Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar's ‘Five Cities’ was first published in Turkish as ‘Beş Şehir’ in 1946 and revised in 1960. It consists of five essays, each focused on a city significant in Anatolian history and in Tanpinar's emotional life. Part history, part autobiography, part poetic meditation on time and memory, ‘Five Cities’ is Proustian in style, with a tension between a backward-looking melancholy and a concern for the unpredictable future of the author’s country. Comparable to Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk’s ‘Istanbul: Memories of a City’, ‘Five Cities’ emphasizes personal attitudes and reactions but has a wider scope of geography, history and culture.
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About the Author
Ruth Christie studied Turkish language and literature at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, UK. She has translated a large number of works of Turkish fiction and poetry into English.
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I have always imagined Ankara as a legendary warrior, perhaps from memories of the years of the National Struggle for Independence, or perhaps from the strong impression made by the citadel rising erect like an old-time chevalier clad in steel armour. Its site may have something to do with it. What strikes us already from a distance is the natural fortification overlooking a pass between two flat hills. The perception hardly changes if you look from the surrounding heights that dominate the city. In short, from wherever you choose to look, whether from the slopes of Çankaya, the Çiftlik route, the roads to the Reservoir, from Etlik or the vineyards of Keçiören, you will always see the fort dominating the horizon with the same calm repose under a light incisive as glass, and gathering all the land forms about it. Sometimes it rises like a warship baring its great bosom to the wind, or sometimes it sails fast and powerful in the sea of time and events; sometimes the inner fortress becomes the ultimate refuge of all hopes, or, like an eagle's nest, it reaches impossible heights.
The appearance of the city is borne out by its history. Ankara's inner fortress has always protected central Anatolia, and on its slopes, the knotty problems of history have always been played out and resolved. Whether in the time of the Hittites, the Phrygians, the Lydians, the Romans and Byzantines or the Selçuk and Ottoman Turks, this has always been the case. The Roman eagle chose the fortress for its flight eastwards. The fiercest, bloodiest phases of the Byzantine-Arabic struggle took place here. In the Selçuk period, the last Byzantine assault in Anatolia was crushed in 1197. After this battle, in which Kiliç Arslan and Melik Danismend were joint victors, the Byzantine eagle would never again fly in Anatolia. It was in Ankara that Bayezid the Thunderbolt encountered the bitter poison of his destiny in the fierce face of Tamurlane. In short, most of the events that influenced the fate of the Anatolian continent developed around Ankara. The most important of these, and the most recent, is undoubtedly the War of Independence. This war was not only the struggle in which the Turkish nation won its right to life, but, in fact, the guns that boomed at Dumlupinar on the morning of 26 August proclaimed to all the nations of the East, which were living in a state of economic and political servitude, that a new era had begun. Henceforth, whenever a chain of slavery was broken, it was Ankara's name that would be remembered, every struggle for freedom would somehow become a prayer dedicated to the souls of those who died fighting at Sakarya, Inönü, Afyon, Kütahya and Bursa.
There is a well-known photograph of Atatürk that has even passed into school textbooks. The hero of Anafarta and Dumlupinar, alone on the morning of his final battle, a cigarette in his mouth, is slowly climbing a hill, deep in thought. In my imagination, the image of the Ankara fortress is always superimposed on the image of the great man gradually approaching the brightest hour of his life. How can I explain this surprising phenomenon? Why does this particular man combine with that fortress in my imagination? Why not with any hill in the land? I can never explain it. These correspondences come from the most secret recesses of the human psyche. One thing I know. One day, on contemplating the photograph, the idea of Ankara's fortress came before my eyes and from then on I could never separate the two images.
Right from my first arrival in Ankara in the autumn of 1928, the Ankara fortress became almost an idée fixe. Idly wandering the narrow streets during certain hours of the day, I observed the old Anatolian houses. I imagined a life within them, very different from my own. So when I read the beginning of Yakup Kadri's Ankara which I loved and admired for its truth and accuracy, I was intensely moved. But I still believe, though I know how impossible it is, that beyond the harsh realism there is some point of agreement between us.
Today's old Ankara neighbourhoods that descend from Samanpazari to the former Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the roads leading to the market and fortress and the Cebeci district have always made the same impression on me. I was not unaware of the poverty of these wretched homes built of sun-dried bricks, but I imagined they had some quality lacking in myself. I walked among them shivering with an endless desire, like an attack of fever, to be embraced and enveloped by what I imagined was the soul hidden beneath their poverty. The truth is that in Anatolian poverty there is something like the malaria that has been the scourge of the land, destroying people for centuries. All who have experienced the shudder of malaria know no other flavour like it.
I have often imagined living in one of the houses by the fortress or in Cebeci. But I led such a sociable life, first in the Ankara Lycée, then in the Gazi Institute, that I could never give it up. Besides, at that time, most of the Ankara officials were living in official residences or even in ministerial quarters. In fact, the city, while continuing its congested life as it had in the days of the National Struggle, was also being rebuilt. There were building sites everywhere. It was a period when a new city was emerging, with its areas of minor civil servants and villas of various styles, none uniform and all looking as if they had been copied from the pages of architectural magazines. In one street alone, it was possible to see houses that recalled those of the Riviera, Switzerland, Sweden, Bavaria and the Istanbul houses and villas from the Abdülhamid era. Newly built embassies increased the variety. The Soviet Embassy was one of the boldest experiments of the 1920s when modern architecture was in search of an identity. It was rather like a huge steamboat. The Iranian embassy tried for an Eastern style that evoked old Sassanid palaces. Several of my friends and I liked the classic building of the Belgian Embassy, quiet and simple. In the midst of these experiences Turkish architecture was attempting to find a style of its own. The Turkish Fraternity building, the Ethnographical Museum and the Gazi Institute of Education continued the experiment already begun with the New Istanbul Post Office and the Fourth Vakif Han. When Professor Egli, whom I later became friends with at the Fine Arts Academy, built the School for Music Teachers at Cebeci, he was the first to succeed in combining these diverse experiments in foreign styles by using the possibilities of modern materials.
The reality of Ankara and its new building projects were somehow related to Mustafa Kemal's life. It was like a newspaper; no one knew where it was printed, in fact you never laid hands on it, but everyone was reading it except yourself and reporting its contents to you. In the city where everyone met up several times a day, the same opinion was relayed to you within an hour by 20 people. There was only one edition. At every street corner there was the same story of heroic decisions and epic fights. Even if people did not speak of what they had lived through, you could still imagine the lives they led at the time. But the magic which had made it all seem so great and attractive had now vanished. Those who, five years ago, had made history had now emerged from its blaze and were living in the ordinary light of day. Only Mustafa Kemal continued his legendary life.
Ankara has a long history of amazing combinations. Centuries of invasion, of successive fires and raids, have left very few remains from the city's past, but this history is always present in a strange disorder. There are very few places where Turkish culture rubs shoulders so vividly with older civilizations. In the citadel and in the neighbourhoods scattered around its slopes lie Turkish saints, side by loving side with Roman and Byzantine tombstones. The ancient stones, carved in accordance with unknown creeds long forgotten, are softened by the sympathetic greenery that grows from our ancestors' graves; here a capital or an architrave in Ionian style springs from a brick wall; over there, on the steps of a Moslem tomb, appears an ancient stone that celebrates a Roman consul's arrival in the city; and a little further on, on a sarcophagus, laughing bacchantes sport in the basin of a fountain. For centuries, Graeco-Roman lions have faithfully kept watch over the tomb of Serafeddin the Ahî, whose mosque with the peerless mihrâb is truly named 'Home of the Lions'. There, too, one can see the serpent, symbol of the Hittite goddess of earth and fertility, gliding among fruit with a powerful agility and the wooden columns of the mosque, painted so naively, supporting Byzantine and Roman capitals. In the fortress, the stone terrace of the Alâeddin Mosque, whose mihrâb is one of the wonders of Turkish woodwork, has for centuries overlooked the plain like a falcon, from between a row of columns arranged there completely by chance; unquestionably, these columns were in existence long before the mosque.
The most significant combination is the contrasting opposites of the Haci Bayram Mosque and the ruined Roman temple alongside, which is like an ode in marble planted in the earth to honour Emperor Augustus. No work could summarize life on this earth so completely. What secret chance led Haci Bayram to choose his retreat in the Roman eagle's marble nest? During his hours of meditation and prayer in his narrow cell under the mosque, I wonder if he wasn't disturbed by this stone world that stood beside him reflecting the sun's dazzling rays like a kind of secret temptation on the earth where he knelt, or by these beautifully sculpted marbles that celebrated victories completely different from his own, or by those severe and noble Roman faces. How wonderful it would be to know the thoughts and feelings aroused in the saint by the proud silence of his neighbours.
Rome, intoxicated by material pleasures in its glory and majesty, continued to win victories, founded institutions and passed laws. Its era was marked by forts, bridges, roads, aqueducts, places of worship, baths, arenas, statues and many different kinds of monuments, bestowed on earth and stone, as well as garlands to adorn the victor's brow. Centuries passed while the proud warrior tried to soothe his exhausted nerves with voluptuous entertainments and bloodthirsty games, the world conqueror's map torn to shreds like a tiger skin left in the hands of an inexperienced hunter. The city of Ankara, with more than half of the empire's estates, passed into the possession of a completely different people. Over ground covered with monuments from an ancient culture, a new order blossomed; the worship of another God began in little humble places of worship, and Ankara's fortress began to echo with songs of nostalgia and longing of a different kind. And one day a pure-hearted boy, reared in the land of the new masters, settled like a migrating bird next to the monument which symbolized Rome's victory and which was later to become a Byzantine basilica. He revealed to men a truth very different from the truths that had ensured the survival of an ancient empire – this was the truth of spiritual pleasures, of the happiness of the hereafter, the truth of a soul perfecting itself through love, of a longing like a flood of light, of a contemplation which finds union with God deep within itself. In the joy of arriving at this truth, Haci Bayram cried,
If you want to know yourself Look for the soul within the soul Give up your soul and find it Know yourself, your very self!
But Haci Bayram is not only a saint imbued with God; he also played a constructive role in building the Turkish community. The religious order he founded was an order of craftsmen and farmers. He was at the centre of the vast peasant movement begun in Anatolia by Baba Ilyas10 of Khorasan and the Ahî organization. Already the movement had spread so far in his lifetime that Murad II, nervous of the spiritual dominion that was growing around him, had the sheikh brought from Ankara to Edirne and only agreed to let him return when he was reassured of his good intentions. Actually there was no need for alarm. Haci Bayram was concerned with the empire's internal reign.
As I gazed at the Ankara plains, how often I have thought of the fields that, till the end of his life, Haci Bayram sowed and reaped with his disciples. I wondered where they were. Probably near the mosque which was his own resting place. The whole plain was alive with the collective efforts of the community. Tradition has it that Haci Bayram met up there with Aksemseddin, the spiritual and saintly symbol associated with the conquest of Istanbul. Aksemseddin was a young scholar in search of a mentor. He had studied the science of the time, theology and medicine, syntax and music, but having never satisfied his soul's thirst, he had turned to mysticism or the way of the sufi. He abandoned the medrese at Osmancik where he taught and set off to visit Sheikh Zeyneddin Hâfi. One night at Aleppo, he dreamt that one end of a chain was round his neck while Haci Bayram was holding the other. Understanding that his destiny was with Haci Bayram, he retraced his steps.
When he reached Ankara, he saw Haci Bayram and his disciples reaping the harvest. He approached, but the saint ignored him. Undaunted, he joined in the labour and worked with the disciples until it was time to eat. Haci Bayram distributed the food with his own hand but poured no vetch soup or yoghurt into Aksemseddin's bowl. He emptied the leftovers for the dogs. Instead of becoming angry, Aksemseddin satisfied his hunger, along with the dogs, from the dogs' dish by the sheikh's door. On observing his humility and submission, Haci Bayram accepted him as one of his disciples. When Haci Bayram died, it was Aksemseddin who became his successor, and was even acknowledged as sheikh by the more orthodox arm of the order.
Aksemseddin, who had assisted the Conqueror (Fatih) in the capture of Istanbul and whose dignity and gravity had led him to retire to his village, advised the sultan by letter, addressing him from his moral position as an equal and opening vast horizons before him:
'If the sultan desires our presence we will come immediately and together we will conquer the lands of Arabia.' It is only in fifteenth-century Turkey that we find someone like Aksemseddin sitting at table with the dogs of his sheikh.
A poem by Haci Bayram shows the unity of man and creation. One couplet particularly draws an almost perfect outline of fifteenth-century Turkey:
Suddenly I was in that town and realised how it was made.
I too was made, midst earth and stones.
No great monument survived in Ankara from the Selçuk era or from the time of the Ahî whose art had continued in the same style. In Ankara, there were none of the buildings with imposing doorways whose stone carvings astonished us when we saw them in Konya, Sivas, Nigde, Kayseri and Aksaray, nor minarets of glazed bricks taking flight like colourful birds in the morning light.
The Alâeddin Mosque with its splendid minber still stands, but without any of the buildings that once surrounded it. It goes back to the time of Aslan II's son Mesud and, as we learn from an inscription, was restored in the reigns of Orhan Gazi and Murad II, resulting in a confusing number of styles.
But the Selçuks were great builders and we would have expected to find a number of other monuments also in existence: kitchens, mosques, religious schools and tombs. In fact, the real Selçuk story took place in Konya, Kayseri and Sivas. Ankara was never under the control of the great feudal families who appeared in Anatolia at the time of the invasions, like the Artukid, Saltukid, Mengüçid and Danismendid dynasties. The only Selçuk ruler in Ankara was the aforementioned Sultan Muhiddin Mesud. Moreover, the inner fortress did not overlook the main caravan routes.
For a short time, Ankara was Alâeddin Keykubad's city. This sultan, uncontrollably energetic, conformed to the normal custom of his time with his ambitious acts as soon as he came to the throne. When his father, Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev I, died in the battle fought on the frontiers of the Iznik Empire, he had made a move to seize the throne from Izzeddin Keykâvus, his elder brother and fellow exile. But when he lost the struggle, he took refuge in the Ankara fortress. For a long time, the city supported the prince's cause, but when all hope of victory was lost, negotiations began and he submitted on condition that his life would be spared. During the prolonged siege, Izzeddin had a number of residences built to house himself and his retinue. He even had a medrese constructed beyond the city walls.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Tanpinar's "Five Cities" = Bes sehir (Five cities)"
Copyright © 2018 Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar.
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Table of Contents
1. Ankara; 2. Erzurum; 3. Konya; 4. Bursa; 5. Istanbul;