Avanos: A Turkish village shaped by pottery

Arunima Mazumdar | Updated on: Jun 14, 2019

Crafts corner: Proximity to the Red River helped the pottery industry in Avanos. - Arunima Mazumdar

Life in Avanos, Cappadocia, revolves around pots, pans and decanters

It is the onset of spring in Turkey. The sun is out but the wind is still nippy. My flight has landed in Cappadocia’s Kayseri Erkilet Airport on time, but my destination — the pottery village of Avanos — is at least an hour away by road.

To kill time, Seda, my local guide on this trip, settles into the facing seat in the van and begins to chat.

“Do you know, in Cappadocia a boy couldn’t get married if he didn’t know how to make a candy cup?” she asks.

In the Hittite period (prior to 1700 BCE), Seda explains, pottery was the main source of livelihood for Cappadocians, and if a boy didn’t know the art, it meant he wouldn’t be able to earn a living for his wife and family. So, it became imperative for him to learn pottery. The girl’s father could demand a demonstration. He’d ask the prospective groom to make a “candy cup” — a small cup for keeping sweets — and his decision rested on how it turned out. Women, on the other hand, were trained to weave carpets and master the brewing of Turkish coffee. It is said that they tested a would-be groom by serving him coffee with salt. If he drank it without flinching or complaining, he was going to make a good husband!

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Nestled on the banks of the longest river of Turkey — Kızılırmak, better known as the Red River — Avanos is a paradise for handicraft lovers. A slice of the heaven is Kapadokya Seramik, a two-storey atelier and shop run by Umut Altandal, whose family has been in the business for two centuries. The ground floor — a semi-cave structure, which is neither too hot in summer nor too cold in winter — is where the pottery is made.

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As we sip on Turkish coffee (without salt, thankfully), Umut’s 20-year-old nephew, Emin Cin, the seventh generation in the business, sets off the traditional kick-wheel and begins spinning a pot with wet, red clay. “The Red River throws up copious amounts of red clay, which is procured by the locals. The ceramics, however, are made with white clay obtained from volcanic mountains,” says Umut.

Millions of years ago, Cappadocia was home to three active volcanoes — Mount Erciyes, Mount Hasan, and Mount Melendiz. The eruption and subsequent erosion contributed to the spectacular natural rock formations that are commonly known as “fairy chimneys”, which are now hugely popular among tourists.

Traditionally, red clay went into the making of pots and pans for domestic use, but these days it is being fashioned into souvenirs and showpieces. Every item bears a specific design that denotes an ancient tradition — a ceramic salad bowl with a “tree of life” motif in blue for a big family; exquisite tea-and-saucer sets with pomegranates and tulips, the former symbolising fertility and the latter being Turkey’s native flower; and robust horses (Cappadocia is known as the ‘land of beautiful horses’) adorn goblets and chalices.

The paint and the design are mostly done by the women. “They’ve an eye for detail,” says Umut, before adding that the colours are natural: Copper oxide for black, iron oxide for reds, browns and oranges, and cobalt oxide for the greens and blues.

BLinkLEAD2

Sip of history: A Hittite sun wine decanter with goblets. - Arunima Mazumdar

 

The bestseller in Umut’s atelier is the Hittite sun wine decanter. Traditionally designed in golden yellow and black with geometric and animal motifs, the wine decanter comes with a fair bit of history. The Hittite Empire came to power in the north-central region of Anatolia between the 17th and 12th centuries BC. As with many other empires across the world, wine was considered the drink of the gods. It is believed that before any festive occasion, the sun wine decanter would be filled with red wine and left on top of the hill for Ra, the sun god. When dawn broke, the first rays of the sun would pass through the ring-shaped vessel. The light would bless the wine and the kings — only the royalty was allowed to consume the alcoholic drink — would be blessed with long life, happiness and prosperity.

Umut rests the jug on his shoulder to demonstrate the custom of pouring the wine — slaves would bow down to the kings while filling their glass with the blessed drink. The original piece, moulded nearly 3,800 years ago, rests in Ankara’s Museum of Humanity.

I pick up mugs with Iznik design (mostly floral motifs, in red, white and blue) and a goblet with a giant fish for my nightstand back home in Delhi, but my eyes are on the Hittite wine decanter, something that I cannot take home this time. With a promise to return, I bid goodbye to Umut and his team, and set out for my next stop in this lovely little town.

Arunima Mazumdar is an independent writer

Getting there and around

There are direct flights on Turkish Airlines and Air India from Mumbai and Delhi to Istanbul.

There are domestic flights for the onward trip to Cappadocia.

Cabs are affordable in Cappadocia, but other private and shared transfer options are also available through travel agencies.

Stay

Pick one of the cave hotels in Cappadocia — CCR Deluxe Cave Hotel or Cappadocia Inn Cave Hotel, for example — from where you can watch the hot air balloon rides.

BL Tip

A hot air balloon ride is the most exciting activity in Cappadocia. Book a ride for yourself in advance or wake up at 5 am to see the balloons floating above the fairy chimneys or rock formations from the terrace of your hotel.

Published on June 14, 2019
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