The Charcoal Burners of Thrace, Turkey

A Charcoal Burner tending the smoking mound

We spotted the smoke rising from the forest, and knew we were near our goal. We were in Eastern Thrace, on the ridge between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea; an hour and a half's drive from Istanbul to the area around Çatalca, where charcoal is still made from wood in the traditional manner.

Charcoal has been made in this area since Ottoman times, and the manner of burning has been handed down from father to son through the ages. The traditional way of producing charcoal is very labour intensive. It could also be considered unhealthy, because of the clouds of smoke billowing over the workers. But, we were assured, the charcoal burners of Thrace lead long and healthy lives.

First, a circular area needs to be cleared in the forest... 

...and the wood cut to precise lengths...

...before being stacked around the edges of the clearing.

The wood is then carefully arranged, beginning with the thinnest sticks...

...and then larger logs are added, while being careful to maintain the shape.

Once the mound of logs is complete, it is covered in hay and soil..

...and set alight from the centre by dropping in burning charcoal. 
It is then left to burn for a whole week before it is ready.

The burning mound is carefully monitored by the workers both day and night

They live in nearby huts until the burning is complete

Some huts appear to have been there a long time!

The finished charcoal is stacked, ready to be packed for sale.

It takes seven tons of wood to produce about one ton of charcoal. There is a ready market for it in Istanbul, as charcoal is used widely in Turkish restaurants, and in many homes, for grilling meat, fish and vegetables. 

This was such an interesting day, and a most enjoyable one. I love learning about Istanbul and its history.

by Elizabeth Coughlan

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