sábado, 3 de maio de 2014


We took the train to Amasya from Sivas. Its a slow ride, 5 hours for a less than 300km trip.
The line goes on another 100km to Samsun on the Black Sea coast.Trains are a state enterprise in Turkey but are comfortable and if you have the time enjoyable often carrying a restaurant car.
There had been a light frost in Sivas but the fields were full of women in the late autumn sunshine pulling up the last of the beets, tending vegetables or in groups around their samovar of tea.

 As we approached Amasya the scenery became more dramatic, we began to accompany the Yesilmak (Green) river,  the valleys and gorges were steeper with romantic cliff faces, pines and small bridges across the river. Then we had arrived-- a small Ottoman style railway station, 10 minutes from the centre of Amasya. A taxi from the station passed quickly through a modern suburb and into a valley beside the river. We crossed one of the four bridges of the city and above us soared the limestone cliff, sheer with its Pontiac tombs and castle perched high up. The railway line follows the river below the cliff, disappearing into a tunnel and in the space of 60 or 70 metres between the line and the river is a warren of Ottoman houses, many now converted into hotels.

The slow running Yesilmak river.


The view from our hotel window.

We took a large room on the other, cheaper side of the river. It had a magnificent view of the rock tombs which seemed like a dream on waking every morning. The hotel elevator stopped on alternate floors and not on ours. This turned out to be dangerous because the hall lights worked on a delayed timer. Ane plummeted down a flight of stairs on the first afternoon and punched a large hole in the plaster wall. She was miraculously unhurt which was probably a good omen for the rest of our stay in the town.
Amasya like so many towns in Turkey has history. Hittites, Phrygians and Persians made it their own before Alexander´s conquest. The Romans followed and from the 2nd Century BC Amasya was´ first city in Pontus`. 700 years of byzantine christendom suceeded and from the 14th Century, Islamic rule. It was prominent under the Ottomans as a centre for Islamic education with its mosques and medreses and future sultans spent their early years here bearing the title of governor. Bronze heads of many of these adorn the promenade along the river.        

Oud maker´s workshop.
Looking at an old photograph of the town probably from the 19th Century not much else inhabited this bank. Today it is a thriving commercial area which preserves the individuality of small artisan shops alongside larger businesses. It has a liberal feel for Eastern Turkey, tourism has opened up its secrets without destroying its charm.So much thebetter, for this whole region of Pontus which extends along the Black sea coast as far inland as Amasya was once very mixed ethnically. The villages of the Amasya countryside were hetrogeneous with Armenian and Greek Christian among them. These disappeared after 1915, the Armenians were deported with Greeks hanging on until 1922.  Amasya city was probably always solidly islamic with its cherished historical mosques built under the patronage of various Sultans.

byzantine crosses and seals from the Amasya museum

Praying time at the mosque

Tourism is the major income earner but it came as quite a surprise when the regional Minister for Tourism introduced himslf to us on the street and wished us a happy visit.  We were to ring his office should we need anything. Small commerce and artisans are the lifeblood of towns and walking the backstreets of Amasya is as pleasant as it gets. Jewellry, old watches and beaten metal objects seemed to dominate here. We bought a small hand made sugar dish and cube sugar cutters from Mr Buhan who invited us to see some of his little treasures and  drink some tea.

Amasya has other sources of income. Its marble is exported all over the world and so are its apples.The climate of the city is softened by its proximity to the sea. Higher rainfall allows the growing of a crunchy apple full of flavour, not gala apples a vendor corrected me, $15 a box.

A beautiful wall in Amasya, japanese in its harmony

And of course the castle and rock tombs are worth the trek though we didn´t get to the first. The rock tombs are a vertiginous steep climb up the side of the mountain overlooking the town. Ane managed it but unceremoniously came down on her backside, the sliding method....there is no rail and just centimetres away is a precipitous fall of more than a hundred metres, not for faint hearts. In some way it summed up Amasya, a wonderfully adventurous place with an unsurpassed beauty.

If you look down..........

.....this is what you see.

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