ONE OF TURKEY’S BRANDED CITIES, MANISA DRAWS A PERSON IN WITH ITS NATURAL BEAUTY AND MATCHLESS HISTORIC MONUMENTS, A LEGACY OF THE CIVILIZATIONS IT HAS HOSTED DOWN THE CENTURIES.
Situated in the fertile Gediz valley, Manisa has played host to numerous civilizations throughout history, preserving their finest legacies to our day. As you are discovering man’s first footprints going back to the Old Stone Age, for example, you may come across the ancient city of Sardis, where the world’s first silver and gold coins were struck. Or, while following the trail of the Hittites, you may suddenly find yourself surrounded by the elegance of Rome. Then, perhaps, you will seek out Hafsa Sultan, mother of Suleiman the Magnificent and inventor of “mesir macunu”, a paste made of fresh herbs and spices and said to cure all ills. Right about then, the Manisa Tarzan may grab your hand and lead you up Mt. Sipil (ancient Sipylus), with its spectacular Manisa tulips, to Niobe, where wild horses roam free.
CITY OF PRINCES
In 1313, Manisa came under the rule of Turks led by Saruhan Bey. The Great Mosque built in the foothills of Mt. Sipil in 1366 by Muzafereddin İshak Bey on a hill overlooking the city is a major monument of the Saruhanid Principality, having stood for centuries as a landmark of the period. If you stop at the Great Mosque, be sure to enjoy a glass of steeped Turkish tea as you watch the city go by from the garden in front.
The arrival of the Ottomans in 1410 would transform the fate of this city. Before ascending the throne, powerful sultans like Murad II, Suleiman the Magnificent, Selim II, Murad III, and Mehmed III all served here as governors of Saruhan province in a period of prosperity for the city when many monuments were built that are still worth seeing today: Muradiye Mosque, commissioned by Murad III to the great architect Mimar Sinan and Sinan’s only known work in the Aegean, to name just one. The mosque, construction of which got under way in 1583, is one of the finest examples of Ottoman architecture. Another must-see among Manisa’s mosques is the Sultan Mosque Complex. Commissioned to Chief Architect Mimar Ajem Ali by Suleiman’s mother, Hafsa Sultan, this mosque is a consummate example of 16th century Ottoman architecture. It is known locally as the Mesir Mosque because the paste described above is said to have been distributed to the public from the top of its minaret.
THE MESİR MACUNU FESTIVAL
The story of mesir macunu is worth telling. Hafsa Sultan, who took ill while in Manisa, found a remedy in a paste made by Merkez Efendi from 41 different spices. Eager for everyone to enjoy the benefits of this panacea, Hafsa Sultan had it distributed to the public from the Sultan Mosque, which she herself had commissioned, and the Manisa Mesir Festival was born! Ever since, tens of thousands of people have gathered around Sultan Mosque every March 21 and kept the tradition alive by scrambling for the paper-wrapped lumps tossed down from the top of the minaret. I should hasten to add, however, that the festival is taking place in April this year since Turkey will be holding elections in March. But don’t fret if you happen to visit Manisa at some other time of year, because mesir paste, produced for the Society to Promote Manisa, and other mesir products like teas and Turkish delight, are sold in shops all over the city.
BIRD’S-EYE MANİSA FROM SİPİL
We turn now to Sipil for a bird’s-eye view of Manisa and a foray to the historic sites and natural beauty. Our first stop is Niobe Weeping Rock Natural Monument, a rock formation reminiscent of a weeping woman due to natural erosion. Homer’s Iliad throws light on the story of Niobe. Legend has it that Niobe’s six sons and six daughters were killed by the arrows of Apollo and Artemis (Diana), upon which Zeus turned the exhausted Niobe, who was spent from weeping, into a stone on the banks of the River Akhelos (Çaybaşı). The rock has been weeping ever since.
MANİSA’S ENVIRONMENT VOLUNTEER
Leaving Niobe behind, we continue up Mt. Sipil. Is it possible to wander here without remembering the Manisa Tarzan? Born in 1899, Ahmeddin Carlak, aka the Manisa Tarzan, came to Manisa in the early Republican period and did his best to make the city green again. Clad in nothing but black shorts and rubber shoes summer and winter, he lived in a tiny hut and wandered around the city and on the mountain, planting trees, which he considered to be a sacred duty. The name of this legendary man, who died in 1963, has become synonymous with the city, and he lives on in the hearts of the people as a great environmentalist.
Our next stop on Mt. Sipil is the Mevlevi Dervish Lodge, which was commissioned by İshak Çelebi in 1369. The life once lived here is represented today in wax figures, but, with the music playing in the background, the spirit of the time will penetrate your very being.
After spending a little time here, you can have a look at the city from higher up, indeed you can continue climbing and see all the way to Izmir from the conveniently placed viewing terraces. If you’re lucky, you may even come across some free-roaming wild horses.
TIME TO EAT!
At the end of the day, the first thing that pops to mind at the mention of Manisa is a feast of Manisa kebab! The main feature of this kebab is that the meat is finely ground twice and kneaded with nothing but salt without the addition of any spices. But what will really grab you is the delicious smelling melted butter that is poured over the kebab just before serving. And don’t forget the “ayran” (Turkish buttermilk) served in little copper jugs.
As long as we’ve come all the way to this province where nature and history intertwine, we should see all its towns because Manisa’s small towns are at least as rich in sights to see as the capital. Only half an hour by car from Izmir Adnan Menderes Airport, Manisa welcomes visitors with all its hospitality. Best of all, leave yourself plenty of time and explore this matchless city inch by inch.
Manisa is a province rich in therapeutic waters. The ruins of baths near certain springs are known to date back to antiquity. The main spas in this province in Turkey’s thermal tourism zone are: Turgutlu Urganlı, Salihli Kurşunlu, Demirci Hisar, Kula Emir and Soma Menteşe.
Manisa dolls in colorful traditional costumes, made by the Manisa Women’s Cooperative, are very popular. The dolls are handmade of natural gum tragacanth and cotton.
Close to 85% of the sultaniye grapes produced in Turkey come from Manisa. Other products such as molasses, fermented grape juice, günbalı (mosto cotto), and bulama (thick, tart molasses) are also made from these grapes.
“Leblebi” (roasted chickpeas) and copperware from Kula, carpets from Gördes and Demirci, kilims from Selendi and Sarıgöl, and olives and miniature hand-carved wooden carts make great alternative gifts.
The most convenient way of getting to Manisa is to fly to Izmir. Turkish Airlines has Istanbul-Izmir-Istanbul flights daily. For information: turkishairlines.com