There’s a lot about Turkey which is delightfully surprising. We’ve been coming for nearly 20 years and we still find out fascinating new details about the country and its history, culture and people on almost every visit. So we thought it’d be interesting to do an occasional series on some surprising facts about Turkey, especially for folks who haven’t yet visited the country and who may be thinking of doing so. There’s more to the place than the old cliché of where East meets West you know.
Anyway here’s the first in the series…
Horticultural gifts to the world
Did you know that the first seeds of agriculture probably began in these lands some 11,000 years ago? At sites like Çatalhöyük, in south-central Turkey, there’s evidence that the residents added crops like wheat and barley to their diet all that time ago. And you probably thought the Swiss invented Muesli! Amazingly, wild grasses genetically identical to those first domesticated grains still grow in southeastern Turkey. Even today, the country is the world’s 10th-biggest grain producer.
It’s not totally certain where the first tulips were grown, but what is known is that the Ottomans popularized the flower and facilitated their introduction to Europe. A Flemish ambassador to the 16th-century court of Süleyman the Magnificent brought back the flowers to Holland and the rest is bulbous history.
It’s thought the coffee plant was first discovered in Ethiopia around the 11th c; the leaves were boiled in water and the resulting brew was thought to have medicinal properties. Its centuries-long voyage was about to begin…
Coffee spread quickly through NE Africa and the Arabian Peninsula before reaching Istanbul in 1555 during the reign of old Suleyman again in whose palace kitchens a new method of drinking coffee was developed: the beans were roasted over a fire, finely ground and then slowly cooked with water on the ashes of a charcoal fire. With its new brewing method and aroma, coffee’s renown soon spread from the palace to grand mansions and from there to the homes of the public via the establishment of coffeehouses.
Thanks to the efforts of merchants and travellers who passed through Istanbul, Turkish new coffee sensation soon spread to Europe and ultimately to the whole world first into Venice, then Marseilles, Paris and by around 1650 Oxford and finally London’s very own coffee houses. Central Perk got it about 350 years later.
There are about 150 species of cherries and the two most important are the sweet cherry and the sour cherry. They are said to be of ancient origin and the legend is that the name cherry came from Cerasus, a Turkish town, where there is evidence of cherries being deliberately cultivated in around 800 BC.
From there production spread to the Greeks, the Persians and the Romans who introduced them into Britain in the 1st century AD. Some 1500 years later their cultivation was popularized by Henry VIII, who famously commissioned the Cherry Blossom shoe polish product when he grew tired of his riding boots looking grungy after his morning boar hunts. I might have made that very last bit up but the rest is absolutely true…so far as we know.
We’ll feature some more surprising facts about Turkey in subsequent postings. Perhaps the least surprising thing, if you’ve never been before, is how wonderful a holiday here can be and what great value it can prove to be compared with holiday destinations elsewhere around the Med.
You should come and try it and surprise yourselves!