick – that is, until the next conquest, I imagine.

Ataturk was here assembling an important 20-day, 56-delegate congress which took important steps towards the preparation of the formation of the Turkish State; therefore, the city has its legacy even in modern times.  And since I am really intrigued by the multi-faceted nature of Ataturk and want to learn as much as I can while I am here, I was quite excited to visit the museum which has been established in the house where he stayed while the congress was in session.   I can’t hide my disappointment – not a syllable was in English at that museum.  But I saw the chairs on which he sat, and the bed in which he slept while in town…  I also marveled at the pinnacle of Ataturk kitsch:  You must have seen those horribly kitschy black velvet images depicting Leonardo’s Last Supper…  Well, at the hallway of the museum there was a carpet which depicted the outline of Ataturk in black against a beige background, just as kitschy and quite hideous.

The Turkish Seljuks defeated Byzantium and made Erzurum their capital. Hence there are some pretty remarkable monuments still around.  I immediately recognized the decoration style, but I had seen better at Divrigi.   I wonder how the Divrigi emir got away with outdoing the sultan in Erzurum with his grandiose doors…  Really, after Divrigi, the madrassa portals at Erzurum seem tame and uninspired.

There were several ancient madrassa – or religious schools, many mosques, hamams, a citadel, a caravanserai, and various tombs containing the remains of the founders of the Seljuks and other dignitaries which you still can see.  The town was small enough for me to walk from one end to another without much effort and since several of the city museums were closed, I had ample time to spare and got a few chores done on the side such as getting an airplane ticket for Pamukkale and a really great shoe shine.  Getting a shoe shine got me curses in Iran and it gets me looks everywhere else.  It is not a woman’s thing to do…  But my shoes needed it and I don’t really care what goes on behind my back while I am sitting on my little stepping stool watching the shoe shiner take care of my work horses.

Erzurum is known as a particularly conservative town.  A quick hijab and beard count confirmed this.  For the first time, I also saw several Iranian-style black chadors.  But surprisingly, I found myself for the first time out of earshot of the muezzin who around 5 AM calls the faithful to prayer.  But by 5:30 AM I was up anyhow – my internal clock has been set.  I can’t help it anymore.

And because of these early rises, I need to get to bed earlier, too.

Good night.

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