The hans and hamams of Gaziantep
Wilco Van Herpen
There are plenty of old hans and hamams in Gaziantep, some of which have been marvelously restored. Of course, there is also the exquisite local food.Spending a couple of days in Gaziantep is no problem. As a traveler, you have the time to lose yourself in one of the many places. There are a lot of hans (caravanserai) and some of them have been marvelously restored. There are still a number of old hans that not have been restored and you can see, looking at how the old hans appear, the owners and municipality have put a lot of effort in getting a number of old hans back into their semi-original status.
So generally, what you find is a tea garden at the entrance where there would be stables for the animals and on the first floor, the rooms for the guests. Nowadays, the first floor is generally occupied by some shops and organizations.
Birds like canaries and even parrots at the entrance can be one of the ways to decorate your teagarden and attract guests. Sitting in one of those hans, suddenly something is nibbling on your shoes and when you look down, you see two little white rabbits. Then, all of a sudden, some men start to play some Turkish sanat music (a version of Turkish classical music) and some people even dance on it.
On Saturday from 2:00 a.m., at a little square just outside the old center, some guys open their street restaurant. With a little grill and very basic kitchen, they serve you the most interesting things. Besides şiş (skewer) and kebab they also can serve you liver or even grilled lung! Sometimes, they are already sold out before 6:00 a.m., but it happens that they are still there at 10 a.m.
When I was there and saw all the smoke, I became quite curious. I did not know what was happening, but only saw the beautiful light and decided to check it out. When I approached them, I saw they were preparing food, but not just any kind of food. Their place is under some trees and, especially during this time of the year with a low sun, it creates a fabulous light. The sun, which shines through the trees, the smoke of another portion of lungs on the grill; it makes the sunbeams glow; it is as if you go back 100 years in time.
Food from street vendors
The food??? That’s something else again. A lot of people are squared off, eating food from those street vendors, but I recommend you to try their food. It is great and you will find things that you hardly find anywhere else.
There are some little shops that sell wooden spoons and at one of the corners in the center of the old town is an antique shop. I bought a big bronze Ottoman mortar for my kitchen. It’s quite heavy, but works perfectly for mixing and making your own curries. They sell quite some useful, not only as decoration, things like nice old locks, pans and trays are on display in the shop.
Everywhere around this area in the old center of Gaziantep you will find copper workers. The sounds of their instruments are like music; everywhere, another rhythm. With their little wooden hammers and chisels, they make any design you want or choose from one of their traditional designs. Depending on the size of your tray and the design, the work will last from half a day to two days of work.
If you want, you can have your copper pans or trays tinned by some other craftsmen that are working there. It’s a difficult job. Constantly the man is working with the boiling hot tin. He first cleans the piece that has to be covered thinly and then takes a big spoon in which there is a little bit of tin. This tin is poured into the, let’s say, pan and he quickly spreads the tin with a big piece of cloth out over the bottom and inside of the pan until the pan is covered with a thin layer of tin. The dark little workshops with the bright orange burner, creating a nostalgic feeling in the workshop that should be photographed. When you ask them for permission the people willingly pose and I can tell you; it gives you some great shots.
You know what is quite a nice treat for you at the end of the tiring day? A nice scrub and massage in the hamam of Gaziantep. Compared to Istanbul, it does not cost as much; a full treat is about 30 TL. This is one of the hamams that Evliya Çelebi, an old Ottoman traveler, writes about in his famous books. You will not be tortured as what might happen in some hamams of Istanbul where they think that they have to pull your arm and remove it from your shoulder kind of massage… They do it quite gently here and you really feel great after the massage.
The scrub is something you have to experience. First they cover you from top to toe with foam. They have a special technique for it and it takes them just a couple of seconds to cover you with foam. It’s a nice sound to hear the little soap bubbles popping. Then it’s time for the scrub. With a special washcloth, they start with your arms, then your legs and at the end your body.
I was in shock when I saw what came off my arms. But the massage makes the shock disappear in a second and with a nice slap on the back (and for women, of course, the woman) the guy who gave the massage to let you know the “therapy” is over.
To get back to a normal temperature, there is one more room where they made some nice platform kind of places where you can sit and have a drink. Before you sit down, a man takes away the towel you were wearing and wraps you into numerous towels. You are stiff like a mummy and ask for a tea, but then realize that you cannot move anymore. After quite an effort, the tea already cooled down, you manage to get your arms out of the towel wrap and drink your tea.