Sinop

Situated at Turkey’s northernmost point, Sinop was once the city of the legendary Amazon warrior-women. Today it is a major Black Sea port.

Unexpectedly hot weather for a city in the far north. No trace of the harsh, rough winds that whip the prison, built of formidable stones pounded by the sea for most of the year, the elegant Seljuk Alaaddin Mosque, the Pervane Medrese where children were once taught the Pythagorean theorem, the Pasha Bastion, eye-witness to a tragic history, the Balatlar Church whose pale yellow walls are imbued with ‘Ave Maria’s, and the Temple of Serapis, adorned –with a mastery only women are capable of– by the Amazons during respite from their relentless wars with the male sex. The air is oppressively hot. The starry night illuminates the dark waters of the Black Sea. The North Star is bigger, more brilliant and closer here than in other skies. For we are in the north, at Turkey’s northernmost point. In the land of the beautiful Amazon women, who fought savagely with men to create a more just and perfect world. Famous city of the equally famous Diogenes. We are in Sinop.
Sinop was founded with the construction of a fortress near Boztepe Burnu, a headland attached from the east to another headland, İnce Burun, which is Anatolia’s northernmost point. The navigators who settled here used the area around the fortress as a small harbor. In time the outer harbor filled up  with sand and became unusable. When the Seljuks, who were expert navigators, realized that the outer harbor was no longer viable, they closed off the canal that connected it with the inner harbor. And the inner harbor, now Sinop’s one and only, became one of the Black Sea’s most important with its shelter from the sharp north winds and its ever calm waters, appropriately dubbed the ‘White Sea'.

NAMED FOR AN ANGEL
Various stories are told, most of them laced with myth, about the origin of the name of Sinop, which was used as a harbor and military base by the Romans, the Byzantines, the Seljuks, the Candarid principality and the Ottomans. Widespread legend has it, for example, that Sinope was the name of the beautiful daughter of the River god Aesop of Greek mythology. Zeus fell in love with Sinope and, at her wish, settled her in the Black Sea’s loveliest spot, the place where Sinop, in its time-shortened form, is located today. Various Hittite tablets indicate that the place was called Sinova in the Hittite language. The Assyrian warrior-traders who came to trade here way back in those times called the city after their own moon god, Sin. In the language of the original mariner-settlers the name was apparently Sinavur. And the Amazons, who lived in both Sinop and Samsun, are said to have had a queen by the name of Sinope, whose name they gave to the city.

AN ELEGANT PRISON
In the morning we begin our stroll through Sinop in the footsteps of Diogenes and the Amazons. Our first stop is the Sinop Museum. Exhibited here are pre-historic and classical artifacts, collections of carpets and manuscripts, and Byzantine icons.
Leaving the museum we proceed to the Balatlar Church. Built in the Byzantine period, this church is famous for its colorful frescoes, most of which are on the interior. Not far from the church, the Alaaddin Mosque was commissioned by the famous Seljuk Sultan Alaaddin Keykubad.
Pleasantly nonplussed by skipping timelessly from the Byzantine to the Seljuk period, our eyes alight suddenly on a large stone building on our right, painted a wistful yellow color. This is the notorious Sinop Prison whose fame surely emanates from these lines by the 20th century Turkish writer Sabahattin Ali: “Outside the wild waves / Come to lick the walls / These sounds will distract you / Pay no heed, my heart, pay no heed.” But its reputation was further enhanced by other ‘guests’ such as Refik Halit Karay, Burhan Felek, Kerim Korcan, Zekeriya Sertel and a host of other prominent Turkish literary and political figures. The prison, actually built as a fortress, was originally constructed by a native Sumerian tribe. It was subsequently enlarged by the ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Seljuks and the Ottomans. The Sinop citadel gazes down on the sea and is protected by walls too delicate for a penal institution. In the 1970’s it ceased to be a prison and was turned over to the Ministry of Culture.

LIKE A NORWEGIAN FJORD
After touring a couple more places in the city center we leave Sinop and head for the Ak Liman (White Harbor), observing the natural beaches along the roadside as we go. Here we are going to pass the famous Hamsilos Bay, also known as ‘Hamsilos Fjord’ since it presents a rare fjord landscape like that of the Norwegian inlets punctuated by steep precipices.
Next we come to Erfelek, one of Sinop’s charming townships. We stop to listen to the Tatlıca Waterfall, which consists of exactly 28 separate cascades large and small. We stroll as well around Akgöl on the border with Ayancık township and the İnaltı Cave, which is adjacent to it. At 1070 meters above sea level, the cave attracts the interest of visitors.
And of course we wouldn’t think of returning without seeing the famous İnce Burun or ‘Narrow Headland’ that we’ve studied about in geography class ever since primary school and which is always asked on the university entrance exam. This is Turkey’s northernmost point, and the Salar village rock-cut graves here are a must-see. But it is time to return. We reach Sinop, the city center, before sundown.