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A FORTIFIED TOWN ON THE BLACK SEA
2001 / MAY
'I first made the acquaintance of the city of Sinop in an engraving. The peninsula and its magnificent castle seemed familiar, and conveyed the certain knowledge that they concealed many secrets and stories from an eventful past. Then one day I set out to journey by sea on the Ege ferryboat to the oldest city on the Black Sea, not realising that Sinop was the first colony established by adventurous merchants from the Aegean city of Miletus. The Ege, a name meaning Aegean in reference to this ancient association, plieds its way back and forth along the Black Sea coast from Sile to Trabzon, and knew so well all the shallows, capes and bays that it could almost have made the voyage without a captain. The Black Sea seamen sang folksongs as the ship ploughed its way eastwards.
I was afraid that when I did arrive at Sinop, the town would not appeal to me as the engraving had done, but there was no need to worry. Although Sinop has seen many changes, it has lost none of its charm.
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A FORTIFIED TOWN ON THE BLACK SEA
2001 / MAY
That wonderful peninsula could hardly disappear, and there was the castle, still resisting the passage of centuries. Fishermen were cleaning their nets and passers-by examined the fish critically, deciding which they would buy on their return home.

After establishing their first trading colony at Sinop, the Milesians went on to found others at Samsun, Ordu, Giresun and Trabzon. Before that the Assyrians and Hittites had also had settlements at this place, attracted by its sheltered natural harbour. The name of Sinop, however, was given by the Milesians, after the water nymph Sinope, one of the daughters of the ancient Greek god of rivers, Asopos.

When you arrive at Sinop you are drawn first to the castle, which has defended the town against pirates and invaders for thousands of years. Its 3 kilometre long walls are 3 metres thick and in places 25-30 metres in height, and were originally built in the 8th century BC by the Milesians.
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A FORTIFIED TOWN ON THE BLACK SEA
2001 / MAY
Subsequently they were repaired and enlarged over the centuries by the Pontic states, the Seljuks and the Ottomans. In a poem the Ottoman sultan Selim I described Sinop as one of his coutry'se most important fortified towns. The castle walls still stand strong today, conjuring up vivid images of its eventful past. As a young man, Mehmet Ali Ayni (later to become a professor of philosophy and serve as governor under the Turkish Republic) was posted to Sinop as a clerk, and visited the dungeon in Sinop castle. He was struck by the fact that the prisoners were as cosmopolitan as the town itself: 'At the door of the room a Laz cleric was engaged in geomancy [divination by means of figures and lines]. Next to him sat an Albanian Bektasi dervish busy cooking on a brazier before him. Opposite them were several Aynaroz monks, and beyond a cleric in a turban bathing himself with water from a jar. To the right of the cleric were a number of Greek and Bulgarian bandits. In short, this prison ward was like Noah's Ark.'
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A FORTIFIED TOWN ON THE BLACK SEA
2001 / MAY
Exploring the shore at Sinop you could easily imagine yourself to be on the Mediterranean. Hamsaros beach 1 km beyond Akliman lies on a fjord of spectacular beauty where the woods reach down to the sea, and the clear water is ideal for underwater fishing. At Akliman the beach of fine white sand several kilometres long is equally lovely, set against a forested backdrop. The sea here is also suitable for underwater fishing. Sarikum beach and lake 15 kilometres away from the town have been a nature reserve since 1987 on account of the migrating birds which halt here. The lake lies just inland from the shore, so that the diverse scenery of lake, forest, sea and sand are all encompassed in a single vista. This extraordinary collection of natural features might seem like a computerised landscape of virtual reality if you had not seen it with your own eyes.Sinop's most famous citizen was Diogenes the first century Cynic, holding worldly goods and the amenities of civilisation to be of no account. When Alexander the Great visited him and asked if he desired any favour,
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A FORTIFIED TOWN ON THE BLACK SEA
2001 / MAY

without turning his head in the barrel within which he lived, he retorted, 'Only stand out of my light.' One day when he saw a child drinking water from a fountain from his palm, he declared, 'This child has taught me that there are still more unnecessary objects,' and promptly smashed the water bowl that had been his only possession. Diogenes opposed all the artificial rules of society, holding virtue to be the only true aspiration, and is said to have walked the streets of Athens holding a torch even in broad daylight in quest of an honest man.
In recent years nautical archaeologists have discovered a sunken city in the sea at Sinop, which proves that there has been human settlement here for thousands of years. With its fascinating history, magnificent mountains and coast, and picturesque villages and small towns in the surrounding region, Sinop is a place which no one should miss visiting.

* Omer Asan is a freelance writer and researcher

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