Sultans Ceramic, a 200-year-old ceramic workshop in Avanos, Turkey, shares stories of Turkey's heritage
The 200-year-old ceramic workshop in the Mediterranean town of Avanos is a crash course on Turkey’s porcelain heritage
Going by ancient records, Marco Polo travelled in Turkey but missed visiting Avanos, or the ceramics from this quaint town on the banks of the Red River in the Cappadocia region would have found mention in his travelogues. The ceramics here, predominantly in resplendent blue in fascinating geometrical shapes, have built quite a reputation for creating poetry in pottery.
The secret to the solid ceramic culture of Avanos is its fertile volcanic soil, which made pottery
a bustling industry since the time of the Hittites, around 1200 BC. Back in the day, only if a man could make a pot was he worthy of earning a living.
A prospective groom too had to master throwing clay before asking for a girl’s hand. Today, there are around 70 workshops in the town specialising in ceramics. At the 200-year-old atelier of Sultans Ceramic, situated in a warmly lit cave, visitors interested in learning about this ancient craft can watch demonstrations and interact with craftsmen. Inside, a series of rooms carved out of the soft volcanic rock house a crowd of exquisitely handcrafted ceramic ware.
Among everything on display, the curvaceous, slender and zanily shaped Halkali Hittite jug with
a gaping hole garners maximum attention. Used to serve wine during the Hittite rule, the jug is a nod to Turkey’s centuries-old wine culture. Kamuran Kuru, belonging to a family of ceramic makers, threads his arm through the centre of the jug, and says, “The Hittites were Sun worshippers and when sunlight passes through the hole, it blesses the drink.”
Made of four individually handcrafted parts that are later joined using wet clay, it takes master craftsman Halil Dede all of 15 minutes to make a jug. Sitting astride a kick wheel and using his feet to power it, he makes the whole process look like child’s play. Kuru says, “Halil Dede has 28 years of experience, but has been known as a master only since the last 10 years. To become a master, one has to learn everything.”
Most of the 70 people working in the studio are family members. While men do the bulk of the work, women come in to work on a single piece and are often in charge of decorating the ceramic ware. Designing and colouring take up to 10 weeks depending on the size of the piece.
Every motif has a story behind it. “Tulips were first grown in Anatolia and are known as the paradise flower. They are always single and hence symbolise Allah. The letter for Allah in Arabic is similar to the shape of a tulip,” says Kuru. Attached to the studio are display rooms with ornate plates big enough to feed 10 people, vases as tall as five feet and intricately decorated Hittite jugs in exquisite patterns. Inside one of the rooms, Kuru switches off the light and, in the darkness, the cool walls burst to life as the ceramic ware on display light up, thanks to phosphorus that makes them fluorescent. This 15-year-old technique may be new, but certainly adds to the charm of the art on display.