Black Sea Mesopotamia: The Hittite Basin

THE WESTERN BLACK SEA’S RUGGED MOUNTAINS ARE TAMED AND LOSE ALTITUDE TOWARDS THE MIDDLE. BEFORE RISING AGAIN IN THE EAST, THEY BRANCH OUT INTO THE PLAINS OF THE KIZILIRMAK AND YEŞİLIRMAK RIVERS, TAME, FERTILE AND GREEN.

Coming from the West, the Black Sea’s last high coasts are the Sinop fjords. Sinop in no way inferior to Samsun when it comes to greenery, and blue as blue can be as well. So clear is the water here that it’s no wonder the town is named for a sea nymph. In short, Sinop, with its coves and fjords, its waterfalls and the beaches that line its shore, is a wonder of nature. Dominated for over a thousand years by the Orthodox, Christian and Hellenistic cultures and for close to a thousand by Turkish-Islamic culture, Sinop has been a port city since antiquity.
  
So treacherous is the Black Sea that in the time of the sailing ships it was said to have three safe harbors: July, August and Sinop. In other words, ships could only find refuge either in the storm-free months of July and August or, at other times of year, in Sinop harbor. The Black Sea’s only natural harbor, Sinop, where access inland was difficult, was passed over in favor of Samsun as the place where Mustafa Kemal launched the National Struggle in 1919 following its official declaration in the Amasya Protocol at a congress held in the city.

And so Turkey’s National Struggle began in Anatolia, here in this basin where winter mingles with summer and summer with winter. Before the rainfall decreases and the temperature drops to the south, these fertile lands are watered by the lakes, rivers and rains of the Black Sea. These wetlands, where the region’s life-giving waterways, which water Samsun’s Çarşamba and Bafra Plains, empty into the Black Sea, are so rich in biodiversity that they not only support agriculture but are also home to many important bird species.

Amasya is another paradise for birders on the Yeşilırmak. A small dam reservoir hosting myriad species of water birds, Yedikuğular Bird Sanctuary is a wildlife conservation area and protected site. Another area visited by birds is the emerald green Lake Borabay, which also boasts camping and picnic grounds. Here you go to sleep among the beeches, Scots pines, cedars and chestnuts and wake up to birdsong, spending your day hiking or rowing on the lake and, in short, savoring the pleasure of peace and tranquility.

Amasya was known as the city of the Ottoman princes following the Battle of Ankara, which ended here in 1402 with Timur’s (aka Tamerlane) victory. United under the Amasya Governor Çelebi Mehmet, the province attracted the attention of the sultan and his princes, who served successively as governors here in a period when the city developed as a center of culture. A number of mosques and mosque complexes, madrasas, mausoleums, khans and hamams surviving from that period still grace the city today.

Adorned with natural beauty spots along the Kızılırmak (the ancient Halys) such as valleys, wetlands, meadows and highlands, and especially İncesu Canyon, all of which are popular with birds, Çorum is the Black Sea’s gateway to Central Anatolia. A perfect mosaic with its Roman rock graves, the mosques at the city center and the historic Çorum houses, Çorum’s real claim to fame is the Hittite ruins.

Hattusha, capital of the Hittites, a civilization at least as old and rich as the Egyptian and who founded the first organized state, is at Boğazköy in Çorum province. The finds at Hattusha, where the first settlement began in the Chalcolithic and which was home to the Hatti in the Bronze Age and, later, to the Assyrian Trade Colonies and is on the UNESCO World Heritage List today, shine a light back some five thousand years. Among those finds are the tablets recording the Treaty of Kadesh, which was concluded between the Hittites and the Egyptians.

As is evident from the excavations at Alacahöyük, where monumental structures like a Sphinx Gate, a Royal Gate and a Lion Gate were unearthed, this area was home to a variety of civilizations from the Stone and Bronze Ages through the periods of the Hittites and the Phrygians. Yazılıkaya Open Air Temple, a sacred precinct where gods, goddesses, animals and imaginary creatures are worked in stone, is an important site for the Hittite period. In short, you are going to love this basin rich in tour offerings and natural beauty and laden with history from Sinop and Samsun to Amasya and Çorum.

Blue as well as green with its lakes and beaches, Sinop is also home to the historic Sinop Prison, now is a museum. While not conclusive, there is evidence in the sources that the construction of Sinop Castle, in which dates back to the Hittites. The Hittite ruins at Alacahöyük meanwhile inspire today’s souvenir makers.

These thin-skinned Amasya apples are yellow on one side and red on the other. The trees bear fruit every other year.

You’ll find a shop selling this dried chickpea snack on every corner in Çorum. Dried chickpeas become yellow leblebi in just a month and a half.

You can sample the many varieties from the sugar-coated to the spicy hot.

Anchovies are the mainstay of the local cuisine along the coasts where a Black Sea climate prevails, while zargana (needlefish) is the most plentiful species at Samsun and Sinop. Line fishermen inside Samsun fishing harbor return home with their hands full.

Sinop is famous for its ship’s models which are used as decorative objects. Although definitely not audible to those strolling on the shore at Samsun, Merzifon clock tower in Amasya rises over the monumental gate of Merzifon Çelebi Mehmet Madrasa.

This thin-crust homemade flatbread, which comes in many varieties and has its own unique taste, is popular on weekends in Samsun. Crisp and delicious-smelling, its aroma fills the air and whets the appetite.

Its walls adorned with reliefs of the gods and goddesses of the Hittite homeland with their tall, pointed caps, Yazılıkaya Temple was the Hittites’ sacred precinct. The northern walls of Sinop Castle still stand erect against the sea in all their glory, inspiring poets despite their dilapidated condition.

The Yeşilırmak and Kızılırmak rivers at Samsun, as magical as it is beautiful with green areas where you can take nature walks.
Turkish Airlines has flights in both directions between Istanbul and Samsun, Amasya Merzifon and Sinop
 www.turkishairlines.com

The pastry known as ‘nokul’ in Sinop, where chestnuts and quinces are used in cooking, is a must-try. Popular throughout the area are Çorum’s mantı (Turkish-style ravioli) and rose-shaped ‘burma’, Amasya’s layered ‘katmer’ pastries and Samsun’s ‘pide’.

There is an extensive museum at Amasya with some 24,000 artifacts from 13 different civilizations. It’s also worth seeing the mummies of prominent Ilkhanid figures and their children.

Some of the things you can buy include decorative samovars in Amasya, cotton textiles at Samsun, and handmade ship’s models at Sinop. And don’t miss the copperwork at Çorum.

Tatlıca Falls at Erfelek in Sinop is one of a handful of sites in the world where some thirty hidden streams cascade into a two-kilometer-long valley. There are also hiking trails and picnic grounds in the region’s beech forest.

Against a backdrop of rock-carved Royal Tombs, city of princes Amasya awaits you with bed&breakfast mansions overlooking the Yeşilırmak River. Sample the local food and sleep in an elaborately carved wooden bed

The sturgeon whose caviar has been dubbed ‘black gold’ is found in Turkey in the Kızılırmak, Yeşilırmak and Sakarya Rivers.

Following the Hittite sun
Known as the Hittite Way, a network of 17 hiking trails totaling 236 kilometers in length has been opened to tourists in the Hattusha-Alacahöyük-Sapinuwa triangle in Çorum province. Following ancient migration, trade and caravan routes, the trails offer a great opportunity for discovering the treasures of the Hittite civilization

ORHAN GENCEBAY  - Musician
“Samsun is both the city where I was born and a city I love very much. I miss that place a lot. The land of my forefathers. Part of my family is still there. We feel a special pride since Samsun is the place where Ataturk first set foot in Anatolia. All the young people are sportsmen and spend their time at the sports halls. Folk music, art music, western classical music, jazz, rock… you can hear it all. And it gets even greener as you go east.”

Many festivals are held in Sinop in July, among then Sinop Festival, Ayancık Hemp Festival and the Gerze Sea Festival. The large fairs with local markets are in the fall.

Paragliding is available at Kocadağ, Akdağ and Bafra in Samsun. One of Turkey’s newest ski resorts, Akdağ welcomes visitors in summer for hiking. picnicking and bird watching.

The highlands of Ladik, Havza and Kavak in Samsun, Ayancık Akgöl, Türkeli Kutugöl and Durağan-Buzluk in Sinop, Akdağ and Kabaoğuz in Amasya, and Kargı and İskilip in Çorum are waiting to offer you a cool summer.

The coasts at Sinop are lined with beaches. Karakum Plage, named for the black volcanic sand here, is said to be good for rheumatism. You may also enjoy deep sea diving at İnceburun and Hamsilos Bay.

Royal tombs, cuneiform tablets, seals, pottery and monuments of the Hittite period are exhibited in the museums of Çorum, Alacahöyük and Boğazköy. You can also see in these museum various finds from antiquity right through the Roman and Byzantine periods.