I get some of my best travel tips from my neighbors on airplanes. The story of Battal Ghazi is one example.
I was on my way from Munich to Istanbul and got talking to my Turkish neighbor. The usual introduction:’ what’s your name, where are you from? Why do you travel to Turkey?’ , lead to talk about travel and interesting places. ‘I am from Eskisehir,” he said. Big question marks appeared in my eyes. “It’s very beautiful,” he continued, “located in Anatolia, half way between Istanbul and Ankara.” Aha, now I knew where it was. But, why was it beautiful? My Turkish just stretched to translate the name into ‘Old Town’, so when I asked him to tell me more, I fully expected a description of ancient sites from Roman, Greek, Hittite or at least Ottoman times. But no, what he came up with was far more fascinating. It was the story of Battal Ghazi.
“He was a giant,” my neighbor explained, “about 7 meters (20 feet!!!) tall and a great hero. He was a leader of the Arabs in the war against Byzantine and he is buried in a mosque in the place where he was killed, Seyitgazi, about 40km from Eskisehir. You absolutely must visit. It’s one of the oldest mosques in Anatolia and you can see his tomb and sarcophagus. His hand and foot prints too.” ‘ A giant’, I thought. ‘A real one?’ That I must see.
Further research revealed that the figure of Battal Ghazi is a prominent feature in Turkish folk literature. Legend mixes with truth. Supposedly, he raided the Maiden Tower in Istanbul and made off with the emperor’s treasure and his daughter. No historic evidence has been discovered to support this, but he did marry a byzantine princess, who rests in the tomb next to him and is called Eleanor. Turkish movies about the Battal Ghazi are also very popular. Whether this is because of the subject or the extremely good-looking actor, I will leave open to discussion.
But the tale of the saintly giant was enough to send me off to Eskisehir. This time, I went with a friend and we had a great time. Eskisehir is indeed very beautiful, but details of that I will be reserved to a separate post. My foremost obsession was to find the giant.
A local bus took us the 40km and we alighted in the very small town of Seyitgazi. High up on the hill, dominating the town was the most impressive mosque complex I have ever seen. Truly majestic. We figured out how to ascent and after a few steps, found ourselves walking in snow. It was a fabulously sunny day and quite warm down below but getting chilly the further we ascended.
The complex, which was built in the 13th century, contains the mosque, a medrese (Islamic school), a room for dervishes and kitchens and bakeries for the population. Within the mosque we looked through a doorway….and there it was, the sarcophagus of Battal Ghazi, really and truly more than 7 meters long. The one of his wife Eleanor hardly reached his knee.
Curiosity satisfied, I couldn’t help but noticing an object, very incongruous with a sacred place: a Hoover in a niche!!! Well, the carpets need to be kept clean.
Once back down, we experienced an act of Turkish kindness and hospitality which touched our hearts. We had just missed the return bus and had to wait some 50 minutes for the next. There was nowhere to sit, but the sun was still shining and no snow down here, so we just sat on the curb. After a few minutes, we heard huffing and puffing and scraping sounds behind us. Turning around we saw two elderly villagers, carrying a heavy wooden bench for us to sit on. This was followed by two pillows and glasses of tea. This was one of the occasions where I deeply regretted that I couldn’t speak the language more fluently to express my gratitude. But, they understood and we had a very pleasant ending to our successful quest for the Turkish giant.