Istanbul’s Spring Festival

The Hıdrellez Festival is an ancient Turkish tradition, celebrating the arrival of Spring. Weather wasn’t so spring-like, but the Türks flowed by the tens of thousands to Ahırkapı park, on the Marmara Sea shore, in Sultanahmet (the 3,000 year-old part of Istanbul).

You can find the whole photo album here..

Since the Roma people (aka gypsies, gitanos, ziingari) came here, 600 years ago, they gave the festival their own tone: Roma music bands have the leading part and many Türks come dressed somehow gypsy-like.

Foto: Témoris Grecko

Although it’s now a municipality-organised event, I loved that it keeps a dynamic that has a kind of spontaneous feeling. There is a big stage, of course, where the main acts take place when the evening has arrived. But the must fun part is before that, in the late afternoon: there are lots of small stages scattered around the park and a music band on top of each, playing for the dancing crowd. The musicians suddenly get down of the stage and start wandering around with their darbukas and clarinets leading the people, until they find an empty stage elsewhere to climb and play from.

Foto: Témoris Grecko

Foto: Témoris Grecko

Foto: Témoris Grecko

There is a sad part of all of it, and this is when you can stop reading if you like. I’m adding some photos at the end to illustrate it, you could skip them too.

The Roma people, the gypsies, are among the most vulnerable groups in many countries, here too. And as many other cities, Istanbul is subject to a predatory gentrification process, in which real-estate speculators and local officials use the pretext of modernisation to evict poor people from their neighbourhoods in order to bulldoze them and build apparment blocks and malls.

Last time I was here, in october 2009, I went to Sulukule, an ancient Roma settlement, famous for its gypsy atmosphere, for the dancing and the emotion now we have to look for at yearly festivals. It was completely destroyed. Some of its old inhabitants were still there, clinging hopelessly to a vanishing happy place.

Foto: Témoris Grecko

My reportage on Sulukule, in Spanish, was published in Esquire, you can find it here

One response to “Istanbul’s Spring Festival

  1. Pingback: Ring Bros. Marketplace Celebrates 8th Annual Spring Festival of Food and Wine | Tea

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