SIVRIHISAR IS BOTH THE HOME OF NASREDDIN HODJA AND THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE. WHAT WAS IT THE HODJA SAID? “LET WHOEVER DOESN’T BELIEVE ME COME AND MEASURE IT.”
You’re a little bewildered as you tour the house where the Hodja was born and lived in the Sivrihisar town that bears his name, because he is one of the fabled heroes of our childhood imagination. Crossing the threshold of the house where he once lived and looking out the window at the street through his eyes is an uncanny feeling. Can Nasreddin Hodja, who appeared in our illustrated books in a robe and turban with his white beard, chubby smiling face and enormous prayer beads, not to mention his famous donkey, can the Nasreddin Hodja who made us see the world as a happy place, can he be that real?
It is almost certain that Nasreddin Hodja was born in the town formerly known as Hortu. But it is impossible of course that the house is the same house. Given that we have no example of a piece of whitewashed, wooden-roofed civilian architecture that has managed to survive intact for 800 years, at most one might speak of a house that once stood at the same spot, a house that can be known only by how it appears in the Hodja’s tales. But still it warms your heart when somebody guiding you through that house today says, “The Hodja had his dinner in this room, and he kept an eye on the street and the courtyard through this window.” You can actually feel some of the tales here, and you wander through the rooms with a smile on your face. Take the one about the cat and the liver, for instance. Everybody knows it. One day Nasreddin Hodja brings home some fresh liver and his wife gives it away to the neighbors. Later, fearing his wrath, she tells her husband the cat ate it. In the story, the Hodja puts the cat on the kitchen scale and says: “Madam, I ask you, if this is the cat, where’s the liver? And if this is the liver, then where’s the cat?”
TRACES OF THE HODJA
It would be an understatement to say that the people of Hortu are proud that Nasreddin Hodja was their fellow-townsman. Almost every one of their houses has an illustration from one of the tales on its wall, and the municipal emblem is an image of the Hodja seated backwards on his donkey below an ear of wheat and an olive branch with the words, “The place where I was born”. So, can one find relics of the Hodja in the residents of this town, which looks like a book of Hodja tales itself with his house and street? Our conversation with the elderly lady who appears at the door of the next house may offer a clue: “I’ve got Nasreddin Hodja bulgur, lentils and horse beans. Would you like some?” “What do you mean? Is Nasreddin Hodja the name of the brand?” “No, dear, I meant that Nasreddin Hodja actually ate from these!” A marketing ploy perhaps in a touristic town? But isn’t there a hint of humor as well?
A PROFESSIONAL NASREDDIN HODJA
Being Nasreddin Hodja is a sort of occupation in Sivrihisar, just like being a cobbler or a tailor. It’s not for everybody, but whoever takes it up can’t let it go. Mustafa Karatepe has been a professional Nasreddin Hodja for 25 years! If he ever said he’d had enough of riding backwards on a donkey and sprinkling flour on a rope, somebody would quickly take his place. But our Hodja doesn’t look like tiring soon of darting from festival to festival sporting a green robe on his back and an enormous turban on his head with a cane in one hand and a string of prayer beads in the other. Now that we’ve found him, we ask him why he rides backwards. It seems there is a quite meaningful, almost sentimental, reason: “When I left Sivrihisar, I didn’t want to turn my back on the people, plus I wanted to take one last look at my home town.”
CENTER OF THE WORLD
As Nasreddin Hodja said, let whoever doesn’t believe me, come and measure it! Viewed from the roadside on the Ankara-Izmir highway -even if there are no rock formations framing it like a crescent moon- the town appears quite ordinary, indeed like a newly sprouted settlement with its rows of apartment buildings at the edge of the road. But when you enter, it becomes a true old-time town with mosques, cobbled streets, stately mansions, and surprises at every turn.
How strange that the center is so calm and quiet! “A place where time stands still.” This is the real thing, and yet it has escaped the eye of the team that designates “slow cities” around the world. Now don’t all of you read this article and take off for Sivrihisar or you’ll upset the earth’s balance!
The Great Mosque (Ulu Cami) is one of Anatolia’s most distinguished wooden mosques with a total of 67 timber columns. And the Zaimağa Mansion was a key landmark on the road that led to the Republic. After you’ve seen the ancient city of Pessinus in the village of Ballıhisar, you can either brandish a spoon at an Arab stew or a bowl of okra soup or savor a serving of stuffed cabbage.