Sirince is barely discernible on any tourist maps, or on any internet travel sites. My husband, Bishara, and I became cognizant of this sweet mountain village a few short miles north of Ephesus when visiting Kas, Turkey on the Mediterranean coast. As we checked out of the charming Kekova Boutique Hotel in Kas, Bakir, an affable, middle-aged man, and manager of the accommodation inquired where we were going next on our travels. When we replied “Ephesus,” the historic site on Turkey’s western shoreline, Bakir’s eyes brightened and he remarked, “Oh, while there, you must see Sirince, a nice mountain town very close to Ephesus. My friends like to go there.”
Retaining Bakir’s suggestion in the corner of our minds, while basking in the remarkable Greco-Roman ruins of Ephesus, proved expedient. Subsequent to our sublime excursion to Ephesus, we promptly forged ahead through the nearby town of Selcuk, location of our hotel, and up a serpentine mountain road into Sirince. Along the route, we took a detour, as we often do, and rendezvoused with the remnants of a homestead containing penned Columbidae hens, a resplendent peacock atop the coop mocking its feathery compatriots below.
Advancing along the circuitous roadway, we encountered the appealing village of Sirince, reportedly settled by the Greeks in the 1400s and later by the Turks, and known for its local fruit wines, Ottoman-style homes, and mountain scenery. Sirince’s muddle of pebbled streets, red-tiled roofs, tangle of boutique hotels, and festive restaurants and souvenir shops, enticed us into further exploration of the disparate charms of this rustic and alluring pastoral town.
Beginning our sojourn in a converted school building, now housing the Stone School Museum, and Artemis Restaurant and Wine House, the onset of spritzing rain did not deter our enchantment with stores exhibiting multi-colored ceramic bowls, vibrant circular Turkish lanterns, and a diverse blend of multi-patterned women’s scarves. Although normally tepid shoppers, we buckled, employed the prerequisite haggling, and purchased two handsomely garnished silver Turkish demitasse cups with matching cupolas and saucers, and two ceramic whirling dervishes in mid-stride as mementos of our notable and entertaining time in Turkey.
Surveying the humming core of the village, we stumbled upon a hospitable merchant from the town’s diminutive grocery shop, who obliged us by assisting with money exchange, and informing us of a second brother, an artist specializing in unique felt mediums, who owned an artist’s shop on an adjacent hill. Equipped with the brother, Umud’s, business card, we made our way up the cobblestoned slope, and eventually found the artisan’s secluded family run enterprise.
Umud’s stern eyes turned tender when we uttered his brother’s name and disclosed that his sibling had encouraged us to visit his uncommon artist’s studio. Formalities vanished in short order. His hand resting delicately on Bishara’s shoulder, Umud guided us to an exclusive enclave, his workshop in the rear of the store, and offered Turkish coffee in exquisite miniscule cups. Wool and cloth material streaked with bold blues and reds alongside wooden tables and benches strewn throughout the unfinished room, the craftsman divulged he was working on a new prayer rug with colorful symmetrical configurations made of felt. The rug, although incomplete, bore the resolute forms of geometric composition alongside more fluid calligraphy strokes. The young man revealed additional completed felt rugs and caps, all reflecting his singular conceptions, drying on lines above his workshop.
Our discourse on prayer rugs and traditional designs led to an exchange encompassing Turkish culture and historical influences, and our revelation that we had witnessed a moving whirling dervish event several days before in Istanbul. Pronouncing his study of Sufism some years ago, Umud related that the conventional whirling dervish ceremony, an outshoot of Sufism inspired by Mevlana Rumi, centered around the counter-clockwise spin, which represents the rotation of the earth. Enduring, our host divulged that the dervish’s right hand opens towards the sky to receive God, and the left hand extends downwards towards the ground sending the spirit of God to the people of earth. Our newfound friend reinforced the notion that a whirling dervish performance is painstakingly precise, somber, and pious.
Flush with spiritual enlightenment and feeling grateful for the hospitality, we said warm farewells to Umud, and made our way along the mesh of alleyways to Sirincem Restaurant, a delightful looking eatery with lovely views that drew our attention earlier in the day. Ali, the young and sturdy-looking owner of Sirincem had been outside the restaurant, on the street, promoting the merits of dining at his establishment; Ali had approached us with promises of fresh pomegranate juice – the crimson fruit grown from his own family’s tree. While the pomegranate juice swayed me to return later, it was the assurance that sheesha would be provided, which persuaded Bishara. Sheesha, a nostalgic favorite, routinely conjures up tales of tender moments for Bishara of his early years spent stoking his father’s sheesha coals in the garden of his family home in northeast Jordan.
Arriving at the Sirincem later in the afternoon, we were cordially welcomed by Ali who was clearly pleased with our return. Steering us to outdoor seating, we declined indicating a preference for sitting inside, as the temperatures had dipped with the setting sun. Ali persevered with offerings of blankets, encouraging us to loll in the impressive outdoor views of the village and surrounding ridges. Generosity and hospitality a mainstay of eastern culture, Ali scurried off only to return moments later with three substantial wool blankets; one given to Bishara and two placed gently around my shoulders. Bishara and I dined on leafy salad grazed with pomegranate paste, delectable lamb shish kabob, dimpled green and black Turkish olives, and piquant pomegranate juice. Nearing the end of our splendid repast, Ali cautiously notified Bishara that he had only located cherry flavored sheesha rather than the requested apple flavored tobacco. Bishara’s disappointment apparent, Ali proclaimed he would be back soon and reappeared, self-assured and sanguine, the favored apple tobacco he had cajoled a benevolent neighbor into contributing stuffed in one hand, and a shiny sheesha pipe in the other.
Driving back down the willowing byways to Selcuk following our savory dinner, we pondered over our momentous eight-day trek through Turkey beginning with a provocative visit to Istanbul, a city rich in sundry cultural influences; followed by stops in Antalya Province, bordering the Mediterranean, with its mesmerizing natural beauty, and Ephesus, an ancient site depicting the nation’s complex history; and culminating with an outing to the pleasing and uncomplicated Ottoman-style village of Sirince, along with a wish to return to Turkey someday.