Artistic. On every level.
From camel wrestling to Anatolian dance festivals, Turkey has no shortage of fascinating folkloric traditions. Turkey is also a cauldron of classical and modern festivities, drawing classical stars such as Zubin Mehta, Monserrat Caballe and Elizabeth Schwartzkopf, and popular acts by Sting, Seal or Smashing Pumpkins to create an ongoing extravaganza of international talent.
One of the more outrageous and traditional festivals is the Camel Wrestling Festival, pitting of beast against beast in a head-on confrontation that plays out annually in Selçuk in January.
In June, citizens flock to the Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Tournament in Edirne, featuring a uniquely Anatolian sport where greased and slippery athletes in villages across the country vie for the title of last man standing.
Festivals commemorating the world religions abound all over the country. The Eastern Orthodox Easter Sunday is celebrated in Christian enclaves throughout Turkey, with Patriarch Bartholomew I offering prayers by candlelight in Istanbul’s Ecumenical Patriarchate.
August marks the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, and every year, a mass is held at the House of the Virgin Mary at Ephesus, led by the Archbishop of Izmir.
St. Nicholas, more commonly known as Santa Claus, is honored in December in a festival held in the canonized Bishop’s adopted town of Myra, in the town of Demre/Kale on Turkey’s Mediterranean Coast.
Also in December, spiritual seekers of all denominations descend upon Konya to join in the celebration of the Muslim mystic, Rumi, in a massive festival of the Whirling Dervishes.
Since 1963, the annual Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival has recognized Turkish cinema and is now considered the most important film festival in the country, with the prestigious Golden Orange Feature Film Award becoming known as the “Turkish Oscar.”
The increasing number of world-class music festivals are even more enticing in Turkey since most or all of the performances take place in archaeological or historic settings.
Spring marks the International Music Festival, Ankara, with contemporary artists playing classical, traditional and folk music from all over the world
The Festival of Culture and Art in Selçuk in May is a local celebration that takes advantage of the Great Theatre at Ephesus as a venue for some of the concerts and theatrical presentations.
Similarly, from June to July the International Izmir Festival features performances by renowned international ensembles on stages like that at the Celsus Library at Ephesus, in Ephesus’s Great Theatre, or in other ancient amphitheaters. As part of the International Istanbul Music Festival, performers representing the classical, opera and ballet world present their artistry in evocative settings like the Hagia Irene in Topkapi Palace, atop the ramparts of Rumeli Hisari, or on the intimate stage at the Art Deco inspired Süreyya Opera House. One of the most splendid of Turkey’s festivals, the Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival, takes place in the Province of Antalya, in the ancient site of Aspendos. Soloists, orchestras and ensembles join with their audiences in the sentiment of having experienced the wonder of music beneath the stars in the best-preserved theatre of antiquity.
The sounds of New Orleans echo throughout Istanbul in July, when the International Jazz Festival attracts a star-studded collection that in the past has featured Keith Jarrett, Wynton Marsalis, Dizzy Gillespie as well as Miles Davis, Lou Reed and Patti Smith. In early autumn, the Akbank Jazz Festival brings the traditional and avant garde to Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. Then from November through early December, icons of America’s Deep South appear in cities around the country as part of the Efes Pilsen Blues Festival.
International and local talent can be found in Bodrum in August, participating in Bodrum’s International Ballet Festival in St. Peter’s Castle, in a restored Byzantine chapel as part of Gümüslük’s International Classical Music Festival, or at Yalikavak’s Aegean Festival of food and folklore.
One of the world’s most prestigious art events occurs every other year with the International Istanbul Biennal. This months-long event mounts exhibitions of contemporary art in antique customs depots, ancient cathedrals, and at leading museums and galleries around the city. If you can’t wait a year, there’s always the Contemporary Istanbul Art Festival, showcasing individuals, galleries and collectors for four days in late Fall.
One of the more spectacular displays appears during Istanbul’s Tulip Festival, a Springtime celebration of blossoms choreographed into mini-concerts of color and light.
A visit to Turkey at any time of the year can include a matchless experience of art, music, culture or folklore.