Cities earn and sustain their current identities through the hardships of the past and expectations for the future. Sivas that is located in the center of the central Anatolian plateau, offers an identity and cultural texture determined by its imposing history and strategic location. Sivas, described in the Amasya Proclamation as the “safest place in Anatolia”, was also described by Nazım Hikmet in his Human Landscapes from My Country as a “far away and safe.”
In the Seljuq and Ottoman eras, Sivas maintained its importance as an administrative center and fortified city. In these eras, this area was home to the huge sheep herds of the Turkmen nomadic tribes that would come to the Sivas Plateau. From the 1860s, hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from the Caucasus and Kars made this city their home; from 1912, they were joined by immigrants from Rumelia. These people brought their traditions, customs, tastes, and lifestyles helping a rich, established culture develop in Sivas.
Those who come to Sivas will definitely discover this cultural accumulation. The beauties of the city, which address the ear, the taste buds, the eyes, and the mind, continue their presence to this day. These will be noticed either at first glance or perhaps later on. It is possible to observe Sivas and its environs from the top of Topraktepe in the Citadel, which has experienced Hittite, Roman, Seljuq, and Ottoman eras. So, let’s take a look at Sivas from the citadel and describe this “feast for the eyes.”
When one looks to the northwest from the citadel, one sees a historical square that has lived through Seljuq, Ottoman, and Republican periods. The most magnificent building here might not be the Sivas High School, where the foundations of the Republic were laid, but it has the most weight in the common memory. Thanks to the decisions and the resolution demonstrated under this roof, the ill fate of the Turkish nation took a turn for the better. The Congress Building, where the torch of the War of Independence was lit, was a command center for the Anatolian movement for more than three months. Today, the Sivas High School, whose walls have absorbed the atmosphere of 100 years ago, greets visitors with history as the Congress Museum. The Gendarmerie Department and the Provincial Hall, as examples of late Ottoman stone architecture, accompany the high school building. When we glance a bit to the right, we see two portals that are positioned opposite each other. The Şifaiye Madrasah and the Çifte Minare (Twin Minaret) Madrasah have looked at each other from a distance of 8-10 meters for 800 years, and relate the history they have witnessed. It is as if the Buruciye Madrasah, a little bit further away, is eavesdropping on the other two. These three madrasahs, which belong to the Seljuq era, are surrounded by a wide empty area. Many cultural activities have been organized on the marble paving as part of September 4 celebrations. The Kale (Citadel) Mosque, which is in the same area, greets its ancient friends five times a day.
Sivas Square was given its ultimate shape with building activities that began in 1930. The first train came to Sivas in that year. İsmet Pasha, the prime minister, joined in the opening ceremony on August 30 -Sivas was now connected with the western provinces by rail. A wide boulevard was constructed between the newly built Station Building and the Provincial Building. This boulevard, which the residents of Sivas call “İstasyon Caddesi” (Station Avenue), became the axis of the city’s new development. Removing the old structures between the buildings, an expansive area was created. The square is the area where the heart and the past of Sivas meet with the present. For those who want to tour Sivas, it is best to start from this square and its surroundings.
Let’s continue our Sivas journey from the citadel: when we travel east through Kale Park, through trees that were planted 80 years ago, we see Gökmedrese (Sky Madrasah). The structure is known by this name due to the blue tiles used to decorate it -it is the only madrasah in Anatolia with a marble portal. Gökmedrese, built by Sahip Ata, a Seljuk vizier in 1271, enchants visitors with the unique engravings on the portal and the tiled blocks in the courtyard. In a few months, Gökmedrese will open its doors to visitors as a museum after intensive restoration that took decades to complete. The tree of life figures worked in stone, the ayahs, and hadiths stand tall as indications of the Muslim-Turkish identity in Anatolia.
Let’s look to the left and take small steps to the northeast. The first thing that strikes us is the long and sloping minaret of Ulu (Great) Mosque. Built by the Danishmends in 1196, Ulu Mosque possesses an intense spiritual atmosphere with the perspective provided by the rows of internal columns. The minaret, a wonderful example of brick workmanship, leans over, reminding one of the Tower of Pisa.
The hill that can be seen on the horizon, standing as straight as if it were drawn with a ruler, is Yukarı (Upper) Tekke. At the very top of the hill is the Abdulvahab Gazi Mausoleum and Mosque. Sivas’s largest cemetery is located here. When looking at Yukarı Tekke from the citadel, observing these two high points on two ends of a large plain, one feels that one is hiding in the past, sleeping in time. These two hills rise from the heart of Sivas and are like the heads of the city, stretching from the past to today, overlooking the city. Looking down from the citadel, one can see Meraküm Hill, Kızılırmak Valley, Paşa Fabrikası, Cumhuriyet University Campus, and many neighborhoods that stretch between the two.
The way to understand a city is to become acquainted with it. Looking from a distance, one only gets a first impression. To really know the city, you have to go down to the streets and to walk through the marketplace. For example, eavesdrop on the conversations in Taşhan or in the Çerkez Coffeeshop… Go into Ziyabey Library and look through some old manuscripts… Go to the wholesale market and ask for madımak, evelik, Gürün apples, Akıncılar melons, pastırma or sucuk, depending on the season…. Go into Subaşı Han and visit the attar (seller of medicinal herbs) or the sellers of dried fruit… While walking through Sivas market, one witnesses an interesting combination of the manners of an ancient city’s bazaar and the shopping habits of modern cities. Find peace in the Çorapçı Han, or visit Şems-i Sivasî Mausoleum near Meydan Square.
These streets carry the names of Âşık Veysel, Rusatî, Baharözlü Feryadî, Ali İzzet, and Sefil Selimî. Unfortunately, the rows of coffeeshops where the saz used to sing no longer exist today. Their place cannot be filled, but to please the ear, coffeshops play vinyl records in the marketplace’s nooks and crannies. Live performances have been moved to the concert halls. Professional and amateur choirs give concerts in big auditoriums in the city and on the campus.
The scent of kebab, köfte, döner, and varieties of pide are an important part of the atmosphere of Sivas. At the bakeries, which one encounters at every step, depending on the time of day, you can buy katmer, çörek, pide with meat or cheese -you can enjoy these with tea or ayran. This is snacking the Sivas way. The köfte, döner, and kebab in the city are of international standards.
A hundred years ago today, the Heyet-i Temsiliye (Representative Committee), the first Anatolian government, met in this very city. Atatürk stated that one of the steps to be taken after Sivas was “to establish the foundations of the Republic,” emphasizing the importance of the National Congress and Sivas. On September 4, every year, the excitement of the Congress is relived for a week in Sivas. However, the centennial celebrations could not fit into a week and have been spread throughout the year. There will be national and international sporting events, a symposium entitled “Sivas from Every Direction”, open-air concerts, the eighth annual book fair, plays about September 4 and reenactments –and these are merely the first things that come to mind. In particular, there are activities attended by many people that bring joy to the square’s atmosphere. The centennial celebrations will last until 2019.