Culture &


Culture & Art



Turkey has a very ancient folk dance tradition, which varies from region to region, each dance being colourful, rhythmic, elegant and stylish.

The following are among the most popular: “Çayda Çıra” from the Sivas region in Central Anatolia is performed by young girls dressed in silver and gold embroidered kaftans who dance in the dark with lighted candles in their hands. In the “Silifke Yoğurdu” from the Mersin region in the South Mediterranean, dancers click wooden spoons together above their heads. “Şeyh Şamil” from the Kars region in the East, is a beautifully dramatised legend of


Turkish theatre is thought to have originated from the popular Karagöz shadow plays, a cross between moralistic Punch and Judy and the slapstick Laurel and Hardy.

It then developed along an oral tradition, with plays performed in public places, such as coffee houses and gardens, exclusively by male actors.

Atatürk gave great importance to the arts, and actively encouraged theatre, music and ballet, prompting the foundation of many state institutions. Turkey today boasts a thriving arts scene, with highly professional theatre, opera and ballet companies, as well as a flourishing film industry.


Turkish music evolved from the original folk form into classical through the emergence of a Palace culture. It attained its highest point in the 16th century through the composer “Itri”.


Great names in Turkish classical music include “Dede Efendi”, “Hacı Arif Bey” and “Tamburi Cemil Bey”. It is a form that continues to be professionally performed and one that attracts large audiences. Turkish music, locally called Turkish Classical Music, is a variation of the national musical tradition, instruments such as the tambur, kanun, ney and ud.


Until the 18th century, painting in Turkey was mainly in the form of miniatures, usually linked to books in the form of manuscript illustrations.


In the 18th century, trends shifted towards oil painting, beginning with murals. Thereafter, under European inspiration, painting courses were introduced in military schools. The first Turkish painters were therefore military people. The modernisation of Turkish painting, including representation of the human figure, started with the founding of the Academy of Arts under the direction of Osman Hamdi Bey, one of the great names in Turkish painting. In 1923, following the proclamation of the Republic, a society of contemporary painting was set-up, followed by many other such schools. Art exhibitions in Turkey’s cities multiplied, more and more people started to acquire paintings, and banks, and companies began investing in art


Literature has long been an important component of Turkish cultural life, reflecting the history of the people, their legends, their mysticism, and the political and social changes that affected this land throughout its long history.


The oldest literary legacy of the pre-Islamic period are the Orhon inscriptions in northern Mongolia, written in 735 on two large stones in honour of a Turkish king and his brother. During the Ottoman period, the prevailing literary form was poetry, the dominant dialect was Anatolian or Ottoman, and the main subject beauty and romance. The Ottoman Divan literature was highly influenced by Persian culture and written in a dialect, which combined Arabic, Persian and Turkish. Separate from the aristocratic Divan literature, folk literature continued to dominate Anatolia where troubadour-like poets celebrated nature, love and God in simple Turkish language. Towards the 20th century, the language of Turkish literature became simpler and more political and social in substance. The great and politically controversial poet, Nazım Hikmet, inspired by the Russian poet Mayakowski, introduced free verse in the late 1930s. Nowadays, the irrefutable master of the Turkish popular novel is Yaşar Kemal, with his authentic, colourful and forceful description of Anatolian life. Young Turkish writers tend to go beyond the usual social issues, preferring to tackle problems such as feminism and aspects of die East-West dichotomy that continues to fascinate Turkish intellectuals.


The most well-known and widely-read writers of the 1950-1990 period can be listed as follows: Tarik Dursun K., Atilla lhan, Yasar Kemal, Orhan Kemal, Kemal Tahir, Tarik Bugra, Aziz Nesin, Mustafa Necati Sepetçioglu, Firuzan, Adalet Agaoglu, Sevgi Soysal, Tomris Uyar, Selim Ileri, Cevat Sakir (Halikarnas Balıkçısı), Necati Cumalı, Haldun Taner. Prominent poets in this period are: Behçet Kemal Çaglar, Necati Cumalı , Oktay Rıfat, Melih Cevdet Anday, Cemal Süreya, Edip Cansever, Özdemir İnce, Ataol Behramoğlu, Ismet Özel, Ece Ayhan, Turgut Uyar, Sezai Karakoç, Bahaettin Karakoç, Ümit Yasar Oguzcan, Orhan Pamuk .

The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2006 was awarded to the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk who in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures.



In the period prior to the proclamation of the Republic in Turkey, opera, ballet and the theatre were mostly centred around Istanbul and Izmir.


The first showing of opera at the imperial court was by artists trained by Guiseppe Donizetti (1788-1856) from the Italian opera. During the Republic, Ahmet Adnan Saygun, Necil Kazım Akses and Cemal Reşit Rey were the first composers of opera, operettas and musicals.



Tiles The development of tile and ceramic art began in Turkey in the 11th century by the Selçuk Turks and reached a pinnacle in the days of the Ottoman Empire.


During the 15th century, the great demand in tiles which were used to decorate the mosques and palaces built in the Ottomans’ new capital Istanbul meant a centre of production was established in Iznik, where at least 300 work-shops specialised in tile-making. For two hundred years Iznik produced tiles with swirling forms and floral motifs in an ever greater range of colours that reflect precious stones – emerald greens, lapis lazuli and turquoise blues and coral reds – and increasing sophistication. These tiles were also exported throughout the world via the island of Rhodes.


One of the best places to see Iznik ware is in the Blue Mosque; according to legend the artists of Iznik were so exhausted by its decoration that they went into decline soon after. Original tiles can also be seen at the Rustem Pasha Mosque in Eminonu and the Eyup Mosque complex at the top of the Golden Horn. You can also purchase Iznik tiles from specialist shops around the country.



Nasrettin Hoca was a popular scholar born in 1208, whose tales are famous throughout Turkey for their satire, wit and humour, beneath which lies a serious message.


He has acquired such mythical status, however, that fact and fiction have become muddled in the stories surrounding him and the anecdotes attributed to him. His stories refer to everyday situations amongst the common people of Anatolia and his wisdom opposes the stricter elements of Islamic law with humour, as he baffles those around him with his logic. Many of the stories feature his donkey, itself a symbol of suffering, which was an everyday part of village life.



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