Monday, May 05, 2008

Old Turkish Residential Quarter of Vranje

Turkish Haremluk and Selamluk
After a breakfast of greasy fried eggs, ham and weak coffee in the hotel restaurant (we were the only ones in the large dining hall both days), we headed out for a day of photo shooting. We stopped at the National Museum, originally a haremluk built in 1765 by the Paša as a dwelling for his wives. A wonderful example of typical Ottoman residential architecture, the white symmetrical two-storey building was trimmed with dark wood, tall wood frame windows divided into squares, terra cotta tiled roof, and an old lamp with a dangerous-looking spike. Unfortunately it was closed, as it was May Day. Next to the haremluk was the pink selamluk, used by the Paša and other males. At one time a “bridge” would have connected the two buildings, enabling any movement to be unseen by the public.
Still early in the morning, even the pedestrian downtown street was quite sleepy. The motorized toy cars were just being uncovered, ready for the first young child driver. Old men had yet to congregate on the benches, chatting and gossiping. Boxes of fresh healthy annual flowers were being laid out, their bright colors tempting passersby. The smell past the bakery was intoxicating, the best form of advertising for the fresh bread inside. Storefronts displayed shoes and purses in bright colors, bold polka dotted pajamas, and Easter decorations.

House of Bora Stanković
We then turned onto a very narrow cobblestone street of Baba Zlatina, named after the grandmother (baba) of writer Bora Stanković. Unfortunately the large wooden gate entrance was also locked, closed for the holiday. Holding my camera above my head, I took some photos over the wall of the Turkish Balkan house with its cozy green yard, wishing well, small terrace, and open porch.

Invited to Turkish Coffee
Moving onward through the old Christian quarter, we stopped at the gate of a two-storey house, admiring the many flower pots interspersed on the wooden siding and the unique still life on a nearby table with rakija (brandy) glasses drying on the branches. A man came to the gate and greeted us, explaining that he made the sculpture and also painted. Upon hearing that I was an artist, he invited us in for some coffee. Here we also met two other members of his multigenerational family. Asked to critique his paintings, gave this self-taught artist some advice and encouragement regarding his still life, landscape, and village scenes paintings. When I noticed the Bob Ross paints, he opened up a drawer and showed us a videotape and Bob Ross book written in Serbian. So Bob Ross’ “happy trees” technique even made it to Serbia! Thanking the family for the Turkish coffee and rakija, we moved onward.

Beli Most (White Bridge)
After a tasty lunch of šopska salad (cucumbers, tomatoes, fresh white grated cheese) and baked beans with bacon at a cute ethnic restaurant, we headed towards the Beli Most (White Bridge). This small stone bridge was constructed in 1844 and has a shape similar to the much larger one in Mostar. An inscription written in Arabic states that the bridge was constructed by lady Ajša “to repent her sins and the sins of her parents,” but local legend states that the Turkish girl Ajša fell in love with a Serbian boy Stojan and was mistakenly killed by her father – who then decided to build a bridge in her memory.

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