City At Heights

PRESERVING ITS HISTORIC HERITAGE AS IT DEVELOPS, ERZURUM IS ON ITS WAY TO BECOMING A WORLD CLASS SKI CENTER AND A NEW ATTRACTION IN ITS REGION.

I could hit the slopes within 20 minutes of leaving the plane, but first I set out to explore Erzurum. I enter the city, nestled in the foothills of the Palandöken Mountains, down a wide, four-lane boulevard, passing the Erzurum Congress building that played such a key role in the founding of the Turkish Republic. Erzurum was a major Seljuk city. And the wing-beats of the double-headed eagle, a Seljuk symbol representing the defender of cities and a bridge between this world and the next, seem to be audible over the city still. But the city center with its broad avenues, squares with pools, and pavements lit from below has lent Erzurum a modern appearance thanks to the change it has undergone in recent years. Illuminated at night, the Great Mosque and the soaring Double-Minareted Madrasa continue to dominate the skyline. As I stroll through the old quarters, every street I step into whispers a different story in my ear. Young girls in jeans, heading for Ataturk University with books under their arms, ageing artisans who have turned their homes into jet stone workshops… All are part and parcel of the city landscape. And in the sky, signs of a different commotion. Threading between the minarets, the migration route followed by the magpies setting out across the Palandöken Mountains for warmer climes stretches out as far as the eye can see. The Great Mosque, built in 1179, and the 13th century Double-Minareted Madrasa next to it are two spellbinding structures adorned with Seljuk stonework. The top of the mosque is covered in “swallow”, a kind of natural ventilation system common in the region, that wards off damp and odor. Thanks to this roof, reminiscent of a swallow’s nest, the interior smells pleasantly fresh and clean. This type of roof is still used on old houses in Erzurum today. I can’t take my eyes off the wooden pulpit, which, in contrast with the simplicity of the mosque itself, is encrusted with rubies and Erzurum stones. Leaving the building, I pass the jet stone workshops, ‘Erzurum stone’ in the popular parlance, in the narrow streets and delve into Rüstem Paşa Bedesten bazaar. The semi-precious black jet unique to Erzurum is actually obtained from fossilized resins. It looks particularly chic when combined with silver, and some interesting modern pieces catch my eye. I could spend hours in the bazaar, sipping the strong Erzurum tea offered at every shop. But outside it’s starting to get dark, and people have already withdrawn into their own worlds behind closed doors. So I head for the city lights some distance away. As if to draw attention to the city’s identity as a winter sports center, the ski jump towers at Kiremitliktepe, one of the symbols of urban transformation, rise opposite me like a brightly lit modern art installation. In fact, it has been twenty years since Erzurum opened up to tourism and winter sports. Palandöken Snow Sports Center at 3,271 meters boasts five chair lifts, a ski lift, two baby lifts and a gondola. Turkey’s first halfpipe and boarding cruise runs, constructed for the Universiade Winter Games held in 2011, make Palandöken special in the eyes of snowboard enthusiasts.  At 25 kilometers from Erzurum, Konaklı Alp Ski Center, which was built from scratch for ski racing, is another facility that stands out. Since there is no hotel yet in this area, whose runs total almost 60 kilometers in length, only athletes in training are seen here. Most skiers still head for Palandöken, and I am one of them. Curled up in front of the fireplace that evening, I relax and gaze out at the white peaks. They toss another log on the fire. Me, I’m continuing to enjoy the city. Like everybody who comes here for winter vacation…

Rich in history and culture, Erzurum is flooded with tourists not only in winter but all year round. Erzurum Castle in its spectacular landscape offers inspiring opportunities for photographers keen to get a panoramic shot of the city. And with its Seljuk and Ottoman monuments, Erzurum is like a living museum. The beauty of the nearby countryside is special too. The Narman Fairy Chimneys and Tortum Falls are just two of Erzurum’s natural beauty spots.

DINING ON THE FLOOR:
CAĞ KEBAB

The Erzurum Houses, where regional dishes like cağ kebab are consumed sitting on the floor are quite interesting.  In the city 11 of these village style local homes have been restored. Located in Yüzbaşı Sokak off Cumhuriyet Caddesi in the quarter of Ibrahim Paşa, the houses are small, pleasant venues attached to each other on a street covered by a roof. The walls are adorned with ancient ‘hediks’, a kind of snowshoe like a tennis racket.

AHMET DEMİR 
(Ski instructor )

“The 3,170-meter Ejder Peak at Palandöken is truly a very exciting run because of its length and difficulty. Erzurum is a very advantaged region in terms of skiing. The ski runs are a mere 20 minutes from the airport, and three minutes from the city. Modern health facilities can be reached in 10 minutes. Snowboarders in particular choose Palandöken for its outstanding runs. The Snowboarding World Youth Championship is also going to take place here March 10 to 17.”

You can try Erzurum’s special stuffed kadaif in the historic buildings directly opposite Lala Paşa Mosque.

Students at Ataturk University in Erzurum can choose skiing as an elective course.
The first Erzurum forts were erected in the 18th century. Fort Aziziye, associated with the Turkish folk hero Nene Hatun, is at the Kars gate.

Accessories made of jet, known in the city as ‘black diamond’, are sold at the historic Rüstem Paşa Bedesten bazaar (Taşhan).

DID YOU KNOW?
The birds of Erzurum are famous. The migration routes of the black-winged pratincole (Glareola nordmanni), the sociable lapwing (Vanellus gregarius) and many other species pass through the city. The birds live in the nearby marshes and wetlands.