Eskişehir: Turkey’s Amsterdam without the Weed, Hookers, and Art Museums

I recently went to Eskisehir, (forgive my American keyboard) which is a city in Western Anatolia about two hundred miles southeast of Istanbul. Despite Anatolia being known more as a dry grassland plateau, the western section is pretty rugged and green. It’s covered in forests and green ridges that contrast starkly with the heavily industrialized Sea of Marmara coastline to the west and the flat urban sprawl of the capital, Ankara, to the east.

When I first arrived I really didn’t know what to expect and I was just told it was a fun city and only about a three hour train ride from my home in Istanbul. It was hyped up by friends as a kind of college town, but I was just looking forward to a weekend away. As soon as we left the train station and made our way down the main street, there was a giant mall (surprise surprise…fun fact there are four within a mile of my apartment in Istanbul). In front of the mall was an, “I ‘heart’ Eskisehir” sign, much like the famous, eponymous ones in Amsterdam.
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At first, I found the structure a cheap imitation. An attempt to make the city seem like a more prominent destination by mimicking a sort of banal tourist stop. I still think about the structures in both cities that way. However, the longer I stayed the more it accentuated the parallels between the two cities in my mind over the weekend I spent there. Amsterdam’s cultural history may be more famous, but Eskisehir’s is even greater. The title means “old city” in Turkish and the founding dates back to 1000 BC. While Eskisehir wasn’t home to Van Gogh and Rembrandt or any famous Turkish artists, it does house a Museum dedicated to the artistic glassware that Ottoman art is known for. Amsterdam is probably most well known for its tourist drawing Red Light District, but don’t expect anything like that. So, if you want to smoke a joint and buy a hooker, Eskisehir isn’t the place for you. For a predominately Muslim country though, you can find a nightlife here that is more open than any other I’ve seen outside of the typical expat havens and Istanbul. It has a rather liberal population, as well as a high number of young people that leads to a pretty big bar scene with quality foreign beers, if like me, you get tired of drinking Bomonti and Efes (The Miller and Miller High Life of Turkey). You can also find pool and ping pong tables at most places, which aren’t easy to find in bars in the rest of the country.

Most of these bars run near the Porsuk River. Unlike the iconic Amstel it doesn’t cross every nook and cranny, but still bisects the city. The river is also lined with cafes, restaurants, and various other shops. You can regularly find people sipping on tea or drinking beer or raki with the rattle of dice from a game of backgammon going on. It’s a nice alternative to the packed and expensive tourist trap that is Amsterdam (don’t expect to hear people speaking English in Eskisehir like they do in Amsterdam, though). Walking along the river I couldn’t help but feel the same relaxed vibe that I had felt this summer in Amsterdam but with fewer crowds and drunk 18 year olds.

However, if you’ve ever been to Amsterdam outside of the Red Light District you know that much more defines the city than drugs and prostitution. There is an artistic feeling that permeates the air there and maybe that’s what I breathed in while in Eskisehir. This is exampled through its architecture. When I walked along the river banks and in the Odunpazari neighborhood I couldn’t help but notice the unique houses, similar to the ones that struck me so much when I was in Amsterdam. Amsterdam’s homes are noted for their long and narrow style with a white trim (seen below).DSC_0960

Odunpazari has a style that is a little different, but felt reminiscent of the one in Amsterdam. They looked like inverse images of the typical apartments above. What with them being shorter and wider with inverse color schemes. Nevertheless, I felt like I had stumbled on an older Dutch colony as I walked through.DSC_1378

The structural differences are probably more due to the time period they were built, with Odunpazari’s neighborhood dating back to about 1000 AD, while the city of Amsterdam was founded about 400 years later. There is also more necessity for Amsterdam’s tall thin style because of the need to conserve space, which Eskisehir doesn’t have to deal with. Similarly, the Odunpazari neighborhood has numerous mosques dating back to the 1400’s and 1500’s much like the era most of Amsterdam’s classic churches are from.

Westerkerk...tallest church in the Netherlands
Westerkerk…tallest church in the Netherlands
Alaadin Mosque. The oldest mosque in Eskisehir
Alaadin Mosque. The oldest mosque in Eskisehir

Overall, the cities provide a lot of similarities and contrasts between Turkish and Dutch culture. There’s unique architecture surrounding river banks with elaborate bridges connecting the sides. Religious buildings accentuating otherwise unimpressive skylines. There are obvious differences between the Muslim culture that shaped modern Eskisehir and the social democratic doctrine of Amsterdam, but they share common traits. They are two of the most beautiful places to relax and they embody a friendly and welcoming nature that make me wish I could go back.

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