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The ubiquitous amulet, choosing the best souvenir

Mystic dancers or dervishes
Close-up of the Hand of Fatima
The Hand of Fatima
Lucky eye

There are so many Turkish talismans in Istanbul that you’ll need a quick guide to explain their history and what they mean.
Upon arrival at Istanbul, you'd be forgiven for being overwhelmed by the sheer number of amulets everywhere you go: houses, shops, bazaars and…even in taxis! We’ll tell you the meaning of some of them so you know what they’re about and the reason for their ubiquity.

The first one you’ll come across (perhaps even on the wing of the plane that brings you to Istanbul) will undoubtedly be the blue eye. Commonly known as the ‘lucky eye’ (‘nazar boncuğu’ in Turkish) it is really the devil’s eye and is used more to ward off the evil eye than to bring luck. It has the shape of an eye because it is believed that evil comes out of a person’s eye; and the blue colour signifies water, a precious commodity in Turkey. Made from glass, you’ll find them in the most unexpected places: offices, banks, means of transport… in the form of a necklace, bracelet, key ring or magnet. Take one home with you because, beyond the legend itself, it is a symbol of Ottoman and Anatolia culture also shared by the Greeks. Oh, and remember, for it to be effective, it has to be a gift, you can’t buy one for yourself.

Another amulet you will see is a hand and you’re bound to wonder whose it is and why it is so prolific. It is the Hand of Fatima, daughter of the prophet Muhammad and this one is also usually meant to bring good luck. Sometimes the five fingers are wrongly thought to represent the five Pillars of Islam. However, the Qur’an prohibits any kind of talisman or superstition so that assumption is incorrect. The most widespread legend is that Fatima was preparing dinner when her husband, Alí, arrived home with a new concubine. She was so upset that she inadvertently dropped the spoon and continued to stir the rice with her hand without noticing the pain, only the pain in her heart. During the night she spied on the two lovers, and afterwards told her husband of the pain she felt as a tear fell across her cheek. Alí looked after his wife, while she urged him to leave his latest conquest. It’s unlikely he ignored her pleading, because the amulet represents the patience that brings prosperity, wealth and good fortune. It is often given to women as a gift, or hung on the door of the home or business. Some versions also include an eye in the centre of the hand.

Other items exist that, although not talismans, have become key elements of Turkish culture. The kaftan, the traditional Ottoman dress, and the whirling dervishes, mystical dancers, are good examples. So are the country’s typical fruit and flower: the pomegranate and the tulip, the door of the Kaaba (at Mecca), the entrance to paradise, and the sign of three circles (similar to the blue eye) that represents the union between Europe, Asia and Africa. Family is highly important to the Turks, and this is represented by the tree of life. And of course the country’s red flag waves in every corner of the city.

Now when you explore the endless streets of the Grand Bazaar you’ll know what you’re looking at and what it all means. Pick up a souvenir in glass or ceramic, emblazoned on a carpet or perhaps a cushion, and take some good fortune home with you.

The leader who became a talisman

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the "father of the nation", founded the modern day Republic of Turkey giving light and hope to the Turks. Today he continues to be a revered leader, appearing on Turkish lira banknotes and coins. Every 10th November at 9:05, a minute’s silence is held to commemorate his death. Afterwards, ceremonies are held all over the country to remember and show gratitude to their leader.

The Sultan’s signature, a major relic

The ‘tughra’ is a script the represents the ceremonial signature used as a seal of the sultans who reigned over the Ottoman Empire. Although they all look alike, each ruler had his own, but they share some common features so the physiognomy is similar. Each one carries the name of the sultan and a nickname, such as ‘Always Victorious’ or ‘The Magnificent’. You’ll find them on plates, fabrics, ceramics and, of course, presiding over the Door to Happiness at the Topkapi Palace.

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