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Part of Paradise: Şirince


The flat, wind blow After visiting Ephesus in southwestern Turkey, do not miss the opportunity to visit the beautiful mountain village of Şirince. From the town of Selcuk where Ephesus is situated, a winding road takes you through green countryside to this corner of paradise just eight kilometres away. Surrounded by forest clad hills, the village lies on the south and west slopes of a valley.

Şirince overlooks the Ephesus plain, whose olive groves, orchards, vineyards, and fields of tobacco and cotton stretch to the sea. After 15 or 20 minutes the road from Selcuk rises over a hill and winds down the other side into the village square. Our first objective in coming here was of course to eat! So before looking around Şirince, we headed straight for Artemis Wine House and Restaurant on the hill on the edge of the village. The restaurant is housed in a re-stored building that was formerly the village school and serves homemade wines and delicious food made from local produce. The wonderful views over the village and plain lend their own savour to the food.

Hunger satisfied, it was time to explore Şirince. The main street and square are shaded by great plane trees and lined by shops, coffee houses and restaurants. We sat for a while in the coffee house in the square drinking tea and chatting to the village muhtar (elder) Ali Vurmazdere. He is delighted that Şirince is becoming so popular with visitors, and hopes that tourism will reverse the fortunes of the village. Local inhabitants have been moving away in large numbers in recent years, both for economic reasons and because of problems like their childrn'sc education. The population has fallen from 840 in 1980 to 704 today.

Some writers refer to Şirince as Ephesus in the Mountains, asserting that Şirince - formerly Kırkınca - was established in the fifth century after alluvion carried down by the Kücük Menderes River and flooding made the ancient site unfit for habitation. Hearsay relates that the name Kırkınca was later changed to Cirkince (the Ugly Place) so as to prevent others discovering this beautiful spot and moving here.
When the Turkish Aydınoğulları Principality took Selcuk in 1348, some of the town's Byzantine inhabitants fled and settled in Şirince. In the 19th century Şirince is recorded as consisting of 1800 households, all Greek. In the wake of the First World War the Greeks of Şirince migrated to Greece, leaving Şirince empty until 1924, when Turks from Salonika, Kavala, Provusta and other Greek towns arrived as part of the population exchange between the two countries.

When governor of İzmir Kâzım Dirik visited the village he was so charmed with Kırkınca that he altered the name to Şirince
(Charming Place).

Ali Vurmazdere took us around the village. The narrow stone streets are full of picturesque shops selling lace and other handicrafts made by local women. There are also stalls selling homemade soap and the local wines for which Şirince is renowned. Tobacco, olives, and peaches are also grown in the area, and tourism is becoming another important part of the local economy.
As we climbed up through the village, which rises on the slopes on either side of the river, we were fascinated by the old houses along the narrow streets. Şirince is one of the few places in Turkey to have preserved its 19th century texture intact. The ground and first floors are built of rubble stone and the second floors of lathe and plaster. The upper floors, which oversail the lower, contain the living spaces, while the ground floors consist of store rooms and stables.
The window frames and eaves are decorated with flower, bird and leaf motifs. Handmade lace curtains hang at the windows. Oleanders and other colourful flowers and shrubs grow luxuriantly in the gardens on either side of the lanes.

Some of the houses have been restored and turned into pensions for over-night guests, so it is now possible to make Şirince a base for exploring the region. Şirince is within easy reach not only of Ephesus but other ancient cities like Priene, Miletus and Didyma.

We talked to Ahmet Kocak, the owner of Hotel Şirince Houses and a former tour guide. He fell in love with the village at first sight and resolved to settle here. He restored two of the old houses and turned them into a hotel.

'Şirince is a place where visitors who want to get away from the beaten tourist track can enjoy the authentic village atmosphere, waking to the call of the cockerels, and participating in traditional harvest festivities in the vineyards and olive groves,' he explained.

 Several local people have set up small restaurants in their gardens, some specialising in gözleme, a griddle bread with various fillings. It is unthinkable to leave Şirince without tasting this simple but delicious dish. You can watch the dough being rolled out, being filled with cheese, aubergines, mushrooms or minced meat, and then cooked on the griddle over a wood fire. Accompanied by a drink of cold ayran (yogurt beaten with water) it makes a wonderful meal.

The two churches in Şirince are now being restored. The Church of St John the Baptist was built in 1832 and is being restored by an American foundation under the auspices of Ephesus Museum. The second smaller church is also thought to date from the early 19th century.

When the time came to leave Şirince we remembered the words of the Greek writer Dido Sotiriyo in his book, 'Greetings to Anatolia': 'If there is a paradise on earth, then our Şirince is surely part of it.'  

Source: Skylife
  By Yusuf Tuvi, photographer

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