Culture of Turkey

Customs and traditions, national and religious holidays, the development of art and architecture in Turkey. Description of the relationship of Turks to the family, women, marriage, birth and burial. Characteristics of the custom of Sunnet - circumcision.

Рубрика Культура и искусство
Вид реферат
Язык английский
Дата добавления 21.01.2012
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Culture of Turkey

Bokovaya Ekaterina





1. Family

2. Women

3. Marriage

4. Birth

5. Sunnet (circumcision)

6. Burial

7. Traditional costume


1. National holidays

2. Religious holidays


1. Painting

2. Sculpture

3. Music and dance

4. Literature




Islamic tradition, ideology, and ritual are very important. About 98% of the Turkish society is Muslim and represents either the Sunnis or Shiites. Approximately 15% of them are `alevi' (considered as one of the many sects of Islam). There is a great influence of Sufism classes (`mevlevi',' naksbandi'). After the Ataturk's secularism, religion became more of a cultural inheritance, than a dogma. Some people are Muslims merely by birth, but of course many of them practice their religion. There are only few Christians and Jews.

For most Turks, Islam plays an important role in rites of passage: naming shortly after birth, circumcision for boys, marriage, and funerals But the Turkish government makes it very clear that Turkey is a secular state with complete freedom of religion. Islam is not the state religion. Its status as such was abolished in 1924. Before the declaration of the republic, Turkey was the home of the "caliph", the leader of the world's Muslim community. Although Turkish laws and other social structures are not based on Islamic principles, Islam maintains some influence on society especially in the rural areas. Traditional dress which was widely used during the pre-republic period differs from region to region and may still be worn in rural areas or for special occasions.


The culture of Turkey is very colourful and many sided because of the Ottoman past, the blending of cultures and the Islam tradition. It is said to be an interesting mixture of the "East" and "West". Turkish customs are hereditary from generations to generations.

Lots of customs originate from the Islam and they hardly changed over time. Family life is very important in the Turkish culture; communities are strengthened by the social and economic ties of big families.

1. Family

The traditional extended family generally means that three generations live together: grandfather, adult sons and sons' sons, their wives and their unmarried daughters a married daughter becomes a member of her husband's family and lives there. In Turkey lots of houses are never finished, it has got 2 causes. On the one hand it can be because as more and more people live together, more and more space needed and they built an additional floor on the top of the house, which costs a lot and most of Turkish families can build it just slowly. On the other hand they not always want to finish it because in Turkey after every finished house tax has to be paid, which means an additional burden for those poor families. Today because of industrialization and urbanization unclean families replace the traditional family structure. Unclean family means that husband; wife and unmarried children live together. In traditional Turkish families, the father is the head of the family, but the mother has equal rights. The father is the person who earns the money for the family. The mother either helps to work and earn money or takes care of the home. Grandparents help to raise children, while children help with the housework. Nowadays we can see the effects of West that for Turkish people also enough 2 or 3 children, in case of wealthy families that there is only 1 child.

2. Women

Islam plays an important role in the lives of women. Islam influenced women's life in Arabic countries, and women were exposed to all wishes of their husbands.

For the woman her fertility gives her value. For the modern Turkish families the idyllic picture is a family which grounds on powerful and steady basis.

For the infertile women some fruits or herbs are hanged over her uterus. Nowadays more and more people turn to doctor for advice and medication. In Anatolia it was a habit to petition at greaves for fertility.

In Turkey in the declaration of the Republic in 1923, one of the most significant elements in the social revolution planned and advocated by Ataturk was the emancipation of Turkish women, based on the principle that the new Turkey was to be a secular state, since then women have right to work in the public sector.

In 1926, a new code of Turkish civil law was adopted, which suddenly changed the family structure. Polygamy was abolished along with religious marriages and divorce and child custody became the right of both women and men. A minimum age for marriage was fixed at 15 for girls and 17 for boys.

With the secularization of the educational system, women gained equal rights with men in the field of education as well and no longer had to wear the veils and long garments, required by the old religious beliefs. The right to vote for women was granted at the municipal level in 1930 and nationwide in 1934, in this year they gained right to be electable. In 1935 18 women became elected as Members of Parliament, which meant 4.5%. In 1993 Tansu Ciller is the first woman elected Prime Minister of Turkey.

Theoretically, Turkish women were far ahead of many of their western sisters at that time, for instance in France, where women only gained the right to vote in 1944. The charter of the International Labour Organization adopted in 1951, declaring equal wages for both sexes for equal work was ratified by Turkey in 1966. Although all of these improvements, the actual status of women within the family institution did not provide for proper equality between men and women.

Nowadays, more women have a chance to learn. It has been observed that as the education level of women increases, the fertility rate decreases. Nearly every female university graduate has only one child. 9 million of the 21 million working population of Turkey are women. In the rural areas, the rate of working women, especially in agriculture, is very high. In urban areas, women hold important posts both in public and private sectors, the arts and sciences. Turkish women can be bank managers, doctors, lawyers, judges, journalists, pilots, diplomats, police officers, army officers or prime ministers also.

The Parliament accepted the new civil legal code in 2001, which considers the married couple as an equal party and the notion of illegitimate children was eliminated. A few years ago 9 out of 10 people thought violence against women was acceptable, but now 9 out of 10 thought it was wrong.

3. Marriage

In the traditional family, marriage is still a family rather than a personal affair. Traditionally, marriage had been, and frequently continues to be, a contract negotiated and executed by the families and blessed by a representative of the religious establishment. Representatives of the bride negotiated the contract with those of the groom, stipulating such terms as the size and nature of the bride-price paid by the groom's family to the bride's, and certain conditions of conjugal life. After a series of meetings between the two families, the exchange of gifts, and the display of the trousseau, the marriage was formalized at a ceremony presided over by a religious official. The ritual left no doubt that the consenting units were families rather than individuals. Similarly, the relations of the young couple were a family matter. Marriage was legalised only before the republic. Approximately 40% of marriages are only civil, 50% are both civil and religious, and 10% are only religious which means they are not legal. Despite increasing frequency of civil marriage, however, the realities of courtship and marriage in the traditional segments of society have not been completely reformed in the countryside. In the late 1980s, many couples, especially in the rural areas, engaged in two ceremonies, a religious one to satisfy their families and a civil one to entitle them and their children to government social benefits, as well as to confer legitimacy on their children before the law.

Early marriages are more frequent in rural areas. For young men in big cities the problems of receiving an education, military service and acquiring a job are among the reasons that delay marriage.

The wedding ceremony takes from four to seven days in Turkey. It starts with separate celebrations of the bride and groom's families. From this day on till the couple gets married, they cannot see each other until their wedding ceremony.

tradition marriage burial circumcision

4. Birth

For Turkish people family is very important, which is provided by children. They think that children are the best investigation. To have a great family in Turkey means a great honour. Upon hearing the good news of pregnancy, a golden bracelet comes immediately as a present from the mother-in-law. In rural areas a pregnant woman declares it with some symbols mostly on her clothing; her scarf, motifs on it and suchlike. For the births, in rural places midwives are present, whereas in big cities hospitals are common. The mother is not supposed to go out from her house for 40 days. If she works, she has a holiday of 40 days automatically. In the first three days only close relatives come to visit, but in the following days the others also come to visit with lots of presents. Baby boys have to get a bigger present than the baby girls. In Anatolia there is a custom of planting trees in the names of newly born children.

Chestnut, mulberry and apple trees are planted for girls, poplar or pine trees for boys. There are some further customs which related to the birth, some of these are the cradle must not roll when it is empty, because that is said to be meant the death of the baby. The mother should not open the swaddling-bands in front of foreigners, not to envy the baby. To stair the baby on the street should be avoid because that is said that it brings a curse on the baby, against this is the Allah's eye used.

Turkish people have family names only since 21 April 1934. They had to chose their name and to written it into their birth certificate. The causes of these were the growing population and the reforms according to European norms. They chose as family name tribal, geographical, hoped features or professions. After the birth in 1 week the baby has to be named.

When a name is selected, it is given by an imam or an elder person in the family by holding the child in the direction of Mecca (Kible) and reading from the Koran into his left ear and repeating his name three times into his right ear.

5. Sunnet (circumcision)

In Islam, the authority for circumcision did not come from the Koran but from the example of the Prophet Mohammed. As an Islamic country, in Turkey, all Moslem boys are circumcised between the ages 2-14 by licensed circumcising surgeons. From the social point of view, the most prominent feature of circumcision is the introduction of a child to his religious society as a new member. Circumcisions are generally made with big ceremonies in festive atmosphere. If a family has more than one boy, they wait for an appropriate time to perform it altogether. Charity organizations make collective ceremonies for poor boys and orphans. For this occasion boys wear a special dress, which models the page boy costume of the sultan's army. The circumcision is an initiation, marking the time, when the boy can apprehend the religion. It is mostly performed between the age of 7 and 12. Prior sunnet, boys are raised together with girls, after sunnet, they join the men.

When a family determines a date for their feast, they invite relatives, friends and neighbours by sending invitation cards in advance. They prepare a highly decorated room for the boy with a nice bed and many colourful decorative things. Boys should also wear special costumes for this feast; a suit, a cape, a sceptre and a special hat with "Masallah", meaning "God preserve him", written on it.

In the morning of the feast, the children of guests are all taken for a tour around in a big convoy with the boy either on horseback, horse carts, or automobiles. This convoy is also followed by musicians playing the drums and the clarinet.

After they come back, the boy wears a loose long white dress and, is circumcised by the surgeon while somebody holds him. This person who holds is called kirve, and has to be somebody close to the boy. In the Eastern parts of Anatolia, this is the first contact of a relationship, which will continue for lifetime. He will play an active role in the boy's life and have nearly equal rights with the father in decisions. This is similar to a godfather in Christianity. Although there is no blood relation to his kirve, the boy will not even be allowed to marry his kirve's daughter in order not to have incest because he is considered to have become somebody from the family.

After the circumcision, the boy is in pain and has to be kept busy with music, lots of jokes or some other animation. Presents also are given at this time to help him forget his pains. In the meantime words from the Koran are recited and guests are taken to tables for the feast meal which is a special one laid with different food changing from region to region. After a few days the boy recovers and festivities end.

Today, there is a small group of people who prefer their children to be circumcised in hospitals while they are in hospital after birth, whereby ignoring the traditional side.

6. Burial

Throughout the ages in Anatolia, many different rituals regarding death and burial have been applied. Types of graves have differed.

When somebody dies, the corpse is laid on a bed in a separate room; the head facing the direction of Mecca, eyelids closed, the big toes are tied to each other and the two arms rest on both sides next to the body. Burial has to take place as soon as possible during the daytime. If somebody dies in the late afternoon, he is buried the next day. The corpse might rest for a period of time in a cool place or a mortuary but only if there are close relatives coming from a far away place.

According to religious belief, if somebody is buried without an ablution, he is not allowed to enter heaven. Therefore, dead people have to be washed by authorized people, and always women by a woman, men by a man. Meanwhile the death is declared from a mosque minaret by a muezzin with some words from the Koran together with his name, funeral time and place. After the ablution the corpse is dressed in a white shroud, put in a wooden coffin covered with a green piece of cloth. A martyr's coffin is covered with the Turkish flag. The coffin is carried to the table outside in the courtyard of a mosque on people's shoulders before prayers. Nobody stands in front of the funeral procession and people in the street stand up and salute the funeral motionless and in silence.

While the coffin rests guarded on the table outside, people perform their regular prayers. From within the mosque, following the prayers, they all come out and line up in front of the coffin to take part in the funeral service under the leadership of the Imam. Women are not allowed to join this service. At the end of the service, the Imam asks people what they thought of the deceased and answers are always positive: "He was good. May God bless him? Mercy be upon his soul, etc." Funeral services are not held for parricides or the stillborn.

The coffin is carried to the cemetery by a hearse followed by a long convoy. Graves are rectangular in shape and designed to accommodate only one person. The deceased is buried in only the shroud not the coffin. The body is laid on its right shoulder facing the direction of Mecca. The tombstone is on the head's side.

The Imam's prayers signify the end of the burial. The deceased is commemorated on the seventh and fifty-second days of his death with Islamic readings; mevlit. Sometimes big funerary meals or halvah are offered to the poor and surrounding people.

7. Traditional costume

Clothing has come by its present forms as a result of the influence of social and moral values. With the passing time, a wide variety in forms of clothing emerged. These differences were the result of social and economic structure, geography, the materials available and climate. Each region had its own characteristics in the way of clothing, headwear, scarves and socks, which have all, through the centuries, attracted interest and admiration. Clothes indicate whether societies are settled or nomadic, and are a source of information about historical events and ethnological origins.

Daily, work and special day clothes are different. Hair styles during a wedding and after the bridal chamber differ. In markets, it is easy to identify which village people live in just from their clothes. Today in Anatolia, there are differences even between the clothing worn in different neighbourhoods of the same village.

Men who leave their villages to do their military service or to take up employment inevitably adapt to city culture. In rural areas, women generally have little contact with the outside world. They tend to dress in conformity with the lifestyle and traditions of the community of which they are a part. Dress and decoration tends to follow that of preceding generations. Children's clothes also differ according to sex and age. The concept of the evil eye is widespread, and one can observe many amulets to ward it off in peoples' clothes and hair. In conservative communities, each generation follows the clothing styles and customs of earlier generations. Yet it is nevertheless impossible to say that traditional clothing and finery are totally unchanging. In rural areas, women spend most of their time with working. As a result, their daily, work and special day clothes are different. Special costumes and hair dressings are only to be seen at wedding ceremonies. Women's hair styles differ in accordance with their social status, and whether they are married or engaged, or not. Hair style is an important feature of women's lives.

The tradition of using jewellery and ornaments to complement traditional clothing still exists in traditional societies. The jewellery and ornaments used at wedding ceremonies in Anatolia differ according to the importance of the couple about to be married.


1. National holidays

In Turkey, people celebrate the national holidays. They are the following:

1 January New Years Eve; 23 April the Day of the National Sovereignty and children's day; 1 May Labour and Solidarity Day (recently added in 2009); 19 May Ataturk Commemoration and Youth & Sports Day; 29 May Capture of Istanbul; 1 July Day of the Navy; 30 August Day of Victory; 29 October Day of Republic; 10 November Ataturk-Memorial Day.

2. Religious holidays

The great religious holiday is Kurban Bayramэ. It is held on the 10th day of the 12th `dzu-l-hiddsa' month, 70 days after Ramadan. It is the day when the pilgrims to Mecca made a sacrifice in the nearby valley Mina. It is a 4-day long holiday. The sacrifice is recommended for every Muslim, but only obligatory for those who took a vow to fulfil it. According to the Gregorian calendar it is changing in time. Kurban Bayrami (Feast of the Sacrifice) was on 27-30 November in 2009, while in 2010 it is going to be on 16-19 November.

Ramazan Bayramэ is "the Small Holiday". It is the holiday to celebrate the end of the Ramadan. It starts on 1th day of `Sawwal' (10th) month and it is 3-day long. It also changes in time. It is a joyful time of the year. The Musulman families visit each other these days, give presents to each other and visit the grave of their be loved. Ramazan Bayrami in 2009 it was on 19-22 September (19th is half-day). In 2010 it is going to be on 9-12 September (9th is half-day).

In Turkey, people celebrate the `Asura', it is the 10th day of the `Muharram' (1st) month. In the Gregorian calendar in 2008 it was on 19 January. According to Muslim customs when the Flood started to withdraw, Prophet Noah collected all foods, remained on the Ark and cooked pudding of it. It was named `Asura' or „Noah's pudding". To remember Prophet Noah and thanks giving to God, peoples of Anatolia and other Muslims made a habit to make and share this pudding among neighbours and friends. Sharing the pudding is a god way of strengthening the connection among people and unity independently from religion, belief and background.


1. Painting

The Romans decorated their villas with mosaic floors and exquisite wall frescoes portraying rituals, myths, landscapes, still-life and scenes of daily activities. Using the technique known as aerial perspective, in which colours and outlines of more distant objects are softened and blurred to achieve spatial effects, Roman artists created the illusion of reality. Certain stylization and artistic conventions are characteristic of these representations of the New Testament events.

The otherworldly presentation became characteristic of Byzantine art and the style came to be associated with the imperial Christian court of Constantinople, which survived from 330 AD until 1453. The Byzantine style is also seen on icons, conventionalized paintings on wooden panels of Christ, the Virgin, or the saints, made for veneration.

2. Sculpture

Small fertility figures or mother goddesses modelled in terra-cotta found in Catalhoyuk (5500 BC) and Hacilar are among the earliest examples of sculpture in Anatolia.

The first statues were influenced by Egyptian sculpture, which in the 7th century BC already had a long tradition. Egyptian sculpture, however, showed little stylistic change over the centuries. Especially in the earliest phase, sculpture was carved in a severe (or formal) classical style. The male body became a broad-shouldered, trim-hipped athlete, often shown in arrested motion. The female figures were still severely draped; the earlier archaic smiles were sometimes softened in expression in the Classical period (5th-4th century BC).

After the death of Alexander the Great, his extensive empire was dissolved into many different kingdoms. This fragmentation was symbolic of the diversity and multiplicity of artistic tendencies in the Hellenistic period. The great centres of art were in the islands and in the cities of the eastern Mediterranean Alexandria, Antioch and Pergamum. The Hellenistic period (4-2 century BC) was a period of eclecticism. Art still served a religious function or to glorify athletes, but sculpture and painting were also used to decorate the homes of the rich.

3. Music and dance

Turkish music and dance originates deeply from the history and traditions. Ottoman classics, mysterious Sufi songs, different folk music, jazz and pop had an effect on Turkish music. The result of these is a mixture of the ancient and the new styles. Today these styles and traditions are still being fostered. Visitors of Turkey can easily meet these styles.

The Mevlevi music is the music of Sufis. This music is based on instruments ney, ud and kanun. Their music is long and stands for complex compositions, called Ayin.

The fasэl music is similar to gipsy music. It is half classical music and played in concert halls. It uses traditional wind, percussion and stringed instruments. Fasэl music is mainly listened to and rarely danced to.

Since one third of the Turkish population is alevi, their folk music is well-known. These songs are about mystical topics. They pray through this to Avlevi saints and to Ali.

Pop music affected Turkish music also. One of the biggest pop stars in Turkey is Sezen Aksu and the world famous Tarkan. Of course belly dance is famous in Turkey. It is still the favourite of tourists. Belly dance has lots of different styles; the Turkish belly dance is not as light as the Egyptian, it is rather strong and forceful. The traditional instruments can be divided into 3 groups: wind, percussion and stringed instruments. The main stringed instruments are Saz and Ud. Saz is a penance instrument with 3 strings, while Ud has 11 strings and there is a piece of leather on it to protect the strings. The wind instruments are Kaval and Ney. Both of them have ancient origins and both are made of wood. Ney is carved from cane, kaval is made of plum tree. Percussion instruments are Darbuka and Davul. These instruments have Arab origins.

4. Literature

By Turkish literature means both written and oral texts in Turkish. Early peaces were influenced by the Persian and Arab languages in the Ottoman Empire (Ottoman-Turkish language), later on the reformed Turkish language.

The Turkish literature is almost 1500 years old. The earliest known Turkish text was found in the Orkhon valley, Mongolia from the 8th century AD. The works from the 9th - 11th centuries were subsisting by oral traditions like the book of Dede Korkut and the epic, Manasz.

Literacy appeared in the 11th century when the Seljuks settled in Anatolia. At the beginning, lots of motives, topics and genre were adopted from the Arab and Persian literature. The most well-known person of the Turkish literature today is Orhan Pamuk, who won a Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006.


The principal Islamic architectural types include among others: the Mosque, the Tomb, the Palace and the Fort. An especially recognizable Islamic architectural style emerged soon after Prophet Muhammad's time, developing from localized adaptations of Egyptian, Byzantine and Persian models. Distinguishing motifs of Islamic architecture have always been ordered repetition, radiating structures, and rhythmic, metric patterns.

In this respect, fractal geometry has been a key utility, especially for mosques and palaces. Other significant features employed as motifs include columns, piers and arches, organized and interwoven with alternating sequences of niches and coronate. The role of domes in Islamic architecture has been considerable.

In Anatolia several hans (warehouses) and caravanserais (inns) were built in the Seljuk and Ottoman area to protect the caravans (travelers) on their way. Seljuks were built more than 100 hans to promote the trade. (The camel caravans went from China to the main trade centers, like Bursa. The most important goods were silk, spice and slaves.) Under the Ottoman area these hans and caravanserais became the part of the social system subsidized by the state. Today lots of them can be visited; some of them are converted into hotels or restaurants. The Sultanhanэ caravanserai remained in the best condition. It was built between 1226 and 1229 in Central-Anatolia in Aksaray. The building was surrounded by stable, mosque and hamam. Traders could store their goods in covered halls.

The caravanserais were surrounded by thick walls. Entrance was only possible through the central door. A small mosque was in the middle of the courtyard. The mosque was built on arches. In the middle of the hall there was an octagonal lighthouse, through which the light could shine in.

The Architecture of most of the popular mosques in Turkey obtained influence from Byzantine, Persian and Syrian-Arab designs. Turkish architects implemented their own style of cupola domes. The most conspicuous buildings are in Istanbul those, which have been built in the Ottoman area. The architecture of the Turkish Ottoman Empire forms a distinctive whole, especially the great mosques by and in the style of Sinan, like the mid-16th century Suleiman Mosque. For almost 500 years Byzantine Architecture such as the church of Hagia-Sophia served as models for many of the Ottoman mosques such as the Shehzade Mosque, the Suleiman Mosque, and the Rustem Pasha Mosque.

Mostly these are mosques of sultans, palaces and kulliyes (Muslim charitable institutions). The Ottoman architecture is characterized by strict hierarchy of scales and materials. For example only those mosques could have 2 or more minarets which were ordered by a member of the Ottoman family. Lots of architectures were imported from Greece or Armenia.

Ottomans mastered the technique of building vast inner spaces confined by seemingly weightless yet massive domes, and achieving perfect harmony between inner and outer spaces, as well as light and shadow. Islamic religious architecture, which until then consisted of simple buildings with extensive decorations, was transformed by the Ottomans through a dynamic architectural vocabulary of vaults, domes, semi domes and columns. The mosque was transformed from being a cramped and dark chamber with arabesque-covered walls into a sanctuary of esthetic and technical balance, refined elegance and a hint of heavenly transcendence.

The early Ottoman mosques had only 1 huge prayer room, which was covered by semicircular dome. Covered hall and minarets outside also belonged to the mosques.

Sometimes these were completed with arcaded courtyards. Usually the entrance hall is covered by 7 domes. Walls are filled with rubble stone.

After the occupation of Constantinople, the form of mosques went through lots of changes. Orthodox churches were often changed to mosques; the most famous of these is the Hagia Sophia. As an effect of these examples, higher mosques with one dome became widespread and the inner spaces were expanded also.

An architecturally interesting thing is about Hagia Sophia is that - according to the experts - it could resist a 7,5 magnitude earthquake. The Northern-Anatolian fault line is close to Istanbul and earthquakes are frequent. It is because its flexibility is incredible, considering the time when it was built (AD 532). It is due to the special solutions and materials used. One of the special solutions is that the dome is standing on columns and not on a cylinder; the other solution is that the 40 windows of the building hinder the building against disintegration. The special materials are the bricks, which are extremely easy and the mortar, which contains calcium and silicone. In case of quakes, these indigents react with each other and strengthen the mortar along the gap after 1500 years also.


1. Anderson, June. Return to Tradition: The Revitalization of Turkish Village Carpets, 2008.

2. Holod, Renata, and Ahmet Evin. Modern Turkish Architecture, 2006.

3. Metz, Helen Chapin. Turkey: A Country Study, 2007.

4. Ozbay, Ferhunde, ed. Women, Family and Social Change in Turkey, 2007.

5. Pinar, Selman. A History of Turkish Painting, 2006.

6. Turkish Cultural Foundation:

7. Turkish Odyssey:

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