Karagöz Turkish Shadow Puppets

Last Updated on May 6, 2019

Karagöz (“Black Eye”) is the name of the traditionalTurkish shadow puppet theater.

The legend of Karagöz is said to have begun in Bursawhen two men working on construction of the Ulu Cami in 1396 would perform impromptu comedy routines. They became very popular with the other workers, who would stop work to watch their antics. This slowed the progress of construction, and when the sultan heard of it, he condemned the two men, Karagöz and Hacivat, to death.

So the legend goes. Whatever may have happened to the comedians, the shadow play based on their jokes, pranks, fights, intrigues, stupidities and camaraderie survives and prospers to this day in Bursa and across Turkey.

Shadow puppets are flat figures cut from camel or donkey leather, oiled to make them translucent, then perforated and painted, and mounted perpendicularly at the end of sticks. A white sheet is hung as a screen, a strong light put behind it, and the puppets, pressed gently to the light-source side of the sheet, are animated by means of the sticks in the hands of a puppeteer.

A talented puppeteer can make the figures walk and dance, jump and fight, nod and laugh.

Karagoz Shadow Puppet, Bursa, Turkey

Over the centuries the two original characters have been joined by a host of others, animals as well as humans. The puppets play between two traditional Turkish houseswith second-story windows from which the irate wives of the comedians can berate them for their mischief.

The list of plays is long, and includes many set pieces that would have been familiar to generations of the Ottoman sultans’ subjects. Themes range across the theatrical spectrum: love, jealousy, oneupmanship, rivalry and—very often—ribaldry.

Shadow plays were often performed in coffeehousesparks and other public places. Sexual and scatological jokes and pranks might be toned down when children were present, but given a full airing for an adult audience.

Today the Karagöz shadow puppet play is carried on in Bursa by Mr Şinasi Çelikkol, owner of Karagöz Antikacı, an antiques shop in the Eski Aynali Çarsi section of Bursa’s Covered Bazaar.

Sinasi Bey even has a small shadow puppet theater set up in his shop so he can give impromptu performancesof Karagöz plays for visitors. He also sells the hand-made shadow puppets and many other traditional Turkish handicraft items. More…

—by Tom Brosnahan

Karagöz Antikaci (Antiques Shop)

Bursa’s Covered Bazaar

Central Bursa Sights

Great Mosque (Ulu Cami)

What to See & Do in Bursa

Bursa in One Day

Bursa Transport

Bursa Homepage

Thrace & Marmara


Where to Go in Turkey

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