Spirit in the Sky

Mersin is full of so much history and gorgeous scenery and yet, living here, I seldom get further than my front door so the opportunity to join a couple of amateur photographers as they travelled deep into the Tarsus Mountains to explore the ruins of a monastery was an opportunity just too good to miss.

Alahan 2

After an early start, we left the shimmering Mersin coastline behind us and followed the Gosku River up into the winding mountains, past fertile plains and sweet smelling pine forests before finally arriving at our destination – Alahan Monastery.

Alahan 7

Built over 1500 years ago the monks of Alahan must have known they were onto a good thing when they chose this spot.  It’s a prime location rising 1300 feet above the surrounding valleys with numerous caves, natural water courses and good crop land below.   The ruins are still in excellent condition despite earthquakes, a few wars and no doubt general tomfoolery of locals and can be traversed fairly easily (even with my banged-up knee).

Alahan 4Alahan 5

We entered the Monastery via the Basilica where the reliefs on the columns and remaining stone are a good example of the Byzantine era.  Past the Basilica is a small Baptistry for pilgrims to be baptised before following the remains of the colonnade to another larger Basilica.  Archaeologists believe that the larger Basilica is a good example of domical construction using carefully cut and assembled stone without mortar to build the domed ceiling.  The larger Basilica is highly praised for its resemblance to Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia (and arguably built before the famed Hagia Sophia).  The stone and slabs are decorated with reliefs of fish, foliage as well as clearly defined Christian crosses.

Alahan 8

Credit:  N. Habbas

Alahan 9

Credit:  N. Habbas

The Monastery has been extensively restored and was re-opened to the public in 2015 and is included on UNESCO’s Tentative World Heritage List.

After spending an hour at the Monastery, we travelled back down into the valley passing fields of red poppies as well as row after row of kayısı (apricot) trees before returning back to Mersin, stopping along the way for the well-known Mersin favourite – tantuni.

Entrance fee: 5TL or free if you have the Müze pass (Museum pass).

Getting there:  Approximately 3 hours (including 2 stops), take the D400 to Silifke and then follow the D715 to Mut.  Alahan Monastery is located about 20km past Mut.  Keep an eye out for signage as it is easy to miss due to current road works.

Best time to go:  We were here on a weekday and had the place to ourselves.  Locals tell us that weekends can be quite busy with bus tours visiting from neighbouring cities.

Tip:  If visiting in summer it will be hot, hot, hot.  Take water and wear sunscreen.

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Kurban Bayram

Today marks the eve of Kurban Bayram and its 4.5 day celebration.  All the households are busy with preparation for the celebration.  I am frantically cleaning as I know there will be a constant flow of guests through the door.  Daughter is crazy excited as there is no school until next Wednesday and can currently be found downstairs with her cousins while trying to round up My Hurley Dog who appears to be chasing kittens around the garden.  The Turk’s sister is arriving tomorrow with her family as well which means a very full household for the next week.

All this plus a sneaky expat get together on Saturday night means I will probably not be around for the next few days.  For those of you who are unaware of Kurban Bayram I wrote a piece last year (link below) which sums up my thoughts on this celebration.

To all my readers I say Kurban Bayramin kutlu olsen and I will be back on board next week.kurban bayram

Incidentally I don’t think the sheep are really all that happy about Bayram.  Pretty sure about that actually.

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Kurban Bayraminiz kutlu olsen!

Today is the first day of Kurban Bayrami (or Eid al-Adha) here in Turkey which is one of the most important holidays in the Islamic calendar and is best likened to Christmas to us heathens.  I actually had to do some research to fully understand Kurban Bayrami and why it is so important to Muslims around the world and why there has been a flurry of activity in my neighbour’s homes over the past few days.

Simply put Kurban means festival or holiday and is used to describe all national or religious holidays here.  There are two major religious holidays here in Turkiye Seker Bayram and the festival that we are celebrating now Kurban Bayram.

Kurban Bayram is a 4 1/2 day festival which takes place 70 days after Ramazan has ended.  It is known as the Festival of Sacrifice referring to the story of Abraham who was willing to sacrifice his son Ismael at God’s bequest.  Pretty much the same deal as Abraham and Isaac if you are running in Christian circles.

The festival is all about charity and community.  Each family (who can afford to do so) will purchase an animal for the sacrifice and over the past few weeks there has been an abundance of animals to be found grazing on any spare parcel of land around the city.  After the animal has had its throat cut and the life-blood has drained away the meat is split into three – one third to your family, one third to your neighbour’s and one third to the poor.  It’s a lovely idea (well except for the sacrifice that is).  If you cannot afford to purchase an animal you can make a donation to an organization such as Türk Hava Kurumu and have animals slaughtered in your name. The organization will also make sure the food is correctly distributed to the poor.

I tried to find an image to add to my blog that reflected Kurban Bayram but to be honest most of the images made me a little sick and they were way too graphic for my PG brain so perhaps this cartoon will sum it up for you (although do not ask me to translate as the only thing I could understand was “Ipneye bak” which roughly means “Look at the asshole”).

Image

My first experience of Kurban Bayrami was many years ago when Daughter was quite young.  I remember all the wonderful cooking and the many visitors and parties.  There was a lot of love and a lot of laughter coming from all the homes you visited.  I also remember the sacrifices being made in the local park or in our case the front garden *sigh*.  My brother in law had purchased a sheep and brought it home ready for sacrifice however Daughter saw it and thought it was a pet so placed a large pink bow around its neck.  Here the sheep stayed for two days being fed and loved by Daughter.  On the third day she ran downstairs to feed her “Baa Baa” only to find it had disappeared bringing tears and tantrums by the 3 year old.  I, of course, had to explain that her pet had gone to stay on a friend’s farm although I knew full well that the sheep was currently sitting in the refrigerator upstairs in easy to handle pieces ready for his wife to package for family and friends that evening.  A word of advice for those of you visiting family during Bayram – if you are squeamish don’t open the refrigerator!

So here we are again dressed in our finest clothes (not really), ready to celebrate Kurban Bayrami with The Turk’s family.  I reminded Daughter of “Baa Baa” last night and horrified she informed me that she is not eating any meat for the next week (or possibly ever again!).  Having heard this statement a number of times in the past I merely smiled and nodded in agreement after all I can hear the preparations that are underway for tonight’s feast.  Someone remind me to go for a run tomorrow as I know I am going to eat way too much tonight – and this is just Day 1.  They will need to roll me home after 4 days of this!

During Bayram there will also be a lot of music and dancing in the streets.  From early morning until late evening men will walk through the village banging away on their davul (drum) and playing their ney (wooden flute).  If they come to your door give them a few lira.  Don’t make the same mistake I did during my first Bayram and give 10TL because they will never leave!  Similarly the local children will also visit your door during Bayram and wish you “Iyi Bayramlar” in the hope of getting some sweets so have a bag of sweeties handy for them when they knock.

Be aware that during any national holiday here in Turkey most shops, banks and government offices are closed.  Leading up to Bayrami the shopping centres are overflowing with people stocking up on everything they will need over the coming festival days.  There is also a lot of people on the roads with family members travelling great distances to visit loved ones.  Intercity buses are packed, flights are sold out and public transport operates on a holiday schedule so you may find yourself waiting some time for a dolmus (I know I did).

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