Flower fields forever

With their diverse flora and plants found nowhere else in the world, Turkey’s Kazdağı Mountains are like a flower garden of monumental proportions.

Picture a flower blowing in the wind on a steep mountain slope. Call it daydreamng, call it meditation, but for a moment try to be a tiny, red-stemmed, white wall pepper, a member of the wild thyme family. One of thousands of flowers that attract bugs and butterflies to their petals to produce entire fields of flowers. A rare bloom mentioned in history-shaping legends and found, hundreds of years later, only on that slope. Like one of the 32 flowers discovered up to now in the Kazdağı Mountains that want to live only here in the whole world.
Ever since Theophrastus of Athens, who is regarded as the father of botany, Kazdağı has been known for its therapeutic flora. Thanks to its isolated geographical situation, it offers an ideal habitat for rare species of flowers. This approximately 22 thousand-hectare area, which was declared a national park in 1993, is now a world-class area of exploration with 880 species, 80 of which are endemic, and where flora tours are organized. The careful investigations that got under way in the 1800s are still continuing today at Balıkesir University, and six new species have been added to the world literature in the last fifteen years. It is possible here to observe entirely different plant covers at various altitudes from sea level to the summit of the mountain. The gardens of the houses in the villages in the foothills are almost impassable for olive, mulberry and fig trees as well as raspberry bushes. Lavender, oleander and roses fill the courtyards while the tables of the coffeehouses are never without a pot of basil. Things can change at any moment as one climbs higher. The Scotch pines that rise to 800 meters give way to black pine in the hills, and the black pine later to oaks, which, at even higher elevations, give way to the Kazdağı fir, aka Troy pine, which grows only in these mountains.

The Kazdağı Mountains, which appear in Homer’s Iliad as the ‘Ida of the many springs’, is at the same time a sacred mountain of antiquity and the place where Zeus was born, which means that they are permeated with stories, legends and flowers.
According to Homer, Paris, the son of Priam, king of Troy, gave Aphrodite, whom he deemed the most beautiful, the golden apple here on this mountain. The gods and goddesses followed the Trojan War from Gargaros Hill, known today as Karataş, intervening from time to time to make things go the way they wanted. Zeus and Hera fell in love on this hill, whose orange-colored saffron flowers made a pleasant carpet for them. And the Trojan horse, whose strength and quality were quite famous already in those times, was made of Kazdağı fir. When Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror took Istanbul, he sent out galleons, built of the same wood, to cross the Golden Horn. Having learned from scholars that the timber on this mountain was the strongest and most suitable for shipbuilding, he brought Turkmens from the Taurus to build the galleons and settled them in the village of Tahtakuşlar.
Believing the rumors arising in the village, the father of the golden girl ‘Sarıkız’ punished her by abandoning her on Mount Ida one day with a flock of geese. But Sarıkız was transformed into a saintly figure who wandered with the geese in the foothills of the mountains. And one of the highest points of the Kazdağı range has been known as Sarıkız Peak ever since that day.

The road continues through the sumac trees up to Şahinderesi Canyon, up to now totally impassable. The climb takes us up 800 meters beside a tranquil but happy forest of oaks, olive trees and wild life.
The foxglove that grows only at one spot on this mountain cures hearts and has been used for centuries in the making of medicaments. Its tall, erect blooms can survive only at this elevation. And if it’s July, then blossoming blackberries also play hide-and-seek all along the way. Their berries, at first red then black, are said to kill pain as well as being good for the eyes. Their root and leaves are also boiled and drunk as an infusion. Bracken meanwhile, one of the most primitive plants on earth, said to have been around since the time of the dinosaurs, sprouts tenaciously at every step.

Dereçatı’s small lakes are obscured by fruit trees, various members of the carnation family, centaury and sage. Centaury oils and leaves that have been dried in the villages are taken to the town as presents. Steeped together with sage, centaury tea reinvigorates the body and is the favored drink at 1400 meters. It is good for stomach upsets, diabetes and melancholy. There are even those who claim that this anti-depressant tea will make you laugh. Dereçatı’s small lakes are also playgrounds where bear and wild boar come to have water fights when no one is around. Fields of sage and centaury adorn the the summit of the Kazdağı Mountains, the 1774-meter-high Karataş Peak. Sage, which begins to bloom purple in June and July, pink Canadian thistles, and blue cornflowers are the true goddesses of these fields. For the plants here have been used for centuries to cure diseases, either by ingesting them directly or in the form of medicaments. Take thistles, for example, which are good for diseases of the kidney, or cornflowers, which can kill any pain. Kestanederesi with its thousand-year-old plane trees is a virtual museum. The ambient colors and dimensions can all change in an instant while you are here. What else can a person do but bow in awed silence before an approximately 1000-year-old plane tree ten times the size of a man?

Seeing the Kazdağı firs requires a hike of approximately 35 minutes to Çeyizderesi. Greenish lady’s mantle and pink willow herb greet us at the start of the trail. Quaking aspens, whose leaves tremble at the slightest breeze, accompany us amidst the bearberry with its dangling clusters of pink flowers and the scent of wild thyme. In the world of the firs meanwhile, fog, silence, the pine cones that stand erect and the soft pine needles that are green in every season are this journey’s greatest rewards. And I think to myself, who knows, perhaps Aphrodite had to compete with these trees, herbs and flowers in that first beauty contest held on Mount Ida...