Turkey – Top 10 Festivals for the Cultured
Turkey is home to many cultural, food and film festivals throughout the year, held in venues varying from ancient amphitheatres, to modern theatres, exhibition centres, restaurants, cafes – even streets. If you are planning on attending, check the individual festival websites or with the tourism board for exact dates before you arrive, as they may vary from year to year. The biggest choice of events is usually during the summer months (June – September) but there are also events held throughout the year.
1. International Film Festival, Istanbul - April
This annual event features the best of Turkey’s recent film productions, shown with English or French subtitles. Renowned films directors, actors and actresses, including Bernardo Bertolucci, John Malkovich and Sophia Loren, have attended it in the past. As well as film showings, there are masterclasses, panel discussions and workshops.
2. Alanya International Culture and Art Festival, Alanya - May
This festival marks the opening of the tourist season, and has revived many of the forgotten or lost cultural traditions through street fairs and performances. Enjoy traditional dance events, music, visual arts, theatre and much more. Alanya’s Mediterranean climate, ancient historical sites and beachside location make it a popular tourist spot, and what better way to enjoy the local culture and atmosphere than to attend its festival?
3. Mengen Chefs and Tourism Festival, Bolu - June
This annual festival features the specialties of many of the local chefs. Mengen is famous for its food and you can taste and try many traditional and fusion dishes, including meze platters, pilaf rice dishes and traditional sweets like baklava and Turkish delight.
4. Rose, Carpet Culture and Tourism Festival, Isparta - June
This lovely festival is held each year in the first week of June. It occurs at the end of the rose harvesting period, and features a superb parade, international folk dancers, a beauty contest for the Festival’s Rose and local and international music stars. Wander in the early morning among thousands of roses, enjoying their scent and beauty.
5. The International Izmir Festival, Izmir - June-July
This is one of the largest and most culturally significant festivals in Turkey, attracting locals and foreigners alike. It runs between June 10 and July 20 each year, and covers a wide spectrum of traditional and contemporary works. Enjoy performances of classical music from the Turkish symphony orchestra, ballet, contemporary dance, theatre and opera including both international and national performances.
6. Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival, Kirkinpar - July
Watch Pehlivan (wrestlers) fight for the Kirkpinar Golden Belt and the title of Chief Pehlivan at this annual event. Each festival is launched by its patron, the Kirkpinar Aga, in a ceremony featuring 40 bands of davul drums and zurna shawms. The master of ceremonies introduces each Pehlivan, who wear kispet, thick trousers made of water buffalo or cow leather. They are then oiled up and left to wrestle each other to the ground, while the drum and shawm bands play traditional festival music.
7. Eid ul Fitr, Turkey (and worldwide) - July
Eid ul Fitr is one of the most important festivals in Islam and celebrates the end of the month-long fasting period of Ramadan. Eid is commemorated on the day following the new moon at the end of Ramadan, and features feasting with traditional dishes, family gatherings, fireworks and dancing. It is held annually throughout Turkey and the Muslim world in July; the exact date may fluctuate according to the moon phases.
8. International Folklore Festival, Bursa - September
This festival has been running for some 50 years and is the largest event in Bursa. It features outstanding performances in traditional and classical music, dance, ballet, art and theatre. Tickets and programs are available at the Tayyare Culture Centre.
9. International Bursa Karagoz Puppet and Shadow Theatre Festival, Bursa - November
All performances are free at this festival, which will delight children and adults alike. The festival features shows and performances from many different local and international puppet and shadow theatre artists, with handmade puppets, colourful costumes and enchanting stories. Many performers still adhere to traditional puppet-making and puppetry techniques. The festival is usually held annually, but there is talk of making it biennial so check before you go.
10. Mevlana Memorial Celebrations, Konya - December
Mevlana commemorates the death of the Sufi saint Mevlana, who believed it was possible to commune with God in a trance-like state achieved by spinning. See traditional whirling dervishes clad in flowing, swirling white robes whirl for hours on end, to the accompaniment of traditional drums and music.