Monday, April 1, 2013

Mardin Tales

 Another day of wandering around Mardin led me to these sights and stories... 


Sketching the Saffron Monastery
I began the morning with my third visit to this monastery which conducts all business in Aramaic, preserving early Christianity's language.  While my friends took a tour, I sat in the courtyard with the tweeting swallows, soaking up the serenity.

The Fountain of Life
Kasimiye Medresesi
 This Islamic religious school was built between 1457 and 1502.  The inner courtyard contains a fountain and pool similar to many found in other medresses.  It symbolizes the story of a life.  
From the wall, water pours life into a basin representing the womb. From there, the water goes through a narrow channel or birth canal into a long pool which symbolizes a lifetime. Then the water goes through another narrow canal into death and finally enters a large pool symbolizing the cosmos.  
What is neat about this particular fountain is that when full, Muslim scholars and students would study the astrology of the stars in the reflection on the water. Early experiential education.

 Dentistry and Medicine in Early Islam

Tongue suppressor, tonsil guillotine, throat forceps.  Just the titles are enough to make me wince, but side-by-side with modern dental tools showed these tools to be exactly the same as those used today.
 Here's a bone saw and a bone file.  Again, not too far off from what may have been used during my foot surgery just a few months ago.  Jeez.

 Symmetry of this Lifetime and the Next
 Zinciriye Medresesi (1385).  The imam at this former religious school now language university (Syrian, Kurdish, Turkish) informed us that the building was designed in complete symmetry to symbolize that this lifetime parallels another in the afterlife.
 The courtyard also contained a Fountain of Life in its courtyard:

The Peacock
Beyond hearing the different languages of its diverse inhabitants, you also see their different iconography around the bazaars of Mardin.  The peacock appears often in local handicrafts. It is a symbol of Yezidi faith, a Kurdish religious group inhabiting Turkey, Iraq, and Syria.  Their religion is an amalgamation of local Kurdish beliefs with a bit of Zoroastrianism and Islamic Sufism.  The Yazidi believe God created the world and placed it under the care of seven holy beings, one of which is the Peacock Angel.

The Shahmeran
Even more prevalent than the peacock is this anthropomorphic icon.  
The name Shahmaran comes from the words "Shah" and "Maran."  Shah is the Iranian title for a king and "Mar" means snake in Kurdish. She comes from the folklore of Kurdistan. She has the body of a human female above the waist, and a snake below the waist.  She bears horns and the tail of a snake, as well as snakeheads for feet. She is queen of the snakes. When her spirit dies, she passes it on to her daughter.  
Here's her story according to Wikipedia:
She was in love with a man named Tasmasp, and he was in love with her and he would listen to her stories, but when she had no more stories to tell he went back to his country, and Shahmaran accepted his choice. When Tasmasp came back to his land, the king there became very ill and one of the king's helpers told him that the only way to get better is to eat Shahmaran. So they took people one by one into the hamam to see if snake scales would come up, and when Tasmasp went he was forced to tell where Shahmaran was hiding. When they found her, she said, "Whoever takes a bite from my snake scales will gain the secrets of the world but whoever takes a bite of my head will die at that moment." Tasmasp took a bite of the head and the evil helper took a bite of the scales; the helper died and Tasmasp was not affected at all. So, Shahmaran helped her lover and killed her enemy.  
Now she is a symbol of good luck, fertility, fecundity, femininity, and wisdom.  All the major folk arts of the region experiment with her image: copper work, fabric painting, glass painting.

Emir Hamami
In the late afternoon, I went to the oldest hamam in town.  It belongs to the Artuqid period since the walls stand lower than the ground, built circa 1100.  My scrubber lady spoke Arabic, followed a procedure different than the hamams I'm used to in central and western Turkey, and scrubbed all my body parts with the same intensity.  I'm still nursing certain ones.  Ow, but what a lot of dead skin came off!  I was there near closing time, and so I watched the scrubber ladies give themselves a bath and then cover themselves with dark liquid. I asked what it was, and she said pekmez, or grape molasses.  Now, truth be told, I do love pekmez enough to have fantasized once or twice about pouring it over my naked body, but when she offered, I politely declined.  The reason, she said, was health.  The woman doing it had asthma and stress, she said.  But my skin felt too silky smooth to warrant pouring sticky molasses all over myself.  Later, in the changing room, I chatted with Esra, the 25-year-old niece of my scrubber lady and a Dutch woman on a five month bicycle trip from Istanbul to Beijing, which warrants my next story.

Meeting an Adventurer
This morning while journaling at breakfast, I asked for the universe to send me a traveling adventurer to meet in Mardin, and of all places, the universe delivered one at the hamam.  I usually make friends half-naked.  We went to a terrace cafe after our hamam experience to have a drink and chat to the sunset.  Turns out Linda is on an awesome adventure with a group called "Study on Your Bike," a 12,000km, 5-1/2 month, cycling tour of the Silk Route, stopping at universities along the way to attend classes in History, International Relations and Corporate Social Responsibility.  It is in its pilot year and is working towards being a program where you earn university credits.  How cool!  I would love to be a teacher on a Cycle Around the World Literature program.  It was really cool to meet her and hear about her adventures so far in Turkey, and now I can "follow" them as they blog from their website:  Views from our Terrace Cafe:

1 comment:

Fiorella Brun said...

Im contemplating moving to Izmir and teach at a school for a living.... Advice?
By the way, I really enjoy reading your blog!