Manisa Mesir Festival in Turkey

March 12, 2013 by

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Mesir on sale in Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar.Photo courtesy of John Picken via Flickr.

One of Turkey’s oldest festivals dating back almost 500 years, the Manisa Mesir festival is held each March in the Aegean town of Manisa. Organized in celebration of the region’s famous Mesir paste, a specially blended paste or gum renowned for its healing properties, the festival is the town’s biggest event, drawing thousands of Turkish and international visitors.

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Mesir, locally nicknamed ‘Power Gum’, is not just any sweet; the gum is celebrated for its curative properties, said to treat everything from the common cold to inflamed joints. The gum has long been the lifeblood for the community of Manisa, who cultivated the so-called ‘wonder drug’ as a natural medicine back in Ottoman times. Legend tells that the paste was concocted by legendary herbalist Merkez Muslihiddin Efendi under the dictation of Sultan Suleyman, when his Mother, Ayse Hafsa Sultan, fell ill of a supposedly incurable disease. Efendi mixed a choice selection of herbs and spices into a medicinal paste that miraculously cured Hafsa Sultan, and soon after, the requests flowed in. The famous paste is still produced today, using the same 41 spices used in the original recipe – a peculiar blend that includes China Root, Buckthorn, Cinnamon, Orange peel and Black Cumin.

Mesir’s undeniable popularity put the town of Manisa on the map and, believing its medicinal value, Sultan Suleyman organized the annual festival in order to distribute its ‘gift’ to the masses. Today, the Manisa Mesir Festival is a mammoth celebration at the start of springtime, bringing several days of public holidays, parties and special events. Vast crowds of believers take to the streets before the Sultan Mosque, from where thousands of Mesir candies, sealed in colorful wrappers, are thrown from the rooftops as a gift to the people. Even if you don’t buy into the hype of the Mesir, there’s no excuse to miss the festivities – sporting events, music concerts, arts and crafts fairs and folk dancing are among the entertainment, served up with an array of traditional Anatolian foods and culminating in a vibrant street parade.

- Zoe Smith

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