Travel guide: West of Trabzon

Hazelnut Country

The 271 kilometers that stretch between Trabzon and Ünye are a constant progression of seaside harbor towns squeezed on a narrow ledge of land between the mountains and the beach. Brightly colored kayıks and jaunty takas, the unique Black Sea fishing boats with a superstructure that makes them look like they are about to capsize, ply the sea and bring in loads of hamsi, palamut and istavrit. The wealth they generate has radically changed the face of the coastal towns since the quaint panoramas seen in faded turn-of-the century photographs. One gets a sense of what they might have once looked like in the back streets of a few places like Akçaabat, Tirebolu or Giresun. Deep valleys cut across the mountains, bearing torrential rivers. Each valley hides a world of grandiose panoramas, isolated villages, wild waterfalls and an unknown fortress or a forgotten monastery in some far-away corner of the forest. Where there is no forest the mountains are covered with endless stretches of thick, tangled hazelnut bush. When the nuts are harvested in late July, a trip turns into a continuous feast on the addictive molar-breakers. By August every available flat surface in the land gets covered with enormous heaps of nuts left to dry in the sun. Entire families rollick barefooted in them, shelling, selecting and packing the thousands of tons that go toward supplying the world’s chocolate manufacturers.

Stately Houses of Trabzon

Akçaabat is located within sight of Trabzon, at the western edge of the broad bay that includes the bigger city. One should not be put off by the drab appearance of the downtown area: the residential districts on the hillside contain one of the best preserved collections of old Pontic houses to be found anywhere along the coast, making the town a veritable open-air museum of traditional Black Sea architecture.
The town’s other claims to distinction include the most celebrated horon dancers of the Trabzon region, who may be caught at any of the yayla festivities in the vicinity, such as the Hıdırnebi feast which features a horon round of more than 500 men and women and takes place between July 18 and 22 on a hilltop near the Duzköy turnoff. Another sight is the delightful women’s market held every Tuesday which transforms the otherwise nondescript lower town into a brilliant sea of reds and whites, as peştemal-clad peasant women come down from the mountains to sell their fresh produce.
 Akçaabat was known in the past as Platana, in reference to the plane trees which the local natives reportedly worshipped in pagan times. The majestic
tree continued to be venerated even in later ages, to the great consternation of Christian and Muslim moralists. Today they still stand in clumps on the hillside, their sublime past forgotten, but their stately shadow a constant presence in the gardens that grace each of the old mansions.
The town consists of three quite distinct hillside sections: Durbinar, Ortamahalle and Gramba. In the past, Muslim Turks inhabited the first while Greeks formed a majority in the latter two. The town was shelled and a large part of it burned down during the Russian occupation of 1916, so that what one can see now is only a tiny fraction of what existed in the past century. Among those buildings destroyed were all but one of the 36 churches mentioned in early sources.
Ortamahalle, on the middle one of the three ridges that rise above the town, provides the best example of what Akçaabat might have looked like a hundred years ago. Its twisting cobblestone streets are too narrow and steep for most cars and only the clamor of children at play echoes in the neighborhood. Women dominate the street scene. Out of a second story window, a housewife asks a neighbor about the market rate for tomatoes. Rows of  corn   on the cob, to which tradition attributes the power to bring peace and prosperity to the household, hang from the windows shining a brilliant yellow in the morning sun. The inhabitants are more than willing to welcome a visitor inside their house and will sometimes make an invitation even before the stroller has summoned the courage to ask for it.
The 40 or so houses in Ortamahalle that retain their original character display certain common traits. All of them face east or north, with panoramic views of the valley and the sea. The upstairs living quarters are arranged around a spacious selamlık, the reception and main living room. Many houses keep the original ornamental woodwork in the interior, representing the last surviving examples
of what once used to be one of the leading crafts of the Black Sea. On the ground floor are the kitchen and service quarters, surrounded by a lusl vegetable garden and shaded by vine arbors and pomegranate trees.
The structural basis of all private buildings is timber, sometimes with round floor built of cut stone. Façade~ are plastered in stucco and painted it pastel colors, leaving only the frarrnc and border beams exposed. Some have impressively colonnaded front porches, complete with elaborate stone capitals. Window frames and pediments reflect a fine grasp of the esthetic principles and proportions of classical architecture. The best examples of these are on the group of house lining Dutlu (“Mulberry”) Street. The fine large residence on the narrow street that leads to the church was formerly a Greek schoolhouse. A stately four-storey mansion in the Gramba district on the next hill to the west has a very vivid fresco painted on the facade above its entrance.
The former Church of Archangel Michael, built under Emperor Manuel II in 1332, is now used as a private residence while the associated chapel serves as a barn. Only the battered cupola, rising stubornly above the walls, signals its presence from the outside. In the courtyard one can see some tarnished gravestones scattered about next to piles of bricks and other household items. Inside the church, the  mosaics on the floor are still discernible and a big pile of firewood lies unceremoniously in the apse.
The neighborhood mosque of Ortamahalle, dates from the early 19th century and is notable for the extremely fine wood carving of its minber (preacher’s pulpit).

Trabzon: Texas in Turkey



Between Akçaabat and Vakfıkebir the road passes by the first two of the countless fortresses that sprinkle the seacoast from here westward. They were built in the 13th and 14th centuries by the Byzantines and the Genoese to protect the naval lanes between  Constantinople and Trebizond. The fortress of Akçakale (formerly Cordyle) occupies a pretty peninsula of its own. This is where the adventurer Kalo-Johannes landed in 1429 in his bid to capture the imperial crown of Trebizond by a military coup. The fortress at Cape Yeros offers a final distant view of Trabzon across the bay.
Vakfikebir is known for its excellent butter and cheese which constitute the main commodities offered for sale at the colorful Monday market. The real source of the dairy products, though, is the inland town of Tonga. which calls for an excursion up the scenic Foldere Valley.
Tonva has an unparalleled reputation as the last remaining bastion of old-fashioned, gun-toting, hard-drinking Black Sea wild men. Descriptions echo Xenophon’s comments on Politic mountain tribes 2400 years ago and gain support from a terrible blood feud between two leading Tonga families that decimated the towns population for generations. “No Tonyalı has ever died of natural causes,” assures a taxi driver in Giresun. “One half makes guns, the other half uses them,” explains a teacher in Akçaabat. “It is worse than Texas,” says an imam in Vakfıkebir. “Clan spirit and code of honor,” claims a Trabzon Univeristy professor.
In the town itself, one is surprised to find a delightfully open, friendly and proud people. A strong sense of local identity is immediately apparent, underlined by the strange dialect of Greek heard on the streets.
The old violent scores are said to have been brought to an end in 1980 with the help of military authorities; and when asked, no one has ever heard about gunsmiths, although an inordinate number of hoe and shovel manufacturers exist in the villages of the district. The guns they are said to make out of steering columns and other unlikely metal implements may be quality-tested in the freer climate of the yaylas above the town. It is also in the gorgeous setting of these highlands
that one gets to know and love the intense, direct, courteous and sometimes deadly style of these mountain people.
The Kadırga Festival, the most famous of all Black Sea festivities, takes place in one of the yaylas, a bad 25 kilometer drive up from Tonya. The magnificent treeless mountaintop is located at 2 100 meters, at the juncture of the territories of Tonya, Maçka, Torul and Görele. People from the four districts gather there at the third weekend of July for three days of wild revelry. Some of the celebrations suggest a ritual origin in ancient and forgotten hostilities related to the delicate issue of yayla demarcation among the various communities of the mountains.
Back down in Tonya, a great idea for the serious walker might be to undertake the two-hour hike across the hill to the parallel valley of Şalpazarı to the west. As the name (“Shawl market”) implies, this used to be the main center for traditional textiles in the Trabzon area. Some handlooms
still manufacture the brilliant orange red waistcloth (kuşak) which forms an integral part of the traditional Tonya attire. Today, only elderly women wear this costume made up of a black silk dress with black lace borders and an elaborate black headpiece. The young find the coastal keşan more “fashionable”, but add a local touch by the brown-and-black peştemal that is rarely seen elsewhere. Near Şalpazarı, the local communities of Çepni Turks also have their own very distinctive traditional attire which is seen commonly in villages like Doğancı and Dorukkiriş

Giresun: Birds, Castles, Lost Churches



Eynesil and Gorele are uninteresting except for the Genoese fortress of Coralla from which the town derives its name. The big attraction of this area is found inland, in the hill villages where the whistle language is practiced.
The custom of communicating over distances by whistling seems to be widespread across the hinterland between Tonya and Giresun. An excellent place to observe it is the village of Kuşköy (“Birdtown”), 28 kilometers above Gorele. This village achieved international publicity through the efforts of the local Mobil dealership and articles about its particular dialect of whistletalk appeared in such diverse sources as the New York Times and La Revue de Phonetique Appliquee.
Whistling is practiced widely in the village. Children learn it before school age and people are said to argue or even declare love in whistle. The basic vocabulary and grammar of the whistle language is probably of great antiquity and does not show any obvious connection with Turkish or any other spoken language. New vocabulary, on the other hand, is added by means of a one-on-one phonetic “translation” from Turkish. This suggests that the original language is in the course of being lost. Harşit, now renamed Dogankent, is another place where one can observe the whistlers in action.
The fortress of Bedrama, 15 kilometers inland along the Harşit River and easily climbed, offers a stupendous view of the wild river and the hazelnut forests down to the sea. It is one of the three strongholds built by the Genoese in the 14th century from which Tirebolu, the former Tripolis or “Tripletown”, derives its name. The other two are the fortresses of St. John, located in the town of Tirebolu itself, and Andos, a little way past Espiye.
Tirebolu comes as a pleasant surprise to one who has been inured to the consistent drabness of Black Sea coastal towns. This is an old fishing port with a picturesque harbor hugging the gently curving bay, complemented by the fortress on a promontory reaching into the sea. It is just about the only major town along the coast that actually opens up to the sea rather than turning its back to it-the “ideal” Black Sea port that one conjures up in the imagination. The back streets, too, while not up to a par with Akçaabat, offer some choice examples of fine old residences. At the harbor beerhouse one may chat with a fisherman while
the boats unload the day’s catch before one’s feet. For a sample of the haul, try the Park Restaurant on the other side of the bay, offering a pleasant view of the coastline. The fortress which stays closed during the day but turns magically into a tea garden after dark. It is a fine place to enjoy one’s tea at a table looking out on the swirling sea.
A short drive along an excellent beach gets one from Tirebolu to Espiye, where a sign announces a historic church inland in the direction of Yağlıdere. Your writer, assured by at least a dozen interlocutors that it was a sight not to be missed, but getting a different set of instructions in each case, spent a whole day looking for the church. The quest resulted in the discovery of no less than four altogether undocumented ruined churches, but not the one in question. The search was abandoned at a gorgeous waterfall at the hamlet of Çaglayan, where a quick shower as naturel seemed infinitely more satisfying than the most interesting church in the world.

Giresun  Cherrytown

Giresun can be best summed up as a low-profile Trabzon, a city whose destiny has historically been to play second fiddle to its sister in the east. Almost every feature of Trabzon is replicated, but on a smaller, sleepier and, one might say, pleasanter scale. The only major difference is the noticeable absence of the conservative Muslim element which so visibly characterizes the larger city.
Like Trabzon, the city was originally founded as a colony of Sinope. It bore the name of Cerasus, probably in reference to the horn-shaped peak to the east of the town. During the Mithridatic Wars, in 69 BC, legions of the Roman general Lucullus camped here, and brought back to Rome an exotic local fruit which they named after the town. It is still called cherries in English, cerise in French, and so on in other European languages.
The acropolis of the original Greek colony was located on the steep hill overlooking the city center. It later got replaced by a Byzantine fortress which
has now been converted into the prettiest city park in Turkey. It offers a splendid bird’s eye panorama of the whole city and the surrounding mountains. Located within the park is the monumental tomb of Topal Osman Ağa (Sir Limping Osman), the heroor villain-of the bloody war of attrition against local Greek irregulars during and after the First World War.
The only significant historical building in the city is the Greek Church which seems to be a 19th century reconstruction of a Byzantine original. Recently restored, it is now a museum. The 15th century Tomb of Seyyid Vakkas is a fine Ottoman monument, commemorating a Turkish knight martyred during the during the conquest of Giresun in 1461.
Three kilometers east of Giresun harbor and off the estuary of the Aksu River is Giresun Adası, the only island of the Black Sea coast. Once known as the Island of Aretias, this is where the Amazon queens Antiope and Otrera built a temple to Ares, the very masculine god of war. The Argonauts anchored here during their quest for the Golden Fleece and were forced to retreat when, according to Apollonius of Rhodes, “a flock of birds rose in thousands and discharged a heavy shower of feathery darts at the ship.”
Today, the cormorants and gulls remain, though in a more peaceful state of mind. The “black rock” where Jason offered sacrifice still stands at the eastern end of the island. At the feast of Hıdrellez on May 20th, the rock becomes the venue of one of the most unusual traditional festivals of all Turkey. After picking up “seven pairs and one” pebbles at the estuary of the Aksu, hundreds of participants row out to the island and form a circle around the rock by holding hands. Then everyone puts a pebble into cracks in the rock with a private wish in mind: a solution to family problems, the healing of an illness or success in a business venture.
The island is uninhabited except for a small teahouse. One can hire a
fishing boat to get there to see the old walls and lone surviving tower of a Byzantine monastery. The place offers good opportunities for swimming in complete solitude.


A two/three hour drive over the mountains leads inland to Şebinkarahisar, one of the most scenic (and little known) historic towns of Turkey. The road itself follows the emerald green course of the Aksu river to a splendid yayla and then crosses the Egribel at 2230 meters. This alone is enough to make the trip worthwhile. A right turn just below Dereli brings one to Hisarkoy, where an enormous monolithic rock juts out of the forest with the remains of a Greek monastery perched on its top. The monastery was recently demolished by gold diggers but the one-hour climb is still a hiker’s delight.
Another point of interest along the road is Tamdere Yaylası, famous for its delicious grilled lamb and lively Friday market. It may serve as base for a day hike to Karagöl, a glacier lake located within a short distance of the perennially snow-capped 3095 meter peak of Karataş Mountain. There is a daily minibus from a small settlement near the lake to the coastal town of Bulancak.
Beyond Egribel Pass, the road descends to the stunning upper Kelkit basin-a U-shaped valley that is more than 1000 meters deep and almost 20 kilometers across, with a brilliant red and ocher hue and an ever-bright upland air that makes distances look unreal. Şebinkarahisar sits amid cypress trees at the top of a bluff high up on the northern wall of the valley, overshadowed by one of the most impressive fortresses in Turkey. The town has the distinction of having been the the principal Pontic military stronghold of successive empires through the ages. It was destroyed by Pompey in the course of his campaign against Mithridates; a Roman colony named Colonia was subsequently founded here to exploit the alum mines found in the vicinity. It remained a major center through Byzantine and Turkish times, only recently declining to its current state of insignificance.
Both historically and culturally, the town belongs to a different world than that of the coast. Turkish monuments predominate. Women are rarely seen; men look grave in their uniform flatbilled caps and are cautious to reveal their underlying courtesy.
The most interesting sight in Şebinkarahisar is undoubtedly the fortress, a veritable eagle’s nest set atop a craggy spur. It dates, predictably, to Justinian. Its massive gateway, connecting walls and turret attest to its former impregnability, although most of the extensive outer walls were demolished in 1915, when the Armenan community of the town took to the fortress in resistance against the Ottoman army. A monument to the Turkish victims of the fight can be seen in the town square. Also in the town is the ruined 17th century bazaar building known as Taşhanlar. The massive stone structure was turned into a jail in 1915 and collapsed during the earthquake of 1939. The 15th century Fatih Mosque was also a victim of the quake, although it has now been rebuilt more or less faithfully to the original. Other mosques include the 13th century Behramşah Mosque, and the 14th century Taş Mescid.
The villages in the vicinity of the town offer several Greek churches a breathtaking cave monastery.
The church nearest town, in Tamzara village, is in quite ruinous condition but the columns and the layered brick construction suggest an early, possibly Byzantine origin. The one in Licesu is huge and very well preserved, thanks to being put to good use as a private barn. An inscription on the elaborately carved portal dates it to 1884. Another ecclesiastical barn in Asarcik is smaller but has a more attractive exterior built of brown slabs of stone. It is also of recent vintage and preserves its 19th century frescoes.
Far more striking than any of the churches is the former monastery now known ac Meryemana (Virgin Mary).
The origins go back to the 5th century Byzantine monastery of Theotokos; the current structure dates from the 19th century when it was rebuilt as the Armenian monastery of St. Philip. In location and extent it almost rivals its more famous cousin at  Sumela. Unlike the latter, villagers report less than half a dozen foreigners to have visited the site in recent memory.
The monastery is located in Kayadibi village, across the valley from Şebinkarahisar. It sits in a gaping cave on the face of a towering vertical cliff and requires a stiff 20-minute climb. A bright white defensive wall protects the monastery from the exterior. Behind it, in an enormous cave infested with ominously squawking bats, is the four-storey complex comprising some 40 rooms, strewn with the rubble of generations of gold-diggers. At the top is the intact apse of a ruined church which offers a breathtaking view of the valley, with Şebinkarahisar looking like a green speck in the distance.

Travel Ordu to Unye, Turkey

From Şebinkarahisar you may retrace your steps back to Giresun or make the panoramic inland loop via Koyulhisar and Mesudiye back down to Ordu. Ordu, the ancient Cotyora, is a fairly drab city where the only sight of interest is the elegant Paşaoglu Residence, a fine example of 19th century Ottoman architecture. Now restored as a museum, the mansion was originally built for a leader of the Muslim Georgian immigrant community who arrived in large numbers as refugees from the Caucasus during the 1870s.The old Greek church dating from 1856 is located at the western outskirts of the town. It was used for a while as a prison and now stands aban-doned.
The big spur of mountainous land between the pleasant fishing town of Perşembe and the cozier village of Bolaman is easily the most scenic part of the whole coastal drive. The narrow seaside plain disappears here completely and the road rises and dives in hairpin turns skirting pretty bays surrounded by a riot of hazelnut bushes.
 At the tip, Cape Yasun harkens back to ancient times when a temple of Jason stood at the edge of the sea, protecting the sailors of these treacherous waters. A church later replaced the temple with a similar mission. It now sits in total solitude in an overgrown cornfield next to a lighthouse overloking the roaring waves of the Black Sea.
The picturesque village of Bolaman derives its name from Polemon, the aristocrat from Laodicaea (modern Denizli) who was appointed King of Pontus and central Anatolia by Emperor Augustus. It is notable mainly for the imposing Haznedaroglu Castle which dominates its harbor. The castle appears to sit on an original fortress of medieval vintage, to which a wooden superstructure was added in the 18th century to serve as living quarters for the redoubtable lords of the Haznedaroglu dynasty. These gentlemen effectively ruled the district during the decrepitude of the Ottoman Empire in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. sometimes under the barely
convincing title of “governor of Trabzon”. Their descendants are still influential in local politics. In the 1960s the ancestral castle was split between two heirs, one of whom simply tore down his half and replaced it with an apartment building. The other half continues to decay in the hands of a family of caretakers who inhabit the top floor of the creaking ghost house.
Most residents of Bolaman adhere to the Alevi sect of Islam. The same is true of Fatsa, which came to international attention in the late 70s by electing a Marxist mayor. After a year of political turmoil, the army moved in, creating one of the milestones leading to the coup of 1980. The town has not fully recovered from the psychological scars of the ensuing years. Ünye, by contrast, is palpably richer, more pragmatic, “bourgeois”. Its jolly ambience is due in part to being a favorite weekend resort for the moneyed classes of Samsun thanks to the superb crescent-shaped beach which skirts the heart of the town. A large number of shoddy but pleasant hotels line the coast to the west. They are noted for their “discreet” service. Hotel Çamlık, at the edge of a cliff with its own small beach, is most people’s choice.
The Fortress of Çaleoglu, five kilometers inland, offers a broad panorama of the town and the hazelnut covered mountains. An unusual rock tomb located near its entrance is surprisingly similar in style to the Lycian tombs of southern Turkey. It dates from the Pontic kingdom in the 2nd century BC, and announces the traveler’s arrival to the borders of a different historical region.

The Flatlands, Samsun Turkey

The familiar mountainous landscape of the Black Sea coast comes to an abrupt end past Unye. From here to Sinop, one has the two broad alluvial plains of the Yeşilırmak (the Çarsamba Plain) and the Kızılırmak (the Bafra Plain) alternating with the hill countries of the Samsun region and the Alaçam-Gerze stretch. The eastern boundary of the former Empire of Trehi/ond is crossed at Unye. Hazelnut gives way to tobacco fields around Çarşamba.
Near Terme are the meagre ruins of ancient Themiscyra, which classical writers as sociated with the Amazons, the legendary female warriors. Strabo relates that Amazons lived among themselves in the vicinity of Themiscyra for ten months of the year, and spent the remaining two months in the intimate company of the neighboring Gagarians. The resulting babies were kept if they were girls, but sent back to the fathers if boys. Amazons of a less radical variety can now be observed hawking and haggling at the women’s market of Terme.
Any combination of side roads cap be taken from the area of Terme to the fascinating natural sanctuary of the marshlands of the Çarşamba Plain. This is an extraordinarily fertile land of detached farms, woods, canals and lagoons that one is tempted to compare with the Camargue or the Mississippi bayou country. At the outer edge is the mazelike Simenlik Lagoon. posiitively teeming with jumping kefal (grey mullet) under the surface and several hundred species of birds, including large flocks of wild ducks, above it. Further out, one finds an extensive and unspoiled beach, one of the finest on the whole Black Sea coast. The region is seldom visited by tourists and locals tend to be extremely direct and spontaneous toward the odd visitor. Most are avid fishers, hunters and rakı-drinkers. With their help a supposedly short detour runs the risk of stretching into a stay of a day or two, possibly at the farm of someone like Cavit Kurnaz at Kabah village, in a secluded environment.

Sinop, A Historic Metropolis




By contrast, Sinop-the ancient Sinope-retains some of its historic atmosphere, which is enhanced by its remarkable natural setting on the neck of a narrow peninsula with the sea on either side. Founded in the 7th century BC as a colony of Miletus, Sinop ranks as the oldest city of the Black Sea coast. Long before the rise of Trabzon it thrived as the region’s most important metropolis. Its citizens included the philosopher Diogenes, inventor of Cynicism (circa 390-323 BC). The tales circulated by his detractors-that he lived naked in a tub, that he sought out “human beings” with the aid of a lamp, that he asked Alexander the Great to get out of his sun-were no doubt meant partly as comments on the Pontic temperament.

Sinope had its hour of glory under the Kings of Pontus who captured the city in 183 BC and subsequently made it their capital. The Kingdom of Pontus had its beginnings in Amasia (Amasya), where Mithridates I, an adventurer of unknown origin, carved out a domain for himself in the chaotic period following the disintegration of Alexander’s empire. His power was based on the Persianized local aristocracy of  Asia Minor. His successors adopted the language and outward forms of Hellenism, and steadily expanded their power throughout northern Anatolia.
What otherwise would have been an obscure local kingdom achieved its place in world history through the remarkable personality of Mithridates VI Eupator. With single-minded persistence and unscrupulous choice of means, Eupator fought against Roman expansionism in the east for a period of half a century (113-63 BC). He exploited every crack and every discontent in the Roman system, rallying local Anatolian potentates into a common front, posing as the liberator of Greek cities, sending aid to anti Roman rebels in distant Spain. Defeated in turn by the Scipio brothers, Marius, Sulla and Lucullus, he came back each time with a new offensive. Finally defeated by Pompey, he escaped, a lonely old man, through the mountains of the Black Sea to Crimea. He committed suicide there in 63 after the failure of yet another attempted
comeback. Having inured himself to all types of poison during his lifetime, he was forced to have a servant run him through with a sword.
He is cited as the earliest leader of a “national” resistance struggle. The extent of his alliances, ranging from Spain to Crimea and Syria, suggests that he might have tried to play a bigger game had he won. One can only imagine how history would have evolved if a Sinopean Empire had succeeded to grow at the expense of the budding Roman. Would the Pope, perhaps, hail now from the Pontic shores?
Possibly anticipating an imperial role, Mithridates is said to have adorned his capital with splendid colonnades, agorae, gymnasia and other staples of Hellenistic architecture. Only the citadel, the ruins of a Temple of Serapis in the city center (2nd century BC) and the defensive wall across the neck of the peninsula survive. The citadel is now occupied by a US military installation which reportedly houses an important listen ing, post. It explains the presence of a surprising number of Americans in Sinop, some of whom speak fluent Russian. They, in turn, account for amenities like several good bars and eateries as well as the only formally designated jogging lane in all Turkey. The latter leads to the excellent Karakum Beach located at the tip of the Sinop Peninsula. At the beach hotel, one can rent windsurf equipment and arrange fishing expeditions.
In 1214, about the same time as the formation of the breakaway Byzantine Empire in Trebizond, Sinop was captured by the Seljuk Turks. The  Sultans developed the city as the main northern seaport of their Kingdom, just as Alanya was growing as its main southern outlet. The Alaiye Medresesi is a former theological school dating from that period and has now been conerted into a museum. Its splendid carved wood minber has recently been re-moved to a museum in  Istanbul. The Ulucami (or Alaaddin Camii) mosque is dated 1267. The tombs of
the Isfendiyaroglu beys who ruled in Sinop and Kastamonu between 1301 and the Ottoman conquest of 1458 are located within the mosque complex. Another little mosque associated with the 14th century Seyid Bilal Mausoleum offers a good view of the town from a hilltop position. The only sig-nificant Christian monument. the ruined Balat Church, located within the premises of a Byzantine palace, dates from 660. It retains some badly dammed frescoes from the 17th century while its fine I Sth and 19th century icons are displayed at the city museum.
The Inceburun Peninsula which extends west of Sinop forms the northernmost point in Turkey. It is a region of striking natural beauty. Highlights include fjord-like Hamsilos Bay with the forest reachim, down to the shore. Cape Inceburun which is hatching ground for various rare species of birds, and Sarikum Beach where sand dunes, forest and a lagoon combine to create a memorable setting


West of Sinop, the Pontic mountains come down once again close to the sea. The coastline is more jagged than in the east, with an endless succession of rocky coves and unspoiled beaches lining a wildly scenic (and very winding) road. The mountains are comparatively lower. They extend much further inland in three successive ranges. In antiquity the region was inhabited by the “barbarian” tribes of Paphlagonians who spoke a language of unknown origin and distinguished themselves mainly as mercenary soldiers. A number of important towns emerged in later times in the interior, mostly on the basis of Roman colonies. The coastal area was bypassed by the major currents of history.
The traveler has the choice of the coastal route to Amasra or an interior route through the interesting towns of Kastamonu and Safranbolu.
The coastline between Sinop and Amasra is one of the least frequently traveled sections of Turkey, partly because until very recently no road existed along the shore. The area is sparsely populated. A large number of inhabitants go out to work in Germany and Austria as Gastarbeiter. In the town of Türkeli, for example, more than half of the population seems to be working in the Ruhr Basin. During the Kurban Bayram, the Muslim holiday of sacrifice, many come home on annual leave and the roads become literally jammed with convoys of fancy German carsoverladen with household goods and non-nuclear families, breaking every traffic law on the book with the excitement of homecoming.
In the rest of the year, both the roads and the beaches are quite empty, and the sun tends to shine a lot brighter than in the east. Helaldı has a quasi Mediterranean look with a pleasant beach, a rickety fish restaurant and a couple of seaside guesthouses. Abana, and especially Inebolu resume the Black Sea “look” with a wild green mountain setting and a number of fine traditional hou ses Kurucaşile fentunes the delightful beach of Kapısuyu. The interior route climbs from Sinop through the magnificent coniferous forests of the Darnaz Pass (1300 meters) to Boyabat, which was founded as the Roman colony of Pompeiopolis and has a picturesque Byzantine fortress. The road continues along an arid valley to Kastamonu, a pleasant medieval city with an attractive position on the Gökırmak River.
The name Kastamonu probably derives from Castra Comneni. It harks back to the 10th century, when the town became the feudal stronghold of the Comnene family, who would then go on to capture the Byzantine crown in the following century. Alexis Comnene’s seizure of power in 1081 was a decisive point in Byzantine history, signaling the victory of provincial military lords over the central bureaucracy. His descendants ruled in  Constantinople until 118-5 and returned to
s rule in Trebizond until 1461. The t mighty fortress of their forebears dominates the city from a dizzying
height of 100 meters. It is possible to drive up most of the way through the picturesque old quarter of the to\w n, where a large number of impressive 19th century mansions now serve as slum dwellings.
The town itself is replete with Turkish monuments from tile Seljuk. Isfendiyaroğlu and Ottoman periods. The Seljuks (or rather the Seljuk governor Muinuddin Süleyman Pervane. who established a semi-independent domain here under the Mongol Khans of Iran) are represented by the Atabey Mosque, dating from the 1270s. The Isfendiyar beys contributed the Ibni Neecar Mosque in 1353. The classical Ottoman stvle is exemplified in the 16th century Yakup Aga Complex which includes mosque, medrese, poorhouse and a  hamam. The medieval aspect of the city is enhanced by the Karanlık Bedesten (“Dark Market”). a covered bazaar built in the 1470s and more or less unchanged since. It is located in a colorful market district that seems untouched by the 20th century.
By far the most wonderful historic sight in the Kastamonu area, however, is in the village of Kasaba, IS kilometers on the road to Daday. The allwood Mosque of Mahmut Bey is an altogether unique work of art that dates to 1366 and seems to have retained most of its original details. The mosque has an extremely cozy interior with carved-wood balconies and elaborate painted-wood decoration covering all surfaces.
A similar architectural vein is discernible in Safranbolu whose wattle and daub houses are regarded by many as the most perfect surviving specimens of 19th century Ottoman provincial architecture. The style is quite different from that of the Black Sea coast and reflects the requirements of a drier and colder climate. Most residents will graciously allow strangers to view the interior of their homes. The most striking showpiece of the town is the Asmazlar Residence which has a second-storey living room built around a
large swimming pool. The fact that the pool was built before the arrival of reinforced concrete and still does not leak after more than a hundred years constitutes a tribute to the stone-titter’s art. Nearby, the lovely 17th century arasta (market hall) once served the guiId of leather and shoe makers.
A short northward drive from Safranbolu goes via Bartın, which holds a first-rate women’s market on Tuesdays and Fridays, to rejoin the coastal road at Amasra. This spectacularly located historic port justifies an overnight stay as an apt conclusion to a Black Sea odyssey.
Amastris was founded as a colony of Miletus, and later made a capital of the Roman province of Bythinia. Pliny the Younger served here as governor. In an epistle to Emperor Trajan (98 – 117 AD) he complained about the sorry state of the city’s sewers. The stone mains tunnel that was built on the emperor’s instructions remained in use until the 1930s.
In the 14th century the town became a Genoese trading colony, and retained its unique position as an isolated outpost until finally captured by Mehmed the Conqueror in 1460. The Genoese Fortress which protected the independence of Amasra for more than a century is still the dominant feature of the port. It rises on a picture-perfect rocky peninsula at the center of a circular bay surrounded by majestic, forested mountains. The steep streets of the tiny old quarter within the fortress walls are a stroller’s delight. The impressive Fethiye Mosque is a converted Byzantine church.
Two fine beaches line the pleasant promenades on either side of the town. Several simple hotels and attractive seaside restaurants mainly serve the weekenders from Ankara. The best eateries are those reserved for various government departments whose employees spend their vacations here at taxpayer’s expense. They charge “subsidized” rates, so that a decent-looking visitor who can talk his or her way in can have a gorgeous moonlit dinner at the cost of a pot of rice and beans.

The Tail End Beyond Amasra

Beyond Amasra, the Black Sea gets prosaic. The area of Zonguldak is Turkey’s principal coalmining region. The city itself is a surprisingly neat and attractive one, but the only noteworthy feature of the environs is the mines which extend for hundreds of miles into the bowels of the earth. Underneath, thousands of coal-blackened miners work in a night marish setting directly borrowed from 19th century Newcastle. Tours down the mine shafts into the underground tunnels may be arranged through the State Coal Company (TKI) offices in Zonguldak.
For those with an even greater interest in the realm of darkness, the region also offers some of the most spectacular natural caves in Turkey. The Cumayanı Cave, near Çatalağzı town, is considered a speleologist’s delight. Its ten-kilometer length can be explored by inflatable raft. More accessible for the layman is the Gökgöl Cave, near Üzülmez Village, which has remarkable elephant-tusk stalactites.
Eregli is the Heracleia Pontica of antiquity, where the philosopher Heracleides first postulated that the earth revolved around its axis in 24 hours. The name of the town refers to an episode in the Argonaut legend where Heracles cries in anguish over his friend Hylas who has been abducted by lovesick nymphs. So Virgil in the Sixth Georgic:
“His adjungit Hylan nautae quo fonte relictum
Clamassent. ut litus HYLA, HYLA, omne sonare t.”
Ereğli now boasts the largest steelworks of the whole near east.
Further west, at Akçakoca start the endless sandy beaches that attract weekenders and property speculators from  Istanbul. There are a few scattered points of interest, but the poetry of the Black Sea is no longer there. The traveler’s imagination recoils, and hastens back to the landscape of Trabzon for another excursion into the remote marvels of the Pontic coast.

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