Anatolian Express VII: Sivas and Divriği

Saturday, May 24, 2014

I had three great days in Kapadokya, but it was time to move on. As awesome a place as Kapadokya is, I also wanted to spend some time in some real places in Turkey--actual cities where normal people live, rather than just tourist enclaves. While Kapadokya is an amazing place that I totally recommend seeing, it wasn't the only sort of place I was looking to spend time in this summer.

I got up at seven in the morning on Friday and had one last breakfast at the Paradise Hotel, watching the hot air balloons float over the fairy chimneys. I then packed up my stuff, walked to the bus station and headed to Kayseri. We were in a little minibus, and I sat up next to the driver. He was a wrinkled white-haired dude named Vahdet who had retired two years ago from a career as an Army officer. As we chatted, he asked me the usual questions--where am I from, am I married, how old am I, etc. It turns out he was one year younger than me.
After an hour on the road, we arrived at the Kayseri bus station, where Vahdet dropped me off. I bought a ticket forward to Sivas for a bus leaving about forty-five minutes later. Within a few hours of driving through austere terrain, we arrived in Sivas. 


Back when I was living in Turkey in the 1990s, I knew Sivas mainly as a result of the massacre-by-fire of Alevi intellectuals and others at the Hotel Madimak in July of 1993. The hotel, which had been hosting a conference on Alevis--a Muslim religious minority in Turkey--was attacked by a large group of people and set on fire.

Aziz Nesin (in red) being led out of Sivas hotel, 1993

Obviously, this event by no means defines Sivas, which also contains some really impressive Seljuk architecture in addition to being an important city in Turkish Republican history.
People in Sivas aren't quite as used to seeing foreigners as the crowd in Kapadokya was. There were lots of stares and friendly conversation on my way into town. On the service bus taking me into downtown Sivas from the bus station, the driver reeled off a number of kebab shops that I should hit while I was in town. Then, as I walked into the lobby of my hotel, I was mobbed by a group of schoolchildren from Artvin who were in town as part of a folklore competition. I chatted with the kids for a while before checking into my room, and then I went out to discover the town.
Sivas is a cool place. Near the city's main square, Hükümet Meydanı, there are some old and really impressive-looking seljuk buildings. I spent several hours on Friday afternoon and evening wandering around town, saying hello to the many people staring at me wherever I went. While people in Sivas might not be used to seeing foreign tourists, they're very friendly. I haven't met a single person in town who hasn't been polite and helpful in their interactions with me.
View from my balcony in Sivas

Shot inside an old kervansaray in Sivas

On Saturday I got up early and took a minibus out to a place called Divriği, which is located about two and a half hours east of Sivas. Divriği contains Turkey's most obscure UNESCO heritage site, the Ulu Camii--a mosque which dates from the Seljuk rule of this area in the 13th century.
Upon arriving in Divriği I asked some dudes hanging around in the town's little central square where I could get some good köfte. One of the guys immediately sprang up and the two of us walked down the winding little streets of the town and into a little hole-in-the-wall of a place. The köfte was pretty good, and while I was eating I fell into conversation with a couple of guys, who asked me the usual questions (where am I from, why do I know Turkish, etc.). One of them, Yusuf, offered to walk me up to Ulu Camii when I asked him where it was. It turns out he's a barber, and before I walked into the mosque complex we had a cup of tea along with Yusuf's younger brother Oktay, also a barber.
After bidding the two barbers farewell, I headed up to Ulu Camii and the castle on the hill above it.
The castle in Divriği
Ulu Camii, Divriği



On the way back to Sivas



If you're interested in seeing more photos, you can check out the Sivas and Divriği photo album in the Borderlands Lounge.
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