City of Legends: Manisa

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Greetings from Manisa to our readers. Manisa was once the mythological Magnesia of Tantalus, Pelops, and Niobe; Sardes as the hometown of King Kroisos, the legendary king of Lydia; Atlantis, the legendary lost civilization; the pavilion of the Sarukhanid dynasty; and the city of the shahzades. The city is famous for its beautiful tulips, Mesir Paste, and the Tarzan of Manisa. I would like to share with you the eleven thousand years of adventures that took place in the valley of Gediz and Bakircay.

What does the name “Manisa” derive from?

Manisa is a city leaning against Mount Spil, which has existed for millions of years. For centuries, the people of the city have looked blankly over the plain and at Sipylus displaying signs of life. Now, let’s try to imagine how it was thousands of years ago. What did this place look like? Who lived there? What languages were spoken? What were the etymologies of the names given to this place? How did the ethnic mix of the people living in Manisa come about? Unfortunately, historical evidence doesn’t tell us enough.

There are differing opinions about the origin of Manisa’s name. The Magnetes tribe migrated from Thessaly and established the city, calling their new home “Magnesia.” According to ancient records, they gave it the names “Magnesia ad Sipylum” or “Spiylos Magnesia” to differentiate it from the “Maiandros Magnesia” area around the river Maeander. I imagine this name was a reference to the sources of magnetic iron found in the area.

The name “Manisa” derives from a word in Lydian or maybe another Asia Minor language, but we have lost its meaning. According to Evliya Celebi, the Latin speakers called this place “Nisa,” meaning large. After Manisa was taken from the Byzantines, it was renamed “Magnesia” to signify the “city of infidels.”

The abbreviation of the word “Mader” (mother) is “Ma.” The Persian culture also used to be dominant in this area, and the word “Nisa” has the same meaning in the Arabic, Hebrew, Phoenician, and Aramaic languages.

Ma-n-isa could also mean the city of Jesus’ mother. The landmark on the Spil Mountain, which can be found on maps, is called the Stone of the Virgin Mary. It is commonly believed that the Virgin Mary stayed in the “Roman Shire” temple in Manisa before moving on to Ephesus. Because she honored the area with her visit, the city was given the name Manisa to mark the visit.

In brief, the name of Manisa in archaic times was Magnesia as it went through the sovereignty of the Hittites, Akhas, Fhrygians, Lydians, Hellenics, Romans, and Byzantines. In 1313, after the city was won from the Byzantine Empire by the Sarukhanid dynasty, its name was changed to Manisa, and it became the center of their dynasty.

When the Roman Empire was broken in two in A.D. 395, Manisa stayed under Byzantine control until it was conquered by the Sarukhanids in 1313 and became a land for the Turks. According to a rumor, Saruhan Bey began attacking the city from the east on the fourth night of the month of Rajab. To make his army look larger, candles were fastened to the horns of goats, which were then released onto the plain. The Byzantines naturally thought an overwhelming force surrounded the city. Thinking they could not resist the attack, they retreated instead. It was almost daybreak when the forces of Saruhan Bey expelled the enemy west of Manisa. A rooster then heralded the morning and the victory. This is why they called the village in this area Horozköy (Rooster Village). That night, the Turks prayed for the first time in Manisa after a long day ended with the expulsion of the enemy. Because that night was also the holy night of Regaip, the victory and the holy night were celebrated together with a large feast. Despite the differences between the Julian and Arabic calendars, ever since 1313, the holy night of Regaip is also celebrated as the conquest of Manisa in a joyful and festive mood.

Manisa:The City of the Shahzades

The forces of Saruhan Bey, son of Alpagu, conquered Manisa on the holy night of Regaip on October 25/26, 1313. It soon became the center of the Sarukhanid dynasty. The tomb of Saruhan Bey, who died in 1346, is still located in the center of the city today. After his death, his son İlyas Bey ruled the dynasty. Following his death, İshak Celebi Bey became ruler, and the dynasty enjoyed its most sumptuous period. Several monuments—such as Ulu Camii (The Great Mosque of Manisa) and its madrasa, the Mevlevi Takiyya, and the Cukur Hamam (Bath)—were built during the reign of Ishak Celebi. He probably died around 1390 and was interred in a tomb that he had commissioned himself.

In 1391, Manisa became a part of the Ottoman Empire ruled by Sultan Bayezid I. However, after the Battle of Ankara, Timur returned the land to its previous owners. In 1412, Celebi Mehmed formally incorporated it into the Ottoman Empire, turning it into an administrative center named the Principality of Saruhan.Between 1437 and 1595, Manisa became an important center of politics where shahzades (the Ottoman crown princes) gained experience before ascending to the throne.

During this period, 16 shahzades—including the future sultans Murad II, Mehmed the Conqueror, Suleiman the Magnificent, Selim II, Murad III, Mehmed III, and Mustafa I—took office as the head of the principality in Manisa.

What if Atlantis is in Manisa?

Atlantis was the capital city of a legendary island that dates back 11,000 years. It was first mentioned in Plato’s dialogues Timaeus and Critias, written about 360 BC. Atlantis was a gorgeous center of civilization with round city walls situated one within the other. This large city had three harbors and featured fascinating works of art. The outer surface of the temple, dedicated to Kleio and Poseidon, was completely ornamented with silver. The temple was situated in the center of the acropolis and decorated with golden statues. Even the keys to the temple were made of gold.

Atlantis was later destroyed by a devastating earthquake. The legend of Atlantis was repeated by the Ancient Egyptians and Greeks, and continues to be discussed today. Governments and institutions, trying to increase their countries’ attraction to tourists, have sought to prove that Atlantis existed in their land. They supported many archeological studies for this purpose. As a result, many different theories about the location of Atlantis were proposed, from the islands of Thera and Crete in the Mediterranean Sea to the Bahamas in the Pacific Ocean.

British archeologist Peter James made a family tree of the kings of Atlantis in his book The Sunken Kingdom. The family tree starts with Atlas, the founder of Atlantis. It continues with Tantalus, Niobe, Genç Tantlaslar, and Pelops. Relying on the fact that the city of Tantalis was established by King Tantalus on Manisa Mountain (Mount Spil) around the Yarik Kaya area, Peter James proposes a theory that Atlantis was located on Mount Spil near Manisa. Because some of the findings of Tantalis have survived, we can see that it was situated on a large fault line (Yarik Kaya), and this appears similar to the legend of Atlantis. Another piece of supporting evidence might be the words of Pausanias, a significant author of ancient times, who wrote that the tomb of King Tantalus was located on Spil Mountain and that he saw it.

Peter James’s theory attracted interest from archeologists around the world. Later, a BBC team visited Manisa and produced a documentary about the legend. This documentary has been broadcast worldwide.

Niobe: The Crying Rock

Located at the northwestern skirts of Mount Spil, at the east side of the Caybasi stream, there is a dark-grey rock called Niobe that resembles the head of a weeping woman. I was fortunate enough to see this rock myself while exploring the area.

Many stories are told about this crying rock in Manisa, most resembling fairy tales. Let’s consider the rock’s introduction plate:“Niobe, daughter of King Tantalus and wife of Thebai’s king Amphion, gave birth to 14 children: seven girls and seven boys. However, the goddess Leto had only two children: Apollo and Artemis. Leto became angry as Niobe boasted about the number of her children. Using arrows, Apollo killed Niobe’s sons, while Artemis killed her daughters. Niobe cried over her children’s dead bodies for days. In the end, Zeus turned Niobe into a rock at the skirts of Mount Spil to end her grief.”

This story has been told since ancient times. When you look closely, the rock appears like a natural stone. However, when viewed from the nearby stream, it resembles a woman’s head. This is exactly as I saw it, moving forwards and backwards to see Niobe from all aspects. I even saw her crying.

The Tarzan of Manisa

Remember the movie “Tarzan” from years ago? He had a cute monkey called Cheeta and a pretty girlfriend called Jane. That Tarzan was a fictional character, but I’m going to tell you the story of a real Tarzan. He was a true lover of nature who put great effort into making Manisa a green city.

His real name was Ahmeddin Carlak. He was born in Baghdad in 1899 and died on May 31, 1963 in Manisa. He became a symbol of Manisa because of his eccentric lifestyle. He was also awarded a special medal for his service during the Turkish War of Independence. During the early years of the Turkish Republic, he moved to Manisa and started to live in a mountain hut called Topkale. People called him Tarzan because he lived in nature, grew long hair and a beard, and wore only shorts.

He worked hard for the reforestation of the area. Later, he began working officially at the Manisa Municipality and promoted the preservation of the natural environment. He looked after the trees and plants of the city until he died. Today he is commemorated as the first conservationist of Turkey.

During my visit to Manisa, I tried to learn more about this Tarzan from an old man who remembered those times. “Hey, old chap! Could you tell me more about the Tarzan of Manisa please?” I asked. The old man replied to me with tears in his eyes, “We never knew where he came from or why, and this mystery made him more attractive. But we didn’t try to learn his real story either. You know son, we like fairy tales and legends, and Tarzan’s personality was legendary enough to like him. He was a mid-sized man with a well-defined body. He was nimble, and even in winter, he only wore shorts. He wasn’t old, but we never considered him to be young either. I think he was beyond the concept of age. We saw him as a living statue with his dark complexion, dark eyes, eagle-like nose, and flawless facial features. There were various rumors about his real identity, and people believed in what they preferred to believe.

He was a genial, suave, pleasant, enthusiastic, hardworking, and friendly man. Although one could never imagine Manisa without him, he always kept himself aloof. Some people thought he was an Indian mystic who dedicated himself to religion after a sad love story. Some said he was a war refugee from Iraq. Some others said he was a Yemenite nomad who ran away after murdering his unfaithful lover. Another rumor was that Gazi Mustafa Kemal took him under his wing during the war and sent him to Manisa.

Interestingly, he stopped cutting his beard after Ataturk’s death. His beard was long, neat, and black, and this was the only other change in his appearance after getting rid of his undershirt. We couldn’t understand what this meant about his mourning. We didn’t understand whether it was an action of protest or acceptance of death. Maybe it was an expression of a far-eastern belief. Maybe it was just his individual reaction. I’m afraid nobody dared to ask him the real reason because he was a man who preferred to be alone with his Tarzan looks and his mystery.

He lived alone in a small, white-painted hut on the side of Mount Spil with olive trees around, next to the ancient ruins of Magnesia. The red flag of Turkey was always displayed there, hanging on a flagpole at his door. There was also an old artillery piece near to the flagpole. During his whole life, without missing a single day, he would fire his artillery at noon. Later on, the forest he planted and tended to was turned into a miniature golf course. It was later destroyed entirely to make way for a car park. Unfortunately, this solid guy, who had endured bitter-cold winters and desert-like summers, couldn’t endure these attacks on the environment and passed away.”

I couldn’t stop myself from crying, just like Uncle Harun Yeşilce, the one telling me the story. The Tarzan of Manisa was such a big lover of nature who could not even throw an apple seed away. His touching story caused me to feel a lump in my throat.

The Mesir Paste Festival

Without a doubt, another major symbol of Manisa is Mesir Paste. I also know its history from the perspective of a person from Istanbul, because the maker of this paste was Merkez Efendi, whose tomb is in Istanbul. I am a big fan of his.

When the mother of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, Hafsa Sultan, became sick, Suleiman ordered his physicians to get Merkez Efendi to prepare a strong medicine. Merkez Efendi then made a healing paste from 41 different spices. Hafsa Sultan recovered after being treated with this medicine. Upon seeing the effect, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent decided that everybody should benefit from the paste, so he ordered a festival to be held annually. Since then, the festival has taken place every year, and Mesir Paste is given to everybody as a tradition.

Mesir Paste is made from 41 different healing herbs and spices. It helps digestion, strengthens the body and appetite, activates hormones, and reduces fatigue. It also strengthens the immune system and protects against venomous bites. Besides its medical benefits, there are also rumors that it helps fertility. It is rumored to heal many illnesses if it is consumed for a year. As mentioned above, the local community believes the paste has numerous benefits. Even severely ill people might recover with this paste. Alternatively, already healthy people do not get sick during that year. If a person eats the paste, no venomous animal will bite him. A young girl who eats the paste may find a husband during the same year, or a woman who cannot conceive may have a baby. The paste also increases sexual potency. Because of the belief in all these benefits, the Mesir Paste has been produced in Manisa and distributed to the public for 462 years.



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