Istanbul’s tiny Greek community has revived an all-but-extinct tradition by celebrating Bakla Horani, an evening of carousing at the end of carnival ahead of Lent. About 300 masked, painted and costumed revelers paraded on Monday through the streets of Istanbul’s Kurtulus district, known as Tatavla when it was home to Greeks decades ago.
The procession ended at a local hall where musicians performed rembetiko and cranked a laterna, a Greek mechanical piano. Partiers were served raki, the aniseed-flavoured spirit, and meze that featured beans. (Bakla Horani roughly translates as “eating beans,” referring to the austere Lenten diet that looms.)
For 500 years, Bakla Horani was celebrated in Istanbul, now a mainly Muslim city, and pre-Lenten street parties would run for weeks ahead of the 40-day period of self-denial Christians observe ahead of Easter. Lent began today, Ash Wednesday.
Though never on the scale of the Bacchanalian parties of Mardi Gras in New Orleans or Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Bakla Horani was a colourful feature of Christian life in Istanbul until its last commemoration in 1941. After that, Greeks, along with the city’s other non-Muslim residents, faced social and financial discrimination that made it all but impossible for them to stage such a splashy event.
A small group gathered to mark the holiday last year. This year, the municipality asked members of the community to organise a full-scale event, promising to provide security for the procession, said Dimitri Zotos, head of the Ayios Dimitrios foundation, which hosted Bakla Horani.