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Reassuringly inaccessible, Divriği has always taken time to reach – and its riches time to savour. Patricia Daunt on the historical figures who made the journey
Articles, I read once, work best if facts are kept on short rations. Rationed they seem to have been on the early-thirteenth-century Great Mosque and Hospital at Divriği, one of the great masterpieces of Islamic architecture. Few of the traveller-scholars crossing Asia Minor to record architectural wonders visited the remote Ulu Cami and Şifahane, set on a hill above the town. Recognised in 1987 as a World Heritage site – the only designated individual building among Turkey’s nine sites – its flamboyant and sophisticated originality more than justifies this belated accolade.
Within the triangle of Sivas, Malatya and Erzincan, modern maps show Divriği easily accessible by road and rail. Do not be misled. It takes time to reach this small mining town, centre of Turkey’s principal source of iron ore. Though it is set in the midst of a congregation of prosperous central Anatolian towns, even during the heyday of the great Seljuk Empire, when trade was flowing in all directions, Divriği was remote, and withdrawn from the sultan’s court at Konya.
Overlooked by the forbidding Demir Dağı (Iron Mountain), hidden among the troughs and gorges of the Çaltı Çayı – unregulated tributary of the young Euphrates, carrying white waters to the Keban Dam – Divriği stands on the valley floor, skirted by willows and poplars and flanked by steep hills rising in a stark confusion of copper-green, sand-yellow and blue-grey. In a bare and unpopulated land where outcrops of limestone are snow-white and springs as clear as crystal taste of iron, it is not unusual for the severe continental winters to cut Divriği off from the outside world for weeks at a time
In September 2009, six travellers set out on horseback to retrace the early part of the route taken in 1671 by the Ottoman traveller Evliya Çelebi on his way to Mecca.
Spirited impressions of Ottoman Istanbul in the 16th century from a mischievous Danish artist and an acerbic Flemish envoy.
When eaten raw as a salad, turnips are shredded or thinly sliced like radishes. Their distinctive mustardy bite, which cleanses the palate, makes them excellent company for rich meats and fish. Cooking however, transforms the starch in the turnip, giving it a mellow taste.
More cookery features
The Great Mosque and Hospital of Divriği, an imperilled masterpiece of Islamic art in the remote upper Euphrates, is the only single building in Turkey given world heritage status. Cornucopia celebrates this medieval marvel with a 26-page guide to its mad, exuberant architecture through the stunning photographs of Cemal Emden
The city of Dresden is now home to one of the finest displays of Turkish art and armoury
Little known and rarely visited, the hauntingly beautiful sanctuary of Zeus at Labraunda – built by the family of the legendary Mausolus high above Milas – was for centuries Aegean Turkey’s most revered shrine. A Swedish team has managed to uncover the ruins without sacrificing the serenity of these sacred hills.
Daniel Shaffer explains the value of the Great Mosque of Divriği’s ancient carpets.
Famous for his atmospheric films set in stark landscapes, Nuri Bilge Ceylan is now attracting attention with his photography. Maureen Freely leafs through the pages of a fine limited-edition album of his enigmatic, painterly scenes
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