Green on green

Köprülü Kanyon is a magical place where time stands still, a place where you can see everything there is unique to the Mediterranean, from plant cover to wild life.

On an Antalya morning when the summer heat has begun to abate, we set out as the sun is rising for the Köprülü Kanyon National Park. Poet Can Yücel’s lines spring to mind: “You will see green on green, / Blue within blue, / Silence amidst sound.” And I, like one deprived of air for a long time, gulp in the scent of the red pine forests that line the road. Following the frothy and inviting Köprüçayı, we advance northward from the village of Karabük. Reaching for the sky, the magnificent summit of Mt Bozburun, which seems to follow us whichever way we turn, gleams whiter in the noonday sun. We take a lunch break at Gökçesu with its springs that gush forth at the foot of the great plane trees. On the menu are shepherd’s salad and trout wrapped in vine leaves. Following blood-red tea sipped from slender-waisted glasses and a brief chat with the locals, we leave Gökçesu. Soon the historic, 20-meter-long Oluk Köprü, the bridge for which the canyon is named, looms in front of us. We stop on the bridge, built in the Roman period in the 2nd century A.D., and gaze briefly at the river flowing beneath it. Then we begin the ascent to Selge, one of the ancient cities of Pisidia, located now inside the village of Altınkaya. As we mount the steps of the ancient theater, whose stage was destroyed in an earthquake, I learn that the people of Selge, who lived on these lands in ancient times, made a living from viticulture and perfume-making and protected themselves from enemy invasion thanks to the natural defenses provided by the steep mountains. My eyes alight on the historic terraces that extend to the south of the ancient city. I learn that there were once vineyards on these Roman-era terraces, and that the Ministry of Forestry and Environment, among its small-scale donations to the local people as part of a project aimed at preserving natural resources, is engaged in efforts to develop viticulture here.
Silence reigns briefly as we are leaving Selge. As if loth to break the silence, we follow the emerald green canyon with our eyes from above as it vanishes from view with our rising elevation. Autumn is beginning to make itself felt; an almost imperceptible sadness hangs in the air, and the friendly green, red and yellow hues that fill a person with peace. This entire emotional journey metamorphoses suddenly into awe when the Adam Kayalar, ‘Man Rocks’, emerge before us. We liken these formations, which resemble the ‘fairy chimneys’ of Cappadocia, to living creatures at play in the light of the sun. Scattered at random among the enchanted rocks are olive trees, those denizens of the Mediterranean plant cover. In the midst of all this the historic ‘Royal Road’ comes into view a little ways ahead. And all the while the oleanders seem to wink at passersby along the way, and a ‘lone’ juniper sprung from a rock surveys the canyon from its bird’s-eye perch.

A SECRET GARDEN IN THE CYPRESS GROVE
With its landscape that can change in the twinkling of an eye, and its unrivalled natural beauty and natural resources, Köprülü Kanyon National Park is a virtual paradise on earth. No sooner am I convinced of this than it struts out its cypress trees (Cupressus sempervirens), like some artistic genius who has saved his best work for last. Meeting up with a forest of cypress is like donning a jewel made specially for you. Like learning a secret kept hidden from everyone, or finding the key to a hidden garden whose existence you have secretly believed in since childhood. Absolute silence reigns. As the sun creates plays of light on the slopes, the cypress forest remains shrouded in dark blue shade. We get back in the car and start down the trail into the wood. Along the way I remember something I once read in a book: “One jumps into a stream to get wet, into a fire to burn, and into love to be betrayed.” And I realize that entering this cypress forest is a bit like a waking dream. My guide explains that it is one of the most valuable assets of the Köprülü Kanyon National Park. What’s more, she says, the cypress forests of the entire Mediterranean region have been being destroyed since ancient times, virgin forests are rare today, and this particular, approximately 500-hectare, grove in the National Park is the largest unspoiled forest in Turkey and the entire Mediterranean. I learn too that a ‘Biological Diversity and Natural Resource Management Project’ has been under way since 2000 by the Ministry of Forestry and Environment in the 37,000-hectare Köprülü Kanyon National Park and that it is Turkey’s biggest nature conservation effort.

“TALL AND DIGNIFIED”
We follow a narrow path into the forest. On my right is a deep chasm, its slopes on either side covered with cypress trees reaching quietly into the sky. Just as in the lines of poet Tevfik Fikret: “Tall, dignified / a proud, unbending tree.” I stand listening for a long time to the song of the cypresses, humming harmoniously on the wind. Mountains leading one against the other, millions of cypress trees grown shoulder to shoulder, stand frozen in space in this remote valley, far from everything and everyone, soaring skyward in a hush. I pause on the crest of a hill and turn my face to the sun. In the distance I can hear the sound of water. A diaphanous-winged butterfly brushes my hair. And the cypress forest, like a string of emeralds on a bronze throat, leaves onlookers awestruck. Veiled by a fine mist, its sad eyes search left then right into the distance as if watching for someone on the road. I bend down and pick up a stone, convinced that as long as I have that stone in my pocket the cypress will be at my side. Before long the car returns to pick us up. With the wind and the water echoing in my ears, and the cypresses permeating my brain, I lean my weary body back in the car seat at the end of a long day. The stone I picked up in the cypress forest rolls out of my pocket and onto the ground. An almost imperceptible smile spreads over my face, as if I’m recalling a memory known to two people only. As my tired eyes close, I see in a blur the great cypresses swaying behind me. I cannot bring myself to say goodbye, only “until we meet again”.