Pottery making in Cappadocia: the relationship of the river and clay

Pottery making in Cappadocia: the relationship of the river and clay

May 05, 2017

The ease of navigation around a town, that is divided by a river makes visitors adapt to the new location much faster. They quickly learn distinctive markers of each bank, finding the best spots preferred by locals and making them their own. This is the case of Kızılırmak, Turkey’s longest river running entirely within the borders of the country, and which splits the Cappadocian town of Avanos into two sides. It is on the banks of the river where the town’s social life blooms, but its meaning goes beyond the atmosphere of the walking paths, lively cafes, and cozy waterfront benches. The locals’ relationship with Kızılırmak dates back to the Bronze Age, when the Hittite Empire occupied the areas directly surrounding the watershed, using its natural resources in many different ways. In Avanos, it was all about pottery.

Utilizing earth, sun and fire

Clay used to make pottery is a mixture of hard clay resources found in the mountains surrounding Avanos, and the softer ones taken directly from the Kızılırmak riverbed. Since it is not possible to produce quality pottery using only one type of clay (as it would crumble during the process), a special red paste that takes its color from local soil, is made using both types.

The paste is kneaded by hand to remove lumps and, once soft, left to rest for a day. The next day, using a foot-driven wheel, craftsmen shape their clay into objects which are then left for a short rest in the sun. Only then are handles added. If the initial object is left in the sun for too long, there is a chance the handles might not adhere. 

Chez Galip - photo by Merve Göral

Next, the surface of some of the objects is painted. Traditionally, yoşa (natural red dye) is used. The objects are left to dry in yanalak, a special room within the workshop, where the firing kilns are also located. Objects to be fired are first exposed to sunlight in order to increase their temperature before placing them in a kiln for fumigation and burning.

The last part of the manufacturing process takes more than a day in the summer, but in winter the waiting time extends to more than a week. For pottery burning, the kiln temperature should be at exactly 1,200 degrees Celsius, otherwise the clay begins to break. The final step is a 12-hour cooling, moistening and polishing of the objects. These handmade objects will then serve you for many years.

How to make pottery in Avanos, Cappadocia - photo by Merve Göral

Pottery shopping in Avanos

Native to Avanos, Galip Körükçü is a sixth generation pottery-maker. Together with his wife Lillian, they work on traditional and contemporary pottery and ceramics. Chez Galip, Hasan Kalesi Mevkii No.3, Avanos; T: (0384) 511 45 77.

Types of traditional pottery objects

Due to their functionality, there are several types of traditional pottery objects produced in Avanos today, and used in contemporary households:

Types of traditional pottery objects

Üzlük - a small bowl, often used as part of a breakfast table setup to carry pekmez, olives, jams, or honey.

Küp - medium-sized bowl without handles used to make Avanos küp peyniri. Once the
curd is ready, the top of the
bowl is covered with clay and buried in the sand.

Testi - a vessel holding water. The clay paste used to produce this type of object is mixed with salt to enhance its cooling properties.

Güveç - popular type of small bowl used for oven-baked dishes. 

For fine examples of Avanos pottery browse our online collection at shoptheguide.com