Harmony at the door: The world meets Sivas (2)

June 21, 2012, Thursday/ 17:26:00/ KATHARINE BRANNING

The 13th-century joint mosque and hospital complex of Diviğri, built by the dynasty of the Megucukids, is renowned for its monumental architecture and the carved stone decoration of the portals.

The intricate, three-dimensional figures flow in an eddy of decorative profusion and represent a distinct style of their own. Each design on this door is unique, and there are no repetitions.

Viewing the portals is an overwhelming aesthetic and spiritual experience, akin to gazing upon the celestial blue stained-glass windows of Chartres Cathedral. Sitting like a crown on a high hill, the complex reigns over a circular valley, which holds this treasure tightly in the hands of humanity. A heritage of the world, indeed.

A plan for the future

Divriği is currently the object of an extensive site development masterplan to be put in place over the next 10 years. After the visit to the mosque and a concert of classical music used in the healing treatment for mental patients in the hospital, attendees gathered to discuss their impressions and provide feedback to the organizers. A presentation of the comprehensive development plan for Divriği allowed a better understanding of the professionalism being paid to the site management plan. German consultant Gert Hesselmann, long a veteran of European cultural tourism development, diplomatically offered wise advice, counseling the development agencies to ensure that any development goal needed to be measured and executed not in haste but with taste, and with reason and respect instead of wildcat speculation.

Harmony at the door

Mesmerized, I stared for a long time at the celebrated portal of the hospital of Divriği, commissioned by a woman. Among the profusion of design elements, I could recognize five- and six-pointed stars, strong symbols of differing faith traditions, placed together in the same galaxy. I saw round circles like mirrors, calling us to look into them to see ourselves, or were they reflecting grace back to us? I saw depictions of all the plants of nature and all the geometry of the sciences swirling together in a dizzying dance of dreams.

As I stood looking at the portal surrounded by my international colleagues, I could not help but realize that its designs, none of them repeating, were as unique as the DNA and the fingerprints of each one of us standing there.

As we posed shoulder-to-shoulder for the group photo shot in front of the portal (and this being Turkey, the family is of utmost importance), I stood beside an Iranian. We were joined for this one moment in a place of peace far from the arena of politics.

As I looked out onto that valley bowl of heritage spread wide in front of the door, I could not help but think of the eternal pulse that drives us to travel. I thought how the Sufis of the Seljuk era counsel us to separate ourselves from ourselves to find ourselves. The gift of travel provides us with this very opportunity to step out of our culture to reach for the other one, unknown.

In the end, isn’t this what travel and tourism development is all about? It is not about building luxury hotels and fancy restaurants, but rather providing people the access to big cultural incidents like the impressive portals of Divriği and to small incidents like fresh-picked mulberries offered by a local man as I strolled through the town. It is about putting people together to discover that, like the profusion of decoration on the masterpiece doors of Divriği, we, too, can stand in the doorway of our world in harmonious diversity.

*Katharine Branning is the author of a series of essays on Turkey, “Yes I would love another glass of tea” and the curator of the exhibition “Song of Stones” dedicated to Seljuk art held at the Turkish Cultural Center in New York in the fall of 2011.