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Text: ÖMER KOKAL Photos: TİMURTAŞ ONAN
Prince of the mountains
While the sun scorches the sands on the beach, a refreshingly cool Antalya secludes itself in the Taurus. It's spring down below, but Akseki has snow!
Hidden among the slopes of the Taurus high above the Bay of Antalya, Akseki is as Mediterranean as it is Anatolian. This township, with its back against the mountains and its face turned to the sea, was a major stop on Central Anatolia's trade route to the coast from ancient times until recently. Two thousand years ago primitive tribes inhabited this forbidding landscape. Known as the Oroands, the Homonads and the Isaurians, these local warrior clans went down in history for constantly harrassing the Romans. Owing to their assaults on caravans along the trade route that originated from the port of Side and traversed Central Anatolia through Konya, they continued to make trouble even after the Roman period.
HOUSES OF CHESTNUT, OAK AND PINE
Although it boasts no remains of great ancient cities, the Akseki area is not without the small-scale ruins of a few settlements, and a large number of remains of columns and sarcophagi, albeit in fragments, are encountered in the vicinity. Akseki is situated at what was almost the exact mid-point of this trade route which was so important throughout history. And, like every settlement along a trade route, handicrafts especially developed here over the years among the Akseki master craftsmen, who exhibited their skills mainly in their houses. Stone and timber, the two most frequently used materials, were transformed into works of art in the hands of these master artisans. Elaborately worked wood is used in the details of the houses, whose basic structure is shaped by stone. In addition to an abundance of pine, fir, cedar and oak in the area, there is also a dense growth around Akseki of chestnut, actually a northern tree, which was therefore readily available as a raw material. As for the source of the stone, that goes without saying since Akseki and its environs are an area of which it can aptly be said, 'It's all stone'.
ANCIENT CITY IN THE HILLS, FARMING IN THE PLAINS
In landscapes such as this where tillable soil is scarce, it is a rule that the flat areas are reserved for farming, and Akseki is no exception. The texture of the old city is therefore more concentrated on the slopes. Largely preserved, the Akseki houses are at least 80 to 100 years old. They are generally two-story although some three-story houses, albeit few in number, can also be seen belonging to well-to-do families. Thanks to these lovely houses, Akseki was declared an 'urban archaeological site' in 1998. Built on hard rock, these 'wagon-roof' houses represent the classic Mediterranean style of architecture and use of local materials in its most mature form. Stone and timber are also used in combination on the facades of the houses. Timber beams in the stone walls enhance the durability of the structure and allow it to breathe. Not only is timber used in the doors and windows, it also adds elegance to the interiors of the houses where the workmanship displayed in the wooden benches that run around the walls, the railings, the cupboards and the recessed ceilings is at its finest. We can also see at Akseki the so-called 'şahnişin' or bay window, which is generally regarded as one of the most attractive details of traditional Turkish architecture.
HUNDRED PERCENT LITERACY
The date of construction of the Ulu Camii or Great Mosque, only the sole religious building in all of Akseki, is not known for certain. The roof of this mosque with a single minaret built of hewn stone is covered with tiles. With various decorations and reliefs on its mihrab, the Great Mosque has a dome that rests on four columns. Including the townships of İbradi, Cevizli, Kuyucak, Bademli and Ormana, the basin in which Akseki lies is a region that heads the list of places in Turkey with the highest literacy rates. With literacy approaching a hundred percent, the people of Akseki stand out for placing importance on education and culture.
THE COLORS OF THE RAINBOW AND THE ALAGEYİK MOUNTAINS
Exposed to the influences of both the Mediterranean climate and the land climate, the settlement of Akseki, which was known as Marulye in antiquity, is a region of heavy rainfall except for two to three dry months in summer. Besides its monumental trees, it is also known as a 'paradise for bulb flowers', which bloom especially in spring producing all the colors of the rainbow. Some of the hundreds of flowers that carpet Akseki in spring include the snowdrop, the wild tulip, the fragrant yellow European cyclamen, the yellow crocus, and the star hyacinth. But the natural richness of the Akseki region is not limited only to trees and flowers. A large number of animals, including mountain goat, rabbit, fox, brown bear and, most prominently, the fallow deer (Dama dama), found only in these mountains in the whole world and a virtual icon of the Taurus, also continue to inhabit the Akseki area.
A FAVORITE WITH NATURE-LOVERS
The area's limestone structure and abundant rainfall have manifested themselves in the formation of a large number of underground streams, swallow holes and caves in the area, the most famous of which is certainly the Altınbeşik Cave which, together with its surrounding area not far from of the village of Ürünlü, was declared a national park in 1994. Other major nature areas near Akseki include the valleys of the Alabalık and the Irmak, and the Göktepe, Çimi and Geyran Highlands. As Akseki has been opening up to tourism in recent years, its nearby environment has also extended a warm welcome to nature lovers.