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Apricot Orchard of Turkey
Like a green valley nestled between the rugged peaks of eastern Anatolia, Malatya is worthy of interest for its apricot orchards, colorful markets, rich history and dynamic urban life.
It’s not so well known, but cherries and mulberries are plentiful too in Malatya. But the apricot is definitely the city’s crowning glory. Immortalized in folk songs with newspapers founded in its name, the apricot is used in everything from kebabs to cologne. But Malatya takes as much pride in her native sons as she does in her apricots. Having produced two presidents, Ismet Inönü and Turgut Özal, she also gave us the late Kemal Sunal, arguably Turkey’s funniest comedian ever. Love of Malatya is something else, and nobody knows this better than the Malatyali’s themselves. Even the province’s license plate code 44 is significant insofar as the city is what is called in Turkish ‘dört dörtlük’, or all it’s cracked up to be (dört is the Turkish for ‘four’). Some even dub it the ‘Paris of the East’.
The city’s soccer team, Malatyaspor, has not only grabbed up three famous Brazilian players but has brought Turkey’s four biggest teams to their knees - a reflection of the high level of enthusiasm for the sport at the end of the 1980’s when Turgut Özal transformed the fate of Malatya, an Anatolian town that had retreated into its shell despite its glorious history. Successfully combining a vast potential for agriculture with modern industry, the city embarked on a rapid process of economic development. Investment in İnönü University with its strong academic past brought in its wake significant changes in the city’s social life. Within a short time, old buildings were replaced by new apartments, neighborhood grocery stores by multi-story malls, tablecloths spread on the floor by modern restaurants, horse-drawn carts by luxury cars and street fairs by theaters and cinemas. And the streets, cafes and cinemas filled with young people come to the city for their university education. Virtually overnight yesterday’s quiet Anatolian town became the rising star of the East.
Although those days are remembered with nostalgia today, Malatya remains one of Anatolia’s most important windows on the West. The traffic congestion and crowds on the streets at the city center tell us we have arrived in a metropolis. Government Square is the name of the place where the broad avenues that divide the city center in half intersect. Kernek Park, the city’s most popular hangout for young people, is one of the first spots that springs to mind at the mention of Malatya. Lined with stately mansions with cantilevered balconies, Cinema Caddesi (aka Five Mansions Avenue) exhibits examples of traditional Malatya architecture. And the area around the avenue boasts a market or bazaar at every step. There is literally nothing that can’t be found at the Covered Bazaar, the Coppersmiths’ Market and Şire Market in the city center or in the shopping centers on Atatürk, Inönü and Milli Egemenlik Avenues. Everything from carpets, kilims and wooden furniture to spices, therapeutic herbs and local cheeses as well as dried fruits and vegetables. Not to mention a plethora of edibles made from apricots. And the human landscape of people clad in colorful vests or kerchiefs, as well as those in business suits, all with perennial smiles and friendly words, are the icing on the cake. Not only that but you can crown a long day of shopping with stuffed meatballs, kebabs en papillote and hot buttered apricot dessert at the working class restaurants in the nearby side streets.
The 78 million-year-old fossils discovered in the rural areas around Malatya have astonished experts. Indeed, the 400 million-year-old sea creatures unearthed in the investigations have revealed Malatya to be a natural museum of underwater fossils. Regardless of the area’s natural beauty, however, its history and culture are equally rich. The Upper Euphrates Basin at the northern edge of this city, which is home to the oldest settled societies in human history, is heir to a cultural richness going as far back as 12,000 years. As for Malatya’s historic treasures, the Aslantepe ruins and Hittite remains six kilometers from the city are well worth a visit. Rumor has it that the Near East’s oldest palace complex was also located here. Another must-see for history buffs is Battalgazi, aka ‘Old Malatya’. The most important link in Malatya’s chain of elegant architecture stretching from the Seljuk to the Ottoman period is the Ulu Camii or Great Mosque, a 7th century structure rumored to be the first Islamic temple in Anatolia. Other monuments, all worth seeing, include the Şahabe-i Kübra Madrasa, Melik Sunullah Mosque, Yusuf Ziya Paşa Mosque, Çarşı Mosque, the Tomb of Emir Ömer, the Kanlı or Bloody Kumbet, Silahtar Mustafa Paşa Caravanserai and the Taşhoron Church. Built in 1912, the Yeni Cami (New Mosque) at the city center is Turkey’s only mosque with three minarets. The third minaret of this mosque with two minarets, each with two balconies, is a relic of an old Seljuk mosque. Turning now to the neighboring townships, the northernmost, Arapgir, can be reached by a road that winds through mountain passes with numerous sharp curves at 1500 meters in altitude. Taking its name from a tributary of the Euphrates, it is famous for its grapes with their unique scent and aroma. And the trout restaurants set up next to natural springs all along this scenic road are ideal for a tasty meal stop. You can add further excitement to your tour by branching out to Nemrut Dağı 85 km from Malatya.
Parks, gardens and waterfalls
Nature has bestowed the gift of green on Malatya in the springs and winding rivers that water this city, which is encircled by the Beydağları, an extension of the Taurus. The area is rich in fruit orchards, primarily apricot. The natural beauty of this city, reminiscent of a green valley nestled between the mountains, offers a vast potential for tourism. The Turgut Özal Nature Park at Orduzu Pınarbaşı is one of several excursion spots around the city popular for its small lake, ornamental pools and picnic areas. If you’d like to get a little outside the city, then there is Horata at Konak Kasabası five kilometers from Malatya, as well as İnek Pınarı, Davullu Pınar and Gündüzbey in the nearby township of Yeşilyurt. Sürgü Valley meanwhile near the township of Doğanşehir is the best choice for fresh trout and picnics, and Sulu Cave near the town of Polat in the same township is of interest for its fascinating stalactites and stalagmites.
In short, the possibilities are endless if you want to get back to nature. Levent Valley in the township of Akçadağ and the villages of Arguvan also await visitors. In addition to Karakaya Dam, the shores of the tributaries of the Euphrates that give life to the city are too beautiful to be missed. Their crystal clear waters below untouched virgin hills offer abundant opportunities for wind surfing, nature hikes, horseback riding and line fishing. And if you’d like to crown your visit to this beautiful city with a canyon or rafting safari, then head for Darende. Tohma Canyon, in this township famous for Somuncu Baba Mosque Complex, Lake Balıklı and Zengibar Castle as well as it mud-brick houses, boasts one of the most thrilling rafting courses in Turkey. Lasting approximately eight hours in special boats, this matchless journey winds through extraordinary natural scenery. Another surprise in this canyon which is popular for nature hikes is Günpınar Falls. When you see the beauty of Malatya, you can’t help but agree with its people. Malatya is truly all it’s cracked up to be.
‘I GO TO MALATYA 3 OR 4 TIMES A YEAR’
“My years in Malatya were happy-go-lucky, fun and carefree. I was eleven years old. I performed at the People’s House Theater. The city’s population was forty, maybe fifty thousand. We performed 7 or 8 times, always to a full house. I go to Malatya three or four times a year, and every time I realize how much I miss it. The soil, the water, the orchards and vineyards... That’s homesickness for you. It’s impossible, but I would love for the city of my childhood to exist again. That greenery, the two-story wooden houses with their gardens and pools. The old feeling of neighborliness, and our Armenian neighbors whose numbers have dwindled to practically nothing. I would love to have it all again. I would recommend to anyone going to Malatya that they get out to the villages and taste some of the local specialties. To Yeşilyurt, Sürgü, Darende, Arguvan, Arapgir, and Pütürge. I’d even recommend that they climb Nemrut and see the ruins at Aslantepe.”