Explore The North Aegean
Spilling out from the foot of the Manisa Dağı range, MANISA (the ancient Magnesia ad Sipylus) lies 38km east of Menemen along the E87/550 highway, and is easily reached from there or from İzmir, also 38km away. Most of the historic centre was torched by the Greek army during its 1922 retreat, but a few fine Selçuk and Ottoman monuments survive.
The area was settled early in the first millennium BC, by veterans of the Trojan War according to legend, and the ancient town was an important Roman centre. For a short time during the thirteenth century Manisa was capital of the Byzantine Empire, after the sacking of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade. In 1313 the city was captured by Selçuk chieftain Saruhan Bey, from whose rule date the earliest of Manisa’s surviving monuments. Later, the Ottomans sent heirs to the throne here to serve an apprenticeship as local governors, in order to ready them for the rigours of İstanbul palace life.
Every year around the spring equinox, the Mesir Macunu Şenlikleri Power-Gum Festival – now well into its fifth century – takes place around the Sultan Camii, to commemorate local doctor Merkez Efendi’s concoction of a special resin to cure Ayşe Hafize of an unspecified ailment. The gum, or mesir macunu, containing 41 herbs and spices, is scattered from the minaret by the muezzin to crowds who use the paste as a remedy against aches, pains and snake or insect bites.
Opposite the Sultan Camii stands the Saruhan Bey Türbesi (closed), the tomb of Saruhan Bey, who took Manisa from the Byzantines in 1313. His army is said to have attacked Sandıkkale citadel while driving a flock of goats with candles on their horns before them to give the impression that a huge army was attacking; the defenders panicked and the castle fell.
On a natural, landscaped terrace 250m above the museum stands Manisa’s oldest surviving mosque, the Ulu Cami, built atop a Byzantine church in 1366 by Işak Çelebi, Saruhan Bey’s grandson. The spectacular view north over town rewards the steep climb from the centre. Entering the open-roofed courtyard via the ornate portal, you confront the glory of the place, a forest of varied antique columns, some “double” and others carrying Byzantine capitals, presumably recycled from the church that once stood here. More interior columns support a large central dome by means of pointed arches.Read More