This past weekend, Asia Minor (now Turkey) beckoned—and we didn’t need our passports. For the fourth year at the Orange County Fairgrounds, one could step back in time and experience the amazing history and diversity of a land bordered by the Black Sea to the north, the Mediterranean to the south, and the Aegean Sea to the West.
We entered the festival area through the “Civilizations Path”, which consists of 14 gates each representing different civilizations like The Hittite Empire, The Kingdom of Commagene, Lydia, The Persian Empire, The Urartu State (Armenians), The Phrygia, The Ionian Civilization,The Assyria, Troy, The Roman Empire,The Byzantine Empire, The Great Seljuq Empire, The Ottoman Empire, and Turkish Republic. Anatolia has been a cradle for all these and many other civilizations throughout the history. At each gate, actors wearing authentic costumes of each civilization welcomed us.
Three dimensional giant-sized replicas of five different cities of Anatolia (Istanbul, Konya, Mardin, Van, Izmir, Gaziantep, Adiyaman and Kilis) and the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul were assembled with panoramic backgrounds. Artisans traveling from Turkey displayed and demonstrated many traditional handicrafts like hand-woven carpets, the arts of water marbling, calligraphy, stone-carving and filigree during the four-day festival.
The replica of the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul housed more than 120 booths with food, handcrafts, souvenirs, and art exhibits. Had we wanted to, we could have freshened ourselves up with a cup of Turkish coffee or several glasses of tea at another busy spot of the festival area, named after The Traditional Coffeehouse. Just like the real Grand Bazaar, we watched artisans displaying hand-made jewelry, scarves, lucky charms and hand-woven carpet displays accompanied by the Anatolian hospitality.
For us, sampling food was a treat. We split everything to share the tastes: a spicy beef kebab, and doner (Gyros), stuffed grape leaves, stuffed peppers, some thin pastry stuffed with pistachios, and my favorite: sticky ice cream. A long steel pike and plenty of muscle helped the ice cream showman pull this tough, stretchy Maras’s ice-cream from a barrel. I put out my hand to take the cone and that quick, he flipped it upside down and handed me an empty cone while the sticky cream stayed balled up on the pike. It was a combination of magic, good humor, and skill. Yes—also pretty tasty, too.
Under a hot Southern California sun, dancers in multilayers of colored ethnic garb kicked and hopped and swirled before a backdrop of the Bosporus, in the courtyard of the Topaki Palace, and in the amphitheater at Ephesus.