On the bus on my way to the dentist the other day a very old lady patted my arm and asked about the bandaid on my finger. We got talking and she told me she was from Erzurum. When I told her I’d been there not once but twice she beamed with delight and began to grill me about what I’d seen. I told her how I’d marveled at the beautiful Çift Minaret Medrese, a building dating back to the 13th century. Back then the city was a wealthy Selcuk centre, and this is reflected on the wall of one of the internal alcoves on which hung the city’s coat-of-arms, the double-headed Anatolian Seljuk Eagle. Dominating the central courtyard was the domed hall housing the tomb of the medresse founder Huand Hatun. When I was first there the complex was being restored but the twin minarets covered with lapis lazuli tiles shone brightly in an otherwise grey sky.
Further along the same street I drank tea in the leafy park that houses the 14th century Yakutiye medresse. My father chose that moment to phone me from Australia and I had to dash from spot to spot to escape the Arabesque music blaring out from speakers tied to the trees overhead. The exquisite structure has ornately carved wooden front doors and intricate masonry paneling on either side of the solitary remaining minaret which sparkles with a coating of mosaic tiles. These days it houses an ethnography museum.
However by far my favorite site was the “Old Erzurum Houses”, a collection of restored dwellings, the oldest of which dates back more than 260 years. Inside I found an eclectic assortment of Turkish objects, from threshing boards, enormous worry beads, old fire places, carpets, wooden wool combs, blacksmith bellows and Ottoman copper work of all descriptions, such as water jugs and trays, right through to hit records from the 60s and 70s.
These days Erzurum, situated in North Eastern Turkey, is making a name for itself with the Palandöken ski centre, but it’s definitely worth a visit for the old town alone.
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