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Little known despite its location in Bursa province just south of the Marmara region, to those in the know Gölyazı (Apolyont) is the perfect destination for a day trip - for its history, its fishermen, its friendly people and its unspoiled nature.
When you turn south off the Bursa-Izmir highway at the 37th kilometer, the road will take you to Lake Ulubat.
According to legend, the Odryses River to the south of the Sea of Marmara emptied into the sea at Bandırma. The Kingdom of Apollonia was founded on the spot where Lake Ulubat lies today, and the Kingdom of Melde on the Odryses. The King of Melde asked for the Apollonia king's daughter as a wife for his son. But the unwilling girl refused to marry the prince, and Apollonia had a castle built high on a hill and sequestered his daughter there. Enraged by the rejection, the Melde King decided to restore his honor by taking revenge. Changing the course of the Odryses, he made it flow to the lands where the town of Apollonia stood. When the lands of Apollonia were completely inundated, the castle on the hill became an island surrounded by water and the princess was left stranded. Thus, according to legend, was Lake Ulubat formed.
With an area of 134 sq km, Lake Ulubat is one of Turkey's medium-sized tectonic lakes. It boasts nine islands, large and small, the largest of which is Halilbey Adası. A shallow lake ecologically rich in nutrients, Lake Ulubat offers a refuge and feeding ground for hundreds of thousands of water birds and is therefore one of the key wetlands protected by the Ramsar Convention “for conservation of wetlands of international importance for water birds”. A stopover for large numbers of migratory birds, Lake Ulubat also exhibits widespread diversity in the birds that breed on it, among them the cormorant, squacco heron, spoonbill, lesser heron, purple heron, marsh harrier, collared pratincole, and spur-winged plover.
The lake and its environs are an also important transition zone for migratory birds. Species such as the crested pelican, common pochard, crested pochard, teal, northern pintail, and grey heron all winter here.
The fresh water fish that live in the lake undoubtedly have an important place in Lake Ulubat's ecological diversity as well. Harvested here until the the end of the 1980's, crayfish was once an important source of income on the lake, where ten species of fish, including primarily carp, Israel carp and pike, are caught. But crayfish breeding has come to a halt today due to a species of mold growing in the lake. Nevertheless Ulubat continues to be one of Turkey's richest areas for freshwater fishing. Now, however, the other fish species in the lake are gradually coming under threat from the rapid and uncontrolled production of Israel carp, which is having an adverse effect on the ecological balance.
WHERE THE WHOLE FAMILY GOES FISHING
Gölyazı is situated in the heart of nature on the peninsula that extends into Lake Ulubat. Most of the town's friendly, warm-hearted residents came here from Salonica in the population exchange and settled permanently. As you might imagine, almost the entire town earns its livelihood from freshwater fishing.
Going out in their boats every morning at sunup, Gölyazı's residents are in the fishing business as families. The row upon row of moored fishing boats that surround the peninsula almost completely set out on the lake's productive waters at the first light of dawn. The fishermen cast the nets with the help of their wives and then together haul in the catch. Indeed the women have long since outdone the men at fishing.
THE FISH AUCTION
Another sight worth seeing at Gölyazı is the open-air fish auction. Returning with their catch, the fishermen arrive at the auction every morning promptly at 11 with the hundreds of fish they have emptied from their nets into big plastic pans. Many of them still alive, the fish flip and flop about as the auctioneer finds buyers for them. The excitement runs high as all the fish caught are sold in just half an hour. After the auction, it's already time to start preparations for the next day; nets are mended, knots unraveled, the motors of the boats inspected. Finally it's time for the fishermen to sip a glass of well-steeped tea under the plane trees on the town square.
THE WEEPING PLANE TREE
The town square is the first thing to meet your eye when you step onto the peninsula. The plane trees seem to extend their arms to you in greeting. Senior among them is the Weeping Plane Tree. Seven hundred and forty years old, this monumental tree is under special protection today. It is known as the 'weeping plane' for the reddish liquid that seeps from its trunk certain days of the week.
I take a quick jaunt around the peninsula to chat with Gölyazı's friendly fishermen and see them off as they set out with their wives in tow. This stroll takes under an hour. What's more, throughout it I have a chance to take in Gölyazı's (Apolyont's) historic texture and ruins as well.
THE RUINS OF APOLYONT
Gölyazı's history dates back to the 5th century B.C. Long ruled by the Kingdom of Pergamom, the ancient city of Apollonia was attached to Adramytterion (today's Edremit) in the Roman era. Destroyed by wars in the 3rd century A.D., the city once again acquired regional importance with the spread of Christianity. Falling under Ottoman rule in the 14th century, Gölyazı (Apolyont) finally settled on the peninsula that forms its boundary today.
Although some of the ruins of the ancient city are visible on the ground, the majority of them are on exhibit in the Bursa Archaeological Museum. Its walls in ruins today, the Temple of Apollo stands on one of the islands, Kız Adası, in Lake Ulubat. Another historic monument at the entrance to the city is the Hagios Georgios Greek Church, built in the 19th century, which stands now as a ruin after being struck by lightning.
Six hours will suffice to tour Gölyazı and chat with its congenial people. But if you want to watch the sunrise over the lake and the fishermen setting out on their daily adventure, you will need to stay a little longer. And if you rent a boat to watch the sunset, then you will imbibe the true spirit of the place. You may even end up wishing you were a fish in the lake.