Saffran, stone bird, and the black sea

February 25th, 2011

Had decided the night before I preferred to visit other places near Ankara than the city itself I hear the proposition made by the tour guide attentively: “What about we visit another place. Ankara is not my favourite city.” This conversation came during breakfast.

“What kind of place?”

“It’s a town, Safranbolu. It’s gorgeous. You will see if we go.”

“It’s far?”

“A little, but not that far.” I agreed.

Soon after breakfast, we were on the road to Safranbolu. The winter had taken all the leaves from the trees transforming the scenario in something coming from a mystery movie. The dry branches from the trees were like arms trying to find some warmth to bring back the green leaves, flowers and fruits once were a source of amusement for birds and other animals. In a particular part of the road, the bare trees, showing their trunks and twigs made me think about two lines of soldiers guarding the way to the Emperor passage. 

The road

After the road bend 45 degrees, we had to stop. In a bridge, one those only allowing one vehicle per time, a lorry was crossing. I enjoyed the breaking because while waiting for the truck, I could appreciate the flow of a crystalline river. I even opened my window to inhale the cold and pure air from the morning. 

Our car crossed the bridge having ahead a sinuous road cutting towards mountains covered by green vegetation. However, this green wasn’t the summer green, it was opaque, lifeless, silent. It was wintergreen. A signal indicates we are getting close to Safranbolu. What I was expecting? To be fair, not much. These small Turkish cities are very similar (at least those I had visited until now). However, Safranbolu would be the one that surprises me.

The town entrance was beautiful, well signalised, with the town name written in a hill. 

Safranbolu

Safranbolu is a town that has managed to retain all the characteristics of an Ottoman city. The Old Town preserved many historic building and artefacts. Between them, you can find twenty-five mosques, eight historic fountains, five Turkish baths, three caravanserais, one clock tower, one sundial and hundreds of houses and mansions. Situated in a deep ravine in a relatively dry area, the old Safranbolu also has remains of early ancient settlements, rock tombs and historical bridges. The New Safranbolu can be found on the plateau about two kilometres west of the Old Town.

The town name derives from “saffron” because the city was a trading place and a centre for growing saffron. Until today, saffron still growing in the region. In 1994, Safranbolu was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage due to its well-preserved Ottoman era houses and architecture

The city provided to the Ottoman Empire people like Hüseyin Efendi, who had a significant influence on the Sultan Ibrahim. He founded the vast and majestic caravanserai in the city. Another personality born in the town was  Izzet Mehmet Paşa, grand vizier of Sultan Salim III. Izzet Paşa was responsible for the construction of a mosque and library in the Baroque style in the city in the 18th century, a time when public libraries were rare in Anatolia.

It was delightful to visit a museum located in a house bought by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture and restored to be used as a showcase how the life was, and still is, in the inner cities of Turkey. Some examples what I saw inside the museum: scenes of a traditional family life, where women occupy a room and the men other in daily life and festivities. The place where food is prepared curiously it is apart from the kitchen. The reason some food is ready in another room than the kitchen was related to the fact the Islamic religion has some rules to not contact meat and diaries, for example. 

After spent two hours inside the museum, a stop in the garden coffee shop for a Turkish coffee was very welcomed. From there we went to the market town to see stores selling saffron and many products made of it. 

As I left Safranbolu, got that wanting more, I need to go back and explore other places like the street of the shoemakers, Köprülü Mehmet Paşa mosque, Cinci Hani and who knows, simply walk there interiorising a lifestyle from the past. Wondering how long it would take to return to Ankara, it was a surprise when we continue in the opposite direction heading to a city called Amasra.

The landscape was the same. Millions of trees and vegetation covering the mountains and the road cutting into them silently on a winter day. Our first stop was a “monument” built by the Romans in the hills. On the way up to see the piece more closely, I discovered the monument’s name Kuşkayası – Yol Anıtı or Stone Bird. It was a rock carving monument commanded by Caius Julius Aguilla, at the time that Tiberius Germanicus Claudius was emperor between AD 41-54. The monument was exciting but not more interesting than the view I had from there. Far, in the horizon, having the monument and trees behind me, I had an extraordinary look to the Black Sea. It was an elevated experience.

Returning to the car and going down the road a little more, we stopped again to see the beautiful Amasra town. The place where we stayed was connected Mehmet the Conquer and his ambition to conquer Amasra.

We arrived in the town near lunchtime. The tour guide chose a restaurant, and we had salad, fish, calamari and a beautiful view from the bay. In winter the city was almost empty and had returned to its origin as a fisherman village. It was a short and delightful experience.

Only when we prepared to return to Ankara, I noticed Amasra was 350 km from the city I was using as a base for now. Would be a very long trip to fast and cold roads. To warm us a little, we stopped in a restaurant that had on the back a beautiful frozen lake. 

We arrived in Ankara when the sun had set for at least three hours. After a shower, a snack, we went to a place to play billiard (yes, again). The most peculiar on this second experience in billiard place was the absence of women. My presence disturbed some players, but I kept my cool and discretion. I didn’t want to be expelled from there.

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