Mudurnu Tentative UNESCO WHS and Its Ahi Order-based Intangible Heritage

Theme: Documentation of Intangible Rural Traditions and Practices

by Ms. Münire Nurgül Büyükgüllü
HeritageForAll Intern (Call 2019) from Istanbul, Turkey
Internship Program “Rural Heritage and Traditional Food”
Masters Candidate in Restoration (Conservation) program, Istanbul Technical University (ITU)


Mudurnu is one of the places that has preserved its intangible heritage to its best and still makes the effort to convey it to other people. It has a unique cultural heritage which represents the traditions and practices of the past. In this content, these traditions and their importance will be explained thoroughly.


Intangible heritage is the cultural accumulation of each community which contains both the past and the present values of a culture. It is a responsibility to carry out the traditions and practices of the past to make it unforgotten and to transfer them to the next generations. Continuity is the major determinant considering the intangible heritage.

The intangible cultural heritage is defined by UNESCO (2003) as “the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artifacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage”.

It can be thought that tangible heritage is more urgent to protect and preserve, although it is not the case. Intangible heritage is as important as tangible heritage and should be taken into consideration for safeguarding. It can also be quite the source of tourism and representation of the cities.

Figure 1: Mudurnu and its built heritage. Source:

Brief History of Mudurnu

Mudurnu is a district in Bolu, located in the West Black Sea Region. Its surrounding districts such as Göynük, Akyazı etc. have similar built heritage as Mudurnu. It was located in the middle of the area called Anatolian Thrace and Bithynia. Mudurnu has been an important center of trade throughout history due to the fact that it was connected to the Silk Road with its surrounding districts like Göynük and Taraklı. Therefore, in the Hittite, Phrygian, Bithynian and Roman-Byzantine periods, Mudurnu was a trade and craft center. That is the reason why it was an important place for the Seljukid and Ottoman period as well.

Mudurnu had experienced the three stages of Ottoman period. The first one was the Turkification of Anatolia by the incursions of Osman I in 1307. The second one was the Ottoman Interregnum between 1402-1413. Back then, Mudurnu was a refuge area who fled the armies of Timur. The third and last one was the Turkish War of Independence between 1919-1922. At the time, the rebellions were suppressed around Mudurnu and eventually the Turkish Republic was established. Consequently, Mudurnu was declared as one of the first districts of Bolu.

In addition, Mudurnu has architectural heritage from the three important Sultans in the Ottoman period. These three mosques are; Sultan Orhan İmaret Mosque, Yıldırım Bayezit Mosque and Kanuni Sultan Süleyman Mosque. Also the clock tower, Mudurnu Castle, Arasta (Historical Bazaar), Pertev Naili Boratav Cultural House can be stated as other built heritage examples.

Figure 2: Armutçular Konağı, Mudurnu, Source:

Since Mudurnu was a trade center until the 19th century, there were many konaks (residences), a caravanserai and hans (inns) that were built. The houses were mostly built with wooden structures, similar to the architecture in the West Black Sea Region. However, being a trade center had its effects on the architecture of the area. The houses were built larger than original due to the fact that they needed more capacity (Öztürk, 2007, as cited in Koçan, 2012).

Intangible Heritage Elements

Cultural tourism is one of the key factors that attracts people to Mudurnu. As stated before, the built heritage is similar to the surrounding villages. However, Mudurnu has much more to offer than its architecture which is its intangible heritage elements that makes Mudurnu different from the others. Here is a list of the intangible heritage in Mudurnu (Yıldırım, 2014, as cited in Genç & Şengül, 2015):

  • Ahi Order (Akhism): Merchants’ Prayer (Esnaf Duası), Belt Wrapping (Şet Kuşanma), 2009 Ahi Baba, Şeyh-ül İmran Holiday,
  • Social Traditions: Birikme nights, henna nights, band,
  • Crafts: ironsmithing, coppermaking, yemenimaking, needlemaking etc.,
  • Traditional Food: Kaşıksapı, Saray Helvası etc.,
  • Etnography: Objects from daily life,
  • District Governor Ali Nail, Independence War Pertev Naili Boratav,
  • Photography.

In this content, the Ahi Order, Merchants’ Prayer and Belt Wrapping will be explained in detail because it is the major element of Mudurnu’s intangible heritage that made the district unique.

The Ahi Order

Mudurnu was the center of trade with its needle, knive, copper-ware and ironware making. This has been indicated in many resources but more importantly by Evliya Çelebi’s Seyahatname in which he mentions Mudurnu with its castle, neighborhoods and monuments as well. The trades take place in Arasta (the historical Bazaar) which is essentially connected to Mudurnu’s intangible heritage of Ahi order.

The Ahi Order was established by Ahi Evran in the 13th century. The aim was to make Anatolia as the homeland and it had a great role in the establishment of the Ottoman Empire. Ahi Evran has connected Turkish ethics and manners with Islam. It is believed that the Ahi Order has been formed around the ideas of Ahi Evran with Hacı Bektaşı Veli in Kırşehir.

Ahi order contains many elements such as trade, art, occupation, character, ethics and truthfulness with integrity. Therefore, if someone is related to Ahi order, they are supposed to have these qualities. The Ahis are significant people who determines the society in terms of economy in the Seljuk and Ottoman period (Çağatay, 2015 as cited in Bostancı, 2018).

Figure 4: Merchants’ Prayer, Mudurnu. Source:

The tradition of Merchants’ Prayer (Esnaf Duası) has been taking place in the Arasta. Every Friday, tradesman participate to the prayer all together before Friday Prayer. The tradition kept going for 700 years, despite the weather conditions or other circumstances. However, instead of standing in a row, they line up in front of their shops facing each other and pray. The distance between them are determined by the place they stand. The ritual shows differences in each case. Merchants’ prayer is done in two markets which are the Middle Market (Orta Çarşı) and the Ironsmiths’ Market (Demirciler Çarşısı).

The work of the tradesman differs, just like the prayer. In the Ironsmiths’ Market, the people work while they’re standing and they pray sitting. It is the exact opposite for the tradesman in the Middle Market. The reason is based on showing respect to each other. They try to understand how the other people work and empathize with them.

After the prayer, the people who want prayers for their deceased, gives out bread or Turkish delights as “hayır (charity)” and the people who eat them, prays for them. Moreover, if there is a person opening a new shop, everyone prays for his crafts to go well and after the prayer they all go to the opening of the shop.

As for the Belt Wrapping (Şet Kuşanma), after a young craftsmen has worked next to his master and fully trained, he earns his belt. It is to certify that he has learned the job with all the details and work ethics. The belt (şet) is a piece of cloth, covered with prayers and advises.

In addition, in the ‘Ahi Baba’ contest organized by the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in 2009, the Ahi of Turkey was selected who is the 83-year-old ironsmith Mehmet Şankaya. He was a symbol of the Ahi order and craftsmen. Ahi Culture Week is celebrated every year which is a useful way to show these traditions to people.

Figure 5: Belt Wrapping (Şet Kuşanma), Mudurnu. Source:

Social Traditions and Crafts

In “birikme nights”, young people are taught the rules of society and one of the local performing arts called “orta oyunu” are played. It is more like a meeting where even the problems of the local people are discussed. In “henna nights”, both women and men wear traditional clothes called “bindallı” and “üçetek” and the bride-to-be wears a red scarf called “çatkı”. In these nights, henna is done to the bride-to-be’s hand, songs are played etc.

Needle lace is the major handicraft produced by the women in Mudurnu. Evliya Çelebi has also praised Mudurnu and its needle shops when he visited Mudurnu. They are usually sewn at the ends of yemeni (scarf). Each lase has been named after a different flower, fruit, vegetable or people which makes each and every one special.

Figure 8: Demirciler Çarşısı, Mudurnu. Source:

On the other hand, it is indisputable that Pertev Naili Boratav is also a significant figure for Mudurnu. He has many articles and books about Turkish folk literature who also compiled the structures of Turkish folk tales. He is known as the scientist of Turkish folk literature who has arranged the information about public folk figures such as Pir Sultan Abdal, Köroğlu, Nasrettin Hoca etc. The first “Folklore Department” was established by Pertev Naili Boratav. He has also formed a wide archive about literature. Therefore, to honor his works, the local people in Mudurnu have opened “Pertev Naili Boratav Culture House”.

Figure 9: Pertev Naili Boratav Culture House, Mudurnu. Source:

Revitalization of the Intangible Heritage

Representing a culture and its traditions is actually a task that needs will and effort. There are several ways to show them to the visitors in the living environment for sure. However, when it comes to the concept of reliving and re-experiencing that period, open air museums can be successful examples. Open air museums are often encountered in Europe and especially in Scandinavia, Skansen Open Air Museum being the first one to open in 1891.

In this case, in order to achieve that, an open air museum was established with the help of the local people in Mudurnu. They wanted the district to express the traditions and practices of daily life. Therefore, they turned Hüsamettindere Village into an open air museum. They bought the houses and restored them and as a consequence, the village became the first eco-museum in Turkey. The favorable points of this project was continuity of the traditions, preserving the architectural heritage and promoting ecological agriculture and farming.

With its unique intangible heritage, Mudurnu was inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List as “Historic Guild Town of Mudurnu” in 2015 by the criteria iii, iv and vi. The Ahi Order for criterion iii and criterion vi and Yıldırım Bayezid Mosque’s special architectural features for criterion iv were the reasons for Mudurnu to have Outstanding Universal Value.

Figure 10: Yıldırım Bayezid Mosque. Source:

Another step was to make Mudurnu known both nationally and internationally. The district was accepted to Cittaslow as the 15th member of Turkey in 2018. Since the cities in Cittaslow are based on protecting the tangible and intangible heritage, applying infrastructure and superstructure works and localizing agricultural activities, it is a good way of living for these cities also for Mudurnu. From now on, Mudurnu Municipality wants Mudurnu to be inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage List and to be known with its cultural heritage as a developed district.


Intangible heritage has a major role in the promotion of such small cities like Mudurnu. Its cultural heritage with the Merchants’ Prayer and Ahi Order are the main reasons why people visit the area. Moreover, Ahi Order is practiced in other cities as well such as Kırşehir, Şanlıurfa and Denizli. However, Mudurnu is the only “district” that practices it and also knows how to promote the Ahi Order. Therefore, it has a different cultural environment which separates it from other cities that also practice Ahi Order.

Since Mudurnu is quite similar with the surrounding districts in terms of architectural heritage, it is extraordinary to have these values to offer to the tourists. There is no other district that has the same traditions which kept going for 700 years and still continuing. Especially on Fridays, it is a great chance to visit Mudurnu and experience its culture and traditions. Intangible cultural heritage is indeed the key to the revitalization of such places.


  • Bostancı, B. (2018). “Ritüel ve Mekân İlişkisi Bağlamında Mudurnu Arastası” [Ritual and Space in Mudurnu Historic Bazaar (Arasta)]. Uluslararası Mudurnu Araştırmaları Ahilik ve Halk Kültürü Sempozyumu Bildiriler Kitabı, 21-22 Eylül 2018, Bolu Abant İzzet Baysal Üniversitesi, p.387-399.
  • Genç, K. & Şengül, S. (2015). “Kültürel Miras Turizmine Yönelik Yerel Halkın Görüşlerinin Ortaya Çıkarılması: Mudurnu Ölçeğinde Bir Araştırma” [Revealing the Opinions of the Local People on Cultural Heritage Tourism: a Research on Mudurnu Scale]. 16. Ulusal Turizm Kongresi Bildiriler Kitabı, 12-15 June 2015, Çanakkale Valiliği, p.218-237.
  • Koçan, N. (2012). Tarihi Kent Koruma ve Mudurnu (Bolu) Örneği [Historical Urban Protection and Example of Mudurnu (Bolu)]. Ordu University Journal of Science and Technology 2 (2), 93-102. Retrieved from
  • UNESCO (2003). Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage 2003. Retrieved 21 September 21, 2019, from


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