Carpetblogger and Red State Sibling spent last weekend in Bursa, one of Turkey's largest cities, situated south of Istanbul and 30 kms inland from the Sea of Marmara. The historic (as opposed to the sprawling concrete) part of the city climbs up the side of Mount Uludağ and is home to lots of hot spring hammams. As (one of many) terminals of the Silk Road and the center of Ottoman silk production, it has wonderful hans and bazaars, even though the silk production industry has long since moved on to other places.
Now, it's a center of cotton production and is famous for its towels. Had I known how awesome and absorbent Bursa's cotton towels are, I would have bought a million kilos (the guy I bought from sold them for 10 YTL a kilo).
Even though Bursa's full of cotton and silk, this is not really a post about textiles. We discovered something about Bursa that's even more interesting than textiles, though still tangentially related.
In addition to the typical produce, silk and clothing bazaars, there's a "women's handicraft bazaar" in the center of the city. The stuff on sale isn't all that appealing -- a lot of polyester embroideries and laces in colors that don't appear in nature-- and targeted at locals, not foreigners. I passed through the stalls -- almost all of which were run by women -- taking photos because I thought it was pretty cool that there were so many women working outside the home in one of Turkey's most conservative cities.
Bursa was once the center of silk production and nearly every single woman on the street wears the ever-so-controversial turban (the Turkish headscarf that indicates the wearer is observant, rather than simply culturally conservative and/or from an Anatolian village. It's been in the news a bit lately). So it's not terribly surprising there are a lot of scarf sellers in the covered bazaar.
What was really surprising is how many of these scarf stalls were run by women. It's not that uncommon to see women working produce stalls, but to see women unfurling scarves like flags, while female customers gather around is really unusual.
Someone needs to look into this. Is there a correlation between that women's handicraft bazaar and the number of women working in the mainstream bazaar? Do they start out in the women's bazaar and develop the skills they need to work with the big kids? Do daughters see their mothers working in the bazaar and decide that there's no reason they can't do the same or even manage a hotel?
I am fully aware that the turban is a powerful symbol of encroaching Islamization and a threat to the secular heritage of Ataturk, but it can also be a stylish accessory! Bursa women -- to an even greater degree than their more cosmopolitan sisters in Istanbul -- really rock the look. The attention paid to coordinating scarf/jacket/shoes is impressive.
Of course, if you keep your eyes open, there's always a devushka somewhere. The one in this photo must have just hopped off the Ukrferry from Odessa, except the length of her skirt and the absence of sequins, brass and rhinestones on her outfit make me suspect she might be an impostor.