One of the earliest Turkish principalities in Anatolia, the Mengucek rulers bore the titles of sah and melik (shah and king respectively). In the 12th and 13th centuries, they constructed magnificent buildings in their capital city of Divrigi in the Turkish province of Sivas. It consists of houses with gardens and orchards spread out over a wide area. Prof. Dr. Metin Sozen, president of the Cekul Foundation, Prof. Dr. Cengiz Eruzun of Mimar Sinan University and I arrived in Divrigi one sunny day in May. The city lies in a mountainous region of eastern Turkey, at the foot of the towering snow-capped heights of Yama Dag, its peak hidden in the mist, and faces a sloping plain to the south. The Yilanlidag range to the north and Akdag to the west are spectacular with their deep canyons. Between is the Anatolian Plateau at its most splendid, with hills of purple, red, blue, gray and brown lying like sculpted dinosaurs. Ancient cultures built either forts or tombs on each one. On this plateau lying between the Lik and Calti rivers and surrounded by canyons and precipices is a town out of the past, keeping the history and past culture alive. Of all the architectural monuments built in Anatolia over the millennia, perhaps none can compare as a work of art to Ahmed Sah Ulu Mosque with its remarkable decoration.
But it was not just the mosque and the adjoining Melike Turan Melek Darussifa (hospital) which attracted us to this place. Here there is the only surviving Turkish castle monument, Arslanburc; one of the earliest Friday mosques built in Anatolia, Suleyman Sah or Kale Mosque; Mengucek and Memluk kumbets (mausoleums); hamams (baths); castle; bedesten (a commercial building where merchants stored and traded their goods); medrese (college); ruined churches; fountains; bridges, and above all the old houses of the village which have many of the features of medieval Seljuk domestic architecture. The latter was the main purpose of our visit.
First, we went to the municipality and drank coffee with the mayor, and then went to the two hundred-years-old Budakliogullari House, where a magnificent dinner of local cuisine was served in the garden. Those of our party who had never entered a local house before were astonished by the spacious interior, decoration, and plan of the house, which was large although the selamlik (quarters for receiving male guests) had been demolished at some point, leaving the harem, the main private part of the house, and the mabeyn section which linked them. But there were still many old houses to visit in the two days, and even two weeks would not have sufficed to visit them all.
Our large group of academics, architects, art historians, and experts then met at Ulu Mosque, which has been declared part of the World Heritage by UNESCO. We proceeded to examine every part of this wonderful building, with its portals, niche, pulpit, columns, royal gallery, cells, inscriptions, and decorations symbolizing the delights of the paradise promised in the Koran. We next went to the house of Topcuoglu Osman Aga, from which there was a superb view over the town in the late afternoon sun. But it was not the view but the main room of this house which preoccupied us most. This huge room, which remains exactly as it was a hundred and fifty years ago, has a ceiling with a spiraling design, pillars, beams, railing, and windows all beautifully carved and decorated. Around the walls are divans which easily accommodated all of us.
In the evening, the guests were entertained by the Div-Han General Directorate and listened to a talk about Evliya Celebi’s account of Divrigi in the 17th century. The following day we met at the Tasbasi Meadow and divided into groups according to our particular interests. On that sunny May day, it was full of people hurrying to fit in as much as possible. Cameras clicked incessantly everywhere; in the castle, the old town center, the mansions of Ayan Aga and Abdullah Pasha, the Seljuk mausoleums, mosques, and the old houses with earth or tiled roofs. The houses of adobe, wood, and stone, with their pavilions, reception rooms, banqueting rooms, upper windows, lovely ceilings, fireplace hoods, intricately worked doors, carved eaves, and decorative keyholes were recorded in thousands of photographs.
In the afternoon we attended a ceremony and discussions celebrating the 18th Historic Turkish Houses Week, and in the evening ate traditional pilaf at the open-air celebrations organized by the municipality on Tasbasi Meadow. The lecture that last evening was on the history and future of the iron mines. When we departed the following morning everyone agreed that Divrigi was a unique and undiscovered treasure house of Anatolia.