Verdant Hills & Rushing Springs

Verdant Hills & Rushing Springs

Aylin Öney Tan -
Verdant Hills & Rushing Springs There are countless towns and villages in Turkey with a green hilltop named “Hıdır Tepesi,” which can be translated as the “Hill of Hıdır;” in reality it means “The Verdant Hill.” 

Hıdır, or Hıdr, comes from the Arabic word for green. There is virtually no difference between Hıdır, Hidr and Hizir in Arabic, for d and z are at times interchangeable. “Hıdırlık” is a short term for greenery or any open grassy land fit to serve as a playground for children or place to picnic. It also has a connection to Hızır (or Hıdr/Hıdır), a saintly person who appears unexpectedly for people in need, hence the term “Hızır gibi yetişmek (To come to somebody’s rescue like Hızır). Hızır is an immortal man who has drunk the water of life from the spring of immortality. Hıdrellez, the ultimate spring festival celebrated on the night of May 5 and the day of May 6th, also gets its name from the same word, or rather, the same saintly figure. 

Hızır is a figure of great controversy. All agree the he is invisible and let’s himself be seen only when necessary. He appears and disappears at an instant. He is, in a way, like a spring that suddenly comes after a never-ending winter, just like this year. He is the one who is identified with greenness and water springs.
 There are some who associate the name also with Hydra, related to water. He is also believed to be the same person as St. George, another saintly green man in Christian culture. St. George is from the heart of Anatolia, from Cappadocia, with a Middle Eastern ancestry. In a way, it is normal to consider Hıdır St. George; usually, holy figures are swapped in between religions in this geography all the time. 

As said, his sudden appearance, often in disguise of a beggar, or an elderly passerby, gives a certain suspicion to his real personality. He will be there to guide you to the path to truth whenever necessary. If you treat him rightly, you’ll be rewarded with abundance and plenty. He’ll make your wishes come true, provided that you welcome him with a warm reception. Maybe it is the strong belief in his existence that lies beneath the unmatched Anatolian hospitality. It may be that all the peoples of this land dread the thought of missing an opportunity to meet the mighty and generous green man. That would be equal the skipping the chance of a lifetime, as he is believed to appear only once in a lifetime of a person. 

But where is he and who is he? You’ll never know, at least not at the moment you see him. You can only realize that you’ve just encountered his existence after he disappears to an unknown destiny, never to come back again. He is omnipresent, yet invisible. Some say he only touches your faith when you’re truly and desperately in need. There is one condition: you have to be a completely honest and pure person. The integrity of oneself is the key to receive his blessing. 

In some depictions, Hıdır wears a green coat or cloak. It is the same for hilltops named after him. These hilltops are probably at their greenest at Hıdrellez, the time to go out and celebrate nature. Hıdrellez also marks the only day when Hıdır meets Elias, his long lost pal. Elias (Elijah), or Ilyas in Turkish, is another saintly figure who represents the sea. Hıdır, the greenery (also meaning for the earth) meets the water, let it be the sea, lake, or rivers, on this particular day. The day of Hıdrellez gets its name from Hıdır and Elias; it is the day for the reunion of opposites, the marriage of the land and the sea. 

As it signifies the time to wait for the verdant one, Hıdrellez is mostly about having fun. Feasting al fresco is its core, most often accompanied with music and dancing. Celebrating through the night of May 5th is almost obligatory, as one wishes lay underneath a rose tree or set sail on the waterfront at the crack of dawn. The night is spent dancing and jumping over bonfires in a camping spirit. Young girls wait for the love of their life to appear like Hızır, write down wishes for a happy future and secretly bury them under rose trees. If there is a waterside nearby, or rushing springs, all wishful youth will end the night there, watching the rise of the sun. 

One never knows one’s own destiny; he (Hıdır or Hızır or the love of one’s life) might come at the most unexpected moment… Hıdrellez is mostly about mankind’s naivety of good will, so let’s not lose hope on nature and start celebrating spring (finally) with the greenest of spring tastes.

Bite of the Week

Recipe of the Week: Peas must be the greenest of spring vegetables. To enjoy their freshness, cover young tender peas (about 500 g) with chopped spring onions (a small bunch) and finely shredded Cos lettuce leaves (4-5 leaves will suffice) both the white and green parts, add 1.5 teaspoons sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt. Drizzle with plenty olive oil (about ½ glass). Cover and let steep until the lettuce almost disappears. No need to add water. Serve sprinkled with fresh dill or mint. If Hıdır does not come for this dish, he will never come!

Fork of the Week: If you happen to travel to Urla one of these days, three locations in the inland center have lavish spring vegetable dishes with artichokes, peas, fava beans and wild fennel. Check these places: Uzun Sofra, Ömre Bedel and Beğendik Abi. Their artichoke dishes were phenomenal during the recent artichoke festival. 

Cork of the Week: For the green man, my pick is the green man of Cappadocia, the hometown of St. George. Turasan Emir is made from the indigenous local grape Emir Search for the years 2012 or 2013; these years were definitely blessed with a touch of Hıdır.