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PART 6: Şebinkarahisar

sebinkarahisar pics

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 fol¬lows 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 Armen¬an 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 cen¬tury 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.
 

 

 

PART 1: Hazelnut Country
PART 2:
Stately Houses
PART 3:
Texas in Turkey
PART 4:
Birds, Castles, Lost Churches
PART 5:
Cherrytown
PART 6:
Şebinkarahisar
PART 7:
Ordu to Unye
PART 8:
The Flatlands
PART 9:
A Historic Metropolis
PART 10:
Paphlagonia
PART 11:
The Tail End


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