Thursday, February 7, 2013

Kahramanmaras: A Tale of Many Cities

I imagine that some of you out there have heard of Kahramanmaraş (especially in relation to Maraş dondurması), but I'm sure very few of you have ever been.  Maraş is not a tourist destination, and I think the locals like it that way.  Maraş is located in between two regions of Turkey - the Mediterranean region and Southeastern Turkey. 
Photo from

Which region does it truly belong to?

The different regions of Maras, and location of the Maras municipality within Turkey
Photo from Wikipedia

I've been told this is a popular question on Turkish game shows - so I'll give you the official answer - it's the Mediterranean Region.  However, I'm sure an anthropologist could argue that culturally Maraş is more like Southeastern Turkey than the coastal towns along the sparkling blue Sea. 

Maraş has a long history that dates back over 4000 years to the Hittites, when the city was named "Maraj" after a Hittite commander.  The city was known as Gurgum during the reign of Sargon, an Assyrian king.  The Romans called it Germanicia and the Byzantines followed suit.  Then, when claimed by the Arabs it went back to the original name, which in Arabic was "Mer'ash".  The Seljuks and the Zülkadiroğullari also lived in this area before the Ottomans finally became the keepers of the land.   As a city on both the Silk Road and the Spice Road, many feet from many cultures have worn a path through Maraş and most likely shaped some aspects of the culture that remains today. (Information from the Tourism Guide of  Kahramanmaraş)

In the early and late 1900's Maraş became the focus of several important modern historical moments, and depending on your viewpoint, "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times…it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…"

In the winter of 1920, the first major battle of the Turkish War of Independence took place in Maraş  which forced the French to retreat and astonished the Allied forces.  This was an important turning point for Turkish independence, and in 1973, the city of Maraş was transformed to  Kahramanmaraş by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, ("Kahraman" meaning hero)  to commemorate the victory against the French in the Turkish War of Independence. 
The statue near a main road entering the city that proudly displays the award given to Maras to commemorate the battle won during the Turkish War of Independence.
(Photo from

However, it wasn't all joy and celebration for everyone, as many Armenians that were living as refugees in Maraş were caught and targeted in the crossfire of this battle, and retreated with the French to suffer a long, cold march that ultimately took many more lives.

Then in 1978,  Kahramanmaraş fell into the spotlight with a dark deed - the massacre of leftist Alevis, that left 105 dead.  We were actually in Maraş this winter during the anniversary of this day.  The news portrayed peaceful meetings and reconciliation of the Sunni majority and Alevi minority, which are still present in Maraş. 

There is obviously much more to these time periods and to these historical events - but that's 4000 years of history summed up into a couple paragraphs.  I barely scratched the surface with these tidbits of history.  However, the events of the last century are the ones that I had heard about specifically, and now I'm fact checking on Wikipedia (I probably should find a more reliable source).  Yet, from what I can tell, they have played an important role in the way the Maraş people view themselves, and also how the rest of Turkey thinks of this growing city of now over 400,000 people. 

Even though I have now spent a total of 5-6 weeks in Maraş, I can say that I do not yet really "know" Maraş.  We have not explored all the historical and natural sites that would typically attract the tourists.  With these overlapping layers of history, it seems that they are still unearthing old mosaics and ancient buildings that were painted and built over in time.  You can learn more about this at the Maraş Archaeological Museum (where we happen to know the mosaic expert in residence :-) ).

Instead of exploring, our trips have been spent with family, which has introduced me to an entirely different Turkey and a wide array of modern and traditional Turkish customs

Yet, little by little, we have sampled some of the best spots to enjoy a nice tea, a sampling of sweet and savory pastries, a sizzling köfte, and a traditional Ottoman-style meal. 

The best place to enjoy tea - from the Teras Restaurant on top of one of the many mountains surrounding the city. They have many outdoor tables and areas to sit and enjoy a tea.

Inside the Teras restaurant you can still watch the city below out of the large windows that cover an entire wall of the building.  In summer they open them for a nice, fresh breeze.  The prices aren't bad either!
Mezes at Turaç Ocakbaşı- a restaurant in an old-restored Ottoman-style home complete with copper plates, cups, an old Ottoman stove, and antique decor.

The main dish of mixed grilled meats at Turaç - grilled over charcoal - yummy. 

 We've toured the local bazaar, where one can enjoy the beautiful creations from the famous coppersmiths of Maraş  or be dazzled by the blinding yellow light reflecting from the many gold shops.  We've enjoyed nargile and tea at the top of the Maraş castle.  We've tasted the local salep and enjoyed many, many scoops of the local ice cream- the best in Turkey.

The Maraş market - dried eggplants and peppers, sheepskin and floral dresses. 

A local Maraş coppersmith, sadly a dying tradition
From HakanIrfan's Flickr

The BEST Ice Cream in the World!  More to come about Mado in the next post. 

We've also hit up the city center, where you can find just about anything you need in all the modern stores and also enjoy traditional Turkish fare and décor at the original Mado restaurant. 

So I guess we have done a lot.  Yet, when I look at the Maraş Tourism Guide Book that I was given, I realize we haven't even begun to explore the Maraş region and all that it has to offer.  While watching all the beautiful winter sunsets I pondered what was beyond the city and I watched the sprinkling of lights come on in the mountains realizing that there are surely many beautiful things hidden in those folded hills, and maybe, just maybe, one day I'll get to see them.

The not so distant mountains of Maras - hoping one day I'll get to hike to the top. 

*More to come about Mado in the next post!*

To get to the Teras restaurant - you can use this location in google maps (37.60142861058348,36.912736031804016) - it will take you up a steep hill past a large forest and up to the top of the mountain/hill where the restaurant is located.  

The Turaç Ocakbaşı restaurant is located at Sait Zarifoğlu Bul. Dumlupınar Mahallesi, Orman Caddesi No:101
Phone number: 0344.214.14.83

Better yet - ask your hotel, local host or taxi driver to take you there.  It is near the city center and should be well known.


  1. what a nice posting, your liking for the town comes through strongly. What you have done is ensured that we will not be bypassing KM next time we are wandering in the southeast of the country.

    1. Thanks Alan! I do love Maras and perhaps I'll have some more interesting destinations to share after our next trip when it is a little warmer for exploring. I'm glad you're thinking of stopping by - it's a lovely city!

  2. You have given such a great introduction - and how proud your new family must be at your interest in all aspects of Maraş. We are putting a good face back on the "ugly American" eh? :)

    But in all seriousness, here's to your lifetime of exploration possibilities in Maraş (and beyond!)

  3. My family came from there. What happened to armenians was a genocide. It is easy to find many documents and newspapers from that time. The history of Marash is sad. Very sad. Can you believe that I have relatives that kept the deed of the house they had when it was captured by the turks? Sad.


Thanks for joining the conversation!

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