Cities and Festivals

From ancient Egyptians to Sumerians there have been various celebrations in societies throughout history, may be for sacrificial reasons, or to welcome the spring. This has not changed much in our day. There are different festivals for fun, celebrating the harvest, history etc. around the world and Turkey. So we compiled the history and stories of festivals of the world heading to the streets of Istanbul and crazy Rio festivals…

Festivals are among the most important tourist attractions of current times. Every year millions travel to Rio, Valencia, Washington, Delhi and others just to attend festivals. These festivals are important opportunities for cities to become popular, attract tourists and become brand-names. For example RIO is a city famous for festivals which in return gives the chance to promote its beaches worldwide resulting in becoming a brand-name. Numerous cities organize festivals either to market their local products, promote their local culture, increase tourists visiting or to support trade and become a world brand city. Some festivals are an opportunity for participants to wine and dine, sing and dance and have a fun holiday. How did all this begin? Did man come out and say “Come on lets have some fun, listen to music and have a festival!” or could it be that the roots of this is different? So how did the name festival come to be? Let’s have a look in history as we always do and then see how it spread worldwide, narrowing down to Turkey and shed light to our cities.

Similar to many ways of man festivals started as a result of the need to survive and maintain social order. Pagan societies organized sacrificial festivals to gods for prosperity, ideal climate conditions and sometimes for protection against natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes. Sometimes they held celebrations to show gratitude for being victorious at war. If you keep in mind that the cradle of civilization was Mesopotamia, Anatolia and Egypt you can remember that the first festive relics were discovered in this region. The walls of Karnack temple in Luxor city, Egypt are like secret windows to history. The drawings on its walls depict a festival organized for the God RA. We can see the Pharaoh and his family dressed in colorful  clothes carried in palanquins from Luxor to the Karnak temple just before the river waters raise every year. During this festival there’s wining and dining on the banks of the River Nile for several nights, the River Nile, is life and death in Egypt and as Amon Ra controls it is sanctified the society gathers for a common “idea” within a norm. Again in ancient Egypt Ramses III, organized a festival in Luxor upon winning the war against the Libyans. According to excavations conducted in Mesopotamia in B.C. 4 thousand there were signs of festivals for Akitu by Sumerians. The civilization that found writing noted these festivals on tablets. Archeologists who managed to read the tablets informed that the Akitu festivals were held to praise the deal with the Gods to rid the city off evil spirits. In the scriptures it is also informed that the re-birth of nature was also celebrated. Akitu festival is the ancestor of different celebrations in the Mesopotamia region such as the Nawruz. The festivals in the area also formed basis for Sumerian theatre. Surely not all festivals are about food, drinks and music as a matter of fact the ancient civilizations of Southern America such as the Mayas and Aztecs sacrificed for gods during celebrations. These sacri fices were not animals but the most beautiful children in the tribe. That is why festivals meant death. Legend has it that there were over 300 sacrifices in the opening ceremony of Tamp Nameorun.

While there were such festivals in the world Turks of Middle Asia had their own. In the collection (Divan) by Kashgartsy Mahmut, 11th century the word Bayram was used for the first time. According to Kashgartsy Mahmut the roots of the word was “bedhrem” first used by the Oghuz tribe as “beyrem”. Turks who were nomads would celebrate the break of spring. These festivities were mainly held in fair grounds where there would be a bonfire and floral decorations. During the festival there would be games on horse-back and food cooked in caldrons for champions. The way of festival has changed as Turks increased in population and spread around the world, influenced by different beliefs and cultures but still survived to our day. The Kokbory games of the Kyrgyz Mount Pumori, the Javelin games still played in Anatolia, the oil-wrestle in Edirne (similar to Mongolian wrestling) and the Nawruz  celebrated by all Turks are Turkish events that reached our day.


What are the similarities of Turkish Bayrams and today’s festivals? The singing, food, beverages, decorations, games are all festivals. To say further the roots of all festivals are bayrams. As “Feast” in Latin means bayram. The Latin world that held celebrations like the rest of the world during Paganism started to celebrate them as epulations, Christmas and religious days upon assuming Christianity. The word Festival was first used in the 14th century by the Latin world to talk about faith festivities. It was used as festifall in English records back in the 13th century. However in time, events  that had arts, music, sports and many other activities were called festival. Today the word has become so inclusive that it can be anything involving fun, promotion or eating and drinking. But one thing that is essential for festivals is color…

Today there is a festival almost every day at any time of the day worldwide. Some of these are very popular making it a reason for millions to visit the city every year. The most popular one known by all is the Rio Carnival. The world “colorful” cannot define Rio, even multicolored is not enough to describe it. Samba schools dancers parade the Marquês de Sapucaí with marching bands using highly creative designs is the label of Rio Carnival which is trend topic with the nudity and alcohol it involved however it was originally a festival of faith. According to Christian belief there is a 40 daylent of animal products before Easter. The Rio Carnival started in 1973 for this reason, in time due to competitive Samba dancers became what we know today. Surely Rio is not the first place to come into mind when we speak of colorful, the Holi Festival of New Delhi and Goa is. According to Hindu belief master of darkness evil Pootna assaulted God Krishna when just an infant who survived resulting in Pootna’s death. The day that Pootna died is celebrated as a festival in many parts of India today. As a matter of fact as in many other stories the symbolism may be similar to Egyptians and Turks, winter and rainfall symbolizes death and evil whereas spring symbolizes life and light. Holi which is celebrated when winter is over and spring-breaks in different parts of India is a festival famous for its colorful nature. All the known festivities are conducted but in New Delhi there is music to add to all. During the festival people are colorfully painted like children and they celebrate throwing paint at each other. Surely there is a meaning to all colors, the symbolism is: Green for prosperity, yellow for optimism, red for energy, blue for trust and loyalty, pink for love and passion.

If we start talking about all the festivals that have started to become more and more widespread one by one we need to publish a book the magazine won’t suffice. So we made a list of the ones that have become successful in the field. The Cherry Blossom Festival of Japan, Halloween of the Christian world, Mardi Gras of New Orleans, Full Moon Party of Thailand, the Carnival of Venice in Italy, the Tomato Festival in Spain, Octoberfest in Munich, the Chinese New Year Celebration. Most of these festivals started as a way to farewell winter and welcome spring, while some of them became a way to promote tourism serving the city and entertaining the people…

When we talk of Turkey the first one to come to mind is the most widespread Nawruz Festival, which came along with Turks from Middle Asia, is the most longlived festival still celebrated. But instead of having a single big scale celebration it is celebrated n every village, town and city combined with local culture and belief elements. Other than that although we do not use the word festival to define them both Ramadan and Sacrifice Bayrams qualify as festivals. Of course these are mainly celebrated in such fashion in our villages however they are seen as times of holiday in our cities, so have a different form to them. When we consider the religious aspects of these festivals with the swings set, food and beverage served and the families uniting for festivities bring out the similarities with festivals in different parts of the world. Of course if you take the time as means to visit a sea-side area to lie down and read your book in peace to rest it is not much of a festive nature.

Other than the Bayrams and Nawruz which are accepted and celebrated by the masses there are festivals organized to bring artistic value to a city, sometimes to promote cultural and geographical qualities and at times to liven trade in the region. There are the Cherry Festival of Bilecik, Melon Festival in Acipayam, Denizli, Istanbul Film Festival, Bolu Food Festival to name a few… So one of these festivals organized in Istanbul that gathered attention lately is the International Buyukcekmece Culture and Arts Festival, organized by Buyukcekmece Municipality, seven times named The Best Festival by the World Festivals Association (CIOFF). Buyukcekmece Municipality that hosts an average of 1500 culture ambassadors from 64 countries every year held the festival for the 19th time this year. The festival started with the audio-visual aqua show on the historical Architect Sinan Bridge. We can clearly see that the festival with the motto “Love for one another, peace for us all” hosting guests from 64 countries providing fun time for guests as well as culturally valuable experiences is the effort of Buyukcekmece Municipality to help imporve the cultural life of the Turkish society. We would like to thank all who have realized the importance of festivals in terms of tourism, successfully implementing it to our country on behalf of our readers.


By: İlyas Yıldız

*This article was  published in the  September – October issue of Marmara Life. 

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