The Mesir Macunu Festival celebrated during the week of Nevruz (March 21-24), which is recognized as the beginning of spring, includes various cultural and traditional practices. It has been organized in Manisa for approximately 400 years.
Mesir macunu is an edible paste believed to have health benefits, and is based on historical events. Hafsa Sultan, the mother of Sultan Süleiman the Magnificent, came down with an unexplained disease while in Manisa. Merkez Efendi, the chief physician of the Sultan Mosque Madrassa, made a paste from a mixture of 41 different herbs and spices as a remedy for this malady. This medicinal paste called mesir macunu helped Hafsa Sultan recover in a short period of time and it has been handed down to the present day. Hafsa Sultan was known for her charitable nature, and she asked that the mesir macunu that had healed her be distributed to the people every year during Nevruz. The paste is wrapped in small pieces of paper and thrown to the people from the Sultan Mosque. From that day until now, mesir macunu has been passed out to the people gathered around Sultan Mosque for the festivities at this time.
Mesir Macunu is made following traditional recipes passed down from generation to generation. Mesir macunu contains herbs and spices such as anise, nigella, mustard seed, coconut, cardamom, black pepper, clover, cumin, coriander, rhubarb, saffron, gum mastic, cinnamon, vanilla, all spice, ginger, galangal, orange rind, cassia and fennel. The chef who prepares the paste checks the freshness of the herbs and spices, determines the amounts of the ingredients and inspects the cooking environment and equipment. During the preparation phase, the chef is constantly giving the apprentice cooks who work with him oral and applied knowledge and experience, which is how the traditional information survives.
The festival activities begin each year with prayers said over the stirring and cooking of the mesir macunu. At least three tons of mesir macunu is prepared for throwing and passing out during the festival. The mesir macunu is wrapped in small pieces of shiny, colorful paper by at least 14 women who must be characterized by cleanliness, dexterity, experience and patience. The paste is stirred and cooked with prayers and wishes for speedy recovery before being thrown to the people from the minaret and dome of Sultan Mosque. Thousands of people from different parts of Turkey compete with one another to catch a piece of the paste before it hits the ground. The festival program includes not only the mesir stirring and distribution ceremonies but events like the traditional mesir cortege, a cooking contest, public concerts, entertainment for children, theater and folk dance performances.
The Mesir MacunuFestival brings together people from almost every part of Turkey, making an important contribution to social peace and cohesion. Preparations are made for both foreign and domestic visitors to the festival in Manisa, and they make a point to give foreign guests and neighboring cities some of the mesir macunu as a token of Turkey’s tradition of hospitality.
The place where the festival is held is the Sultan Mosque and Complex, where traditional information and skills related to the festival have been transmitted and maintained for centuries. Many of the new generation continue the festival practices that they recreate and keep alive together with contemporary events in this same location. In order to guarantee the viability of traditional heritage, it is critical that cultural buildings associated with this heritage be preserved. Therefore, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism declared the cultural space where the Mesir Macunu Festival takes place a protected area in 1988. The Mesir Macunu Festival is supported financially by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and research, identification and inventory work related to the festival is ongoing.
The Association of Tourism and Promotion of Manisa and Mesir is one of the most important institutions that makes voluntary contributions to the festival. Research and publication work related to the Mesir Macunu Festival is being conducted by researchers within this association, which possesses an extensive archive of visual, printed and audio records for each festival. All current news and announcements related to the festival are shared with the public via the website http://www.mesirfestivali.com, which was set up just for the Mesir Macunu Festival organized by the Manisa Governor’s Office, the Manisa Mayor’s Office and the Association of Tourism and the Promotion of Manisa and Mesir. Celal Bayar University, which is located in Manisa, also hosts scholarly research activities as well as meetings such as symposiums and panels related to the festival.
The International Manisa Mesir Festival Photograph Contest held every year helps promote the festival while local and national media provide extensive coverage of the Mesir Macunu Festival.
In 2012, the Mesir Macunu Festival was registered on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity on behalf of Turkey.