Culture and Art Turkey

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Culture and Art Turkey


Turkish is spoken by over 200 million people and is the world’s 7th most widely spoken language. Modern Turkish is a member of the Ural-Altaic family of languages, evolved from dialects since the 11th century, and is related to Finnish, Korean and Japanese. Turkish is easy to learn as it based on the Latin script and alphabet – with the addition of just 6 different characters from English – and the language is phonetic (how a word is spelt is how it sounds).

Turkish people are always charmed when a visitor speaks a few words of their language. The most useful words are tesekkür (te-sheh-koor, thank you), merhaba (mare-hubba, hello) and iyi günler (eee-goonlare, good day).


Turkey is a secular state with no official state religion and is in fact the only secular Islamic country in the world where religion has no place in the running of the state. The majority of the Turkish population is Muslim but in Turkey religion is strictly a private affair; as with other European countries, the weekly holiday is Sunday and there is no dress code, except for when visiting a mosque. However, the call for prayer can be heard five times a day and there are two Islamic festivals in the country alongside the secular national holidays: Seker Bayrami at the end of Ramadan, and Kurban Bayrami. There are also Christian and Jewish minorities throughout the country, with 236 churches and 34 synagogues open for worship.


Hospitality is second nature to the Turks and visitors to Turkey are often pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of the people and how they will go out of their way to assist and spend time chatting. Newly made friends will often invite you to join them to share a meal and often in their own home too. Turkey was for years on the silk road of trade between the east and west and the arrival of travelling strangers who needed to be fed and put up for the night became a normal part of the culture. It is also usual for Turks – even the men – to greet each other by kissing on both cheeks.


The Turks are nomadic in origin and weaving carpets (hali) and flatweaves (kilims) which would furnish their tents has been an important part of the culture for thousands of years. Traditionally a craft learnt by women, each carpet would be unique, its variations reflecting both the character of the maker and the place she was from. Thus each region of Turkey has evolved a style of carpet pattern and colours; these days chemical dyes are more common and carpets may be made from wool, silk and cotton. The density of the knots determines the quality of the carpet – the more knots per cm, the more hard-wearing it will be. If you decide to purchase a carpet, most sales-merchants will be happy to spend some time explaining the history and meaning of the many symbols in the weave – often over a glass of apple tea. In recent years, a number of ‘carpet schools’ have opened where traditional arts and processes are preserved and the process of carpet-making is shown to visitors.

Turkish Baths

There have been hammams or public bath houses in Turkey since medieval times, used both as a place to relax, get clean and as a social spot. The tradition reached its height during Ottoman times, when it became the social focus for women, for many of whom it provided a rare opportunity to leave their own home and see their friends – as well as eye up prospective future daughters-in-law. The men bathed in a separate section and even today, many of the Turkish baths still contain separate areas for men and women – or where a town has only one hammam, different times of day or days of the week. The only exception to this is the baths open to tourists in beach resorts, where it is not uncommon to have mixed bathing and even to be massaged by someone of the opposite sex, which would not happen in a traditional bath.

There are still historical hammams open for business, those most popular with visitors to Istanbul include the Cemberlitas designed by the master architect Sinan near Sultanahmet, Cagaoglu and the Galatasaray near Taksim Square.
When you enter the hamam you leave your clothes in a locker and wrap yourself in a towel or cloth called a pestemal which is provided along with wooden slippers. Once in the main bathhouse, you fill your bowl with water from the taps set along the walls and wash yourself by tipping the water from the bowl over yourself. When it’s your turn you lie down on the central marble slab or göbek tasi where you are scrubbed with a rough cloth (called kese) and then lathered with soap and massaged. There is usually an extra charge for these treatments.


The nargile, or hookah, is a Turkish water tobacco pipe that was very popular during the years of the Ottoman Empire and has recently seen a revival, especially among young people. Nargile cafes abound where one can enjoy a game of backgammon (tavla), puff on a nargile which comes in various flavours, including banana and apple, and watch the world go by.

Evil Eye

Wherever you go in Turkey you will see the nazar boncuk, or evil eye charm, to ward off the ‘evil eye’. For sale as pendants or pins and often found hanging above doors, in car windscreens or used in designs for material or painted on to pottery, china and tiles, the ‘evil eye’, is usually made out of cobalt blue glass with a stylised eye design and can be of any size. A common symbol throughout the Middle East and dating back many thousands of years it is traditionally thought to ward off negative energy from others which can lead to bad luck.

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Turkey Tour Guide
Kucukayasofya Mh. Sultanahmet Istanbul9034122 Turkey 
 • +90 212 518 03 20