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PART 11: Maçka, The Way to the Pass

Sumela monastery Macka trabzon matsouka travel panagia soumela
Maçka is a very pleasant small town situated in a green valley. It is noted for the fiercely independent spirit and progressive outlook of its Greek-speaking inhabitants. A couple of simple hotels may serve as a good base from which to explore the monasteries and mountains of the region.
From Maçka the transit road climbs steeply to the Zigana Pass, following the trajectory of the ancient Silk Route to Erzurum and beyond. The landscape is broad, green and spectacularly beautiful. Endless convoys of overladen trucks carrying goods to Iran and Afghanistan have replaced the camel caravans of old. The newly completed broad highway along the west side of the valley reduces the chances of being driven off the precipice by a lanejumping bus. The curvy old road is still in service, though underused. It passes by the site of the former village of Çatak, which was wiped off the face of the earth by a 1988 landslide. The sight evokes powerful thoughts about the unbridled force of raw nature. Hamsikoy is a perfect alpine idyll located just below the treeline at 1800 meters. Over the years it has become customary for passengers to stop at this village to take in the Black Sea landscape for a final time before tackling the Pass and to eat the scrumptious
corn bread and sütlaç (rice pudding) at one of the colorful roadside restaurants. Above the village, where the vast expanse of the treeless yayla dominates, custom calls for a second stop to please Blind Ahmet who sends his ten year old grandson to collect alms from passengers. Those who do not comply run the risk of being cursed by the mountain. Blind Ahmet himself is a witness, as he will readily tell anyone willing to listen to his poignant story.

macka map travel trabzon
At 2025 meters, the Zigana Pass is not one of the highest mountain passes in the world but it is among the most dramatic-due to the extremely sharp climb from the sea coast only 50 kilometers to the north. The sea is visible from a hilltop which requires a 40 minute walk from the highest point of the Pass. This is conceivably the exact spot where in 399 BC advance troops of Xenophon's ten thousand mercenaries first sighted the sea, ending a year of tribulations in Mesopotamia and the Anatolian highlands. The shout of "Thalassa! Thalassa!" (the sea! the sea!) echoed through the ranks as the soldiers threw down their weapons and began to jump and weep in joy. Xenophon ordered sacrifices to the gods and organized mini Olympic games where a wrestling tournament as well as foot and horse races took place.
Behind the Mountains: Beyond the Pass the landscape changes sharply. The rich green of the northern face is quickly replaced by the arid, craggy hills of the upper Harşit Valley. The narrow valley bed is irrigated by the Harşit and covered with pretty orchards of apple, apricot, peaches and pome granate, which form the region's principal source of income. This area was historically known as Khaldia after the native inhabitants who had impressed Xenophon with their industrious and independent lifestyle and who only became Hellenized relatively late in the Middle Ages. As late as 1923 the dominant Greek element of the area (mostly Turkish -speakers who belonged to the Greek church) were derisively called the "Khaldi".

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At Torul there is an alternative road back to the coast which follows the Harşit Valley down to Tirebolu. It remains in part unpaved because of extremely difficult rocky gorges along the way, but it is perfectly drivable and pleasantly uncrowded.

 

PART 1: Imagined Empire
PART 2:
The Main Square
PART 3:
A Long Walk
PART 4:
Atatürk House
PART 5:
Bazaar District
PART 6:
Hagia Sophia
PART 7:
Boztepe
PART 8:
Rising Above
PART 9:
Lady of the Mountains
PART 10:
Obscure Monasteries
PART 11:
The Way to the Pass
PART 12:
Gümüşhane

 
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