Kastamonu

Wedged between the Küre mountains to the north and the Ilgaz range to the south, Kastamonu is an inward-looking Anatolian city that only reveals its beauty upon exploration.

As soon as I get to the bottom of the steps of the historic City Hall which dates to 1910, I turn around and look back at the building. How sedate and dignified. Four-meter ceilings, a solid appearance, remarkable decorations. In other words, government buildings too were once as attractive as the old wooden houses left behind as nostalgic reminders of the past in many Anatolian cities today. Opposite the Araba Pazarı Hamam, once an Ottoman bath, now a boutique hotel, the old City Hall, or Belediye Konağı, like Government House on Republic Square, is a product of the same period and movement.
The facades of the 534 registered old houses in the city center all exhibit different architectural features. These structures, the majority of which belong to the Ottoman period, have been purchased by the office of the governor and restored for use, either by organizations of civil society and charitable foundations, or as museums.

EXPLORING ÇARŞAMBA PAZARI
The best thing that could happen to you in your first moments in a city you’ve never seen before is to find yourself in one of its weekly markets. It might be slightly overwhelming, but you’ll get your bearings faster and warm up to the place more quickly. Today is Wednesday, and it’s market day in Kastamonu. And to come from a big city, Istanbul for instance, and find yourself in a market in Kastamonu means you’re going to be asking, ‘What is this?’, at every step. Many of the things grown in this city, which exported walnuts and almonds to Rome in its day, are unfamiliar to me. ‘üryani eriği’, for example, a kind of plum grown only in Kastamonu. “You won’t find these any place except Kastamonu,” says the woman vendor, as if reading my mind. Another is ‘siyez’ bulghur, a species of wheat first grown at the dawn of agriculture. It existed in 10,000 B.C., and it still exists today. It doesn’t matter if you buy it or not, the women will still tell you the story: “After the harvest we boil it up in a big cauldron. Then we dry it and finally we husk it in a water mill.” Lined up at counters side by side, the women are selling ‘pestil’ (sheets of dried fruit pulp) made from ‘üryan’ plums. And so much more: sour apple cider, whole wheat flour ground in a water mill, Taşköprü garlic, flax seed, yoghurt strained through a gauze bag, Tosya rice…

‘ETLİ EKMEK’ AND STRONG COFFEE TO FOLLOW
Sooner or later at the end of one of the streets lined with old wooden houses, Kastamonu Castle will loom into view, the city’s sole surviving structure from the Byzantine period. I climb the fortress for a bird’s-eye view. The sound of its famous clock tower echoes throughout the city. Descending, I proceed to Belediye Caddesi, the Avenue of the Municipality.
Cobblers, jewelers, and sellers of ‘pastırma’ line this thoroughfare. As I pass by them, I stop in front of one shop: inside, pastırma is being sliced and onions diced at a furious pace. For also consumed here is a version of Kastamonu’s famous etli ekmek (‘bread with meat’) made with pastırma, or Turkish-style pastrami. Mounds of sliced pastırma and onions fill Mr. Sedat’s century-old shop, in one corner of which the ‘çemen’ or spicy fenugreek coating is being prepared to the consistency of butter. A woman enters and orders enough pastırma for one loaf of bread. Leaving his onion chopping, the young man prepares the mixture of pastırma, onion and red pepper in a piece of paper. Noticing my surprised look, he explains: the package will go to the bakery and emerge as ‘pastırmalı ekmek’. Those in the know eat it like this, not in a restaurant. 
However many of its residents may have been lost to migration, some flavors are forever for those who have stayed behind. If there is one thing that is as indispensable as ‘etli ekmek’ it’s ‘dibek dövme kahve’ or coffee that has been pounded to a fine powder in a large mortar. Long lines form in front of coffee and ‘sahlep’ (a hot winter drink) shops in the Ovalı Pazar, especially on holidays. ‘Dibek kahve’ is also served in all the city’s coffeehouses.

ON THE SILK ROAD
From the coffee shop, I proceed to Balkapanı Han, and from there to Nalburlar Çarşısı Sokak, the street of the ironmongers’ market. Passing by this ‘han’, a medieval inn for traveling merchants, named for Cem Sultan (1459-1495), the Ottoman prince who was governor here as a boy, I come to Nasrullah Square in the heart of the city. Life here means pigeons, oldsters waiting for the call to prayer, conversations on the wooden benches, passersby.
From here I come to the İsmail Bey Mosque Complex, one of the city’s most touristic spots. İsmail Bey Mosque was constructed directly on top of a hard rock surface, ‘Şehinşah Kayalık’. Its marble inscription tells us it was built in 1454. Covered with an iron grille, the ‘şadırvan’ or hexagonal pool with a fountain in the garden of the mosque, built, along with its minaret, of hewn stone, is an occasional meeting place for the city’s young men.
Since it was on the Silk Road, many hans were built in Kastamonu to accommodate those who travelled for trade. Efforts are under way today to turn some of them into either touristic accommodations or markets. Kurşunlu Han, Tellâl Pazar, and Cem Sultan Han, to name just a few. These hans, which were once opened with prayers, are an indication of how wealthy the city was in the 1460’s. Besides the hans there is also a large number of ‘türbe’s or Islamic shrines in the city. So many indeed that you’ll encounter one at practically every step as you stroll through the streets. And Kastamonu accordingly is also known as the ‘city of saints’.

WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM KASTAMONU?
With its cultural assets and the natural beauty in its environs, Kastamonu offers different activities in every season. Thanks to its rich plant cover, Ilgaz National Park, which overlaps the provinces of Çankırı, Çorum and Kastamonu, offers a habitat suitable for wild animals such as deer, roe deer, bear, wild boar, wolf, fox, rabbit and partridge. Not only is skiing possible on Mt Ilgaz, which is snow-covered six months of the year, nature hikes are also organized in the spring and summer months. Thanks to these year-round sports activities, some of the touristic facilities are open twelve months of the year. Ilgaz National Park, which offers conditions where even novices in the art of skiing can have fun, is also suitable for beginning snowboard enthusiasts with its extremely smooth runs. 
The landscape is impressive, too, and the snow of excellent quality.
For spelunkers, adventurers and those who aren’t afraid of walking, there are places like the Ilgarini Cave, Ilıca Waterfall and the Valla (Varla) Canyon not far from the city. The coves and beaches on the 170-km coastline stretching from Cide to Abana welcome those who hanker for a taste of the sea. Kastamonu is an Anatolian city that acquires character and becomes more beautiful as you explore it - whether you want to head for the snowy mountains, long sea coasts or deep canyons, or find peace of mind near a tomb, or meander up from under the cantilevered balconies of the old wooden houses to the castle on the hill and view the city from here. The scent of wood, the patience of the women weaving textiles, the sound of copper being beaten and the aroma of the spices at the Münire Medrese will soothe your soul. Kastamonu may be looking inward, but its doors are always open to whoever truly wants to get to know it.