PART 12: Gümüşhane
Gümüşhane (which means "Silver-town", as does Argyropolis, its former name) has
prospered since the 3rd millenium BC on account of its silver mines. The modern
town is nondescript but the abandoned old a city, seven km away, presents a
striking sight with its half-collapsed turn of-the-century mansions, gutted
churches and solitary minarets.
Just past Gümüshane a partly paved 39 km road on the left leads to one of the
most remote gems of all Turkey. Yagmurdere is an idyllic Black Sea yayla town, a
cross between Hamsikoy and Hemşin, on the northern face of the mountains but
only accessible via an imposing mountain pass from the south, because it is
located on a natural ledge that allows no passage down¬ward-unless one attempts
to raft one's way down to Arakh on the Karadere stream. The delightfully
hospitable inhabitants recall few foreigners ever having made the detour to
their out-of-the-way paradise.
The scenery changes once again at the Vavuk Pass (1910 m), which announces the
definitive transition to the eastern Anatolian high plateau and its grandiose
landscape of immense, treeless, rolling mountains. The boundary is also a
The Greek linguistic and cultural influence never really penetrated beyond this
point in Hellenistic and Byzantine times. Inversely, the first wave of Turkish
conquest easily swept this land in 1071 while Trabzon, including the buffer
region of Khaldia, kept resisting for another 400 years.
The change is apparent in the details of local culture. Villages now consist of
tight, well-defined clusters, unlike the scattershot farmsteads of the Black Sea
region. Men wear more substantial moustaches. The dancing and drinking of the
Black Sea mountains is frowned upon as undignified behavior. Women walk around
in earth-colored body sacks that cover them from head to toe. They scramble away
in panic when a stranger is seen to approach. Spending some time in Bayburt
allows one to adjust to this different historical and cultural milieu and to
reflect on the Black Sea experience by comparison and contrast.
Bayburt is a lively market town dominated by a stupendous hilltop fortress. The
latter was built by Justinian in the course of his efforts to fortify his
eastern borders against the Iranians. It was occupied by local Armenian and
Turkish lords in turn. The armies of General Paskiewicz demolished it in part
during the Russian War of 1828.
As should be expected, the town has Turkish monuments of far greater interest
than anything to be found on the Black Sea coast. Of special note are the
Ulucami, built circa 1225 by a lord of the local Saltuk dynasty, and the
Yakutiye Mosque, endowed in 1315 by a governor of the Mongolian empire of
Genghis Khan. The market is a colorful one with cobblestoned streets dense with
shops selling everything from wooden hoes to antique pocket-watches.
After a few hours, the visitor may begin to warm up to the peculiar charm of
Bayburt. The funky Sevil Hotel has large rooms with balconies jutting directly
over the Çoruh River. Under the moonlight it begins to look like an ersatz
Seine. The Kartal Restaurant, the only place in town where one can get a beer
(this is conservative land!), has an ancient stone balcony big enough for one
table where one can dine under the stars with an enchanting view of the castle.
This is time to shift mental gears for a voyage into the very different world of
Nor is it too late to go back to the friendlier climate of the Black Sea. An
unpaved but reasonable road crosses directly from Bayburt to Çaykara and Of via
the dizzying heights of the Soğanlı Pass, which is some 550 meters higher than
the Zigana. Another road, a veritable car-killer in this case, leads east
through the spectacular landscapes of the Çoruh Valley to Ispir and eventually
Artvin. The sensation of crossing the magic line back into the now familiar riot
of greens makes either journey entirely worthwhile.
The Main Square
A Long Walk
Lady of the Mountains
The Way to