Article: EMEL YENİGELEN Photos: LÜTFİ ÖZGÜNAYDIN
Embraced by mountains
A city risen again from its own ashes... This city, where nature has been generous with her gifts, has engraved itself in its people’s memory. Thanks to them it has overcome the tragic events in its past and now stands tall to welcome visitors.
Situated on a major fault line, Erzincan has experienced a number of earthquakes in its history, the most important being the 1939 tremor that leveled the city. The city center was virtually rebuilt in its wake, with the result that when you stroll through Erzincan today you are immediately impressed by its many planned streets and avenues. In this friendly city situated on a plain, the snow-capped mountains that surround it on all sides will accompany you no matter where you go.
We were curious about the city’s more remote history and researched its earliest times. Nothing is known for certain about Erzincan in antiquity. We learn however that traces have been found in the city and its environs of the Hittites, who ruled Anatolia from 1050 to 1180 B.C., and of the earlier Urartu’s who go back to 900 B.C. Establishing their capital at Van (Tuspa) in that period, the Urartu’s expanded their empire as far as Erzurum and Erzincan in the north. A large number of monuments belonging to the Urartu’s were unearthed in the archaeological excavations carried out by Prof. Dr. Tahsin Özgüç at Altıntepe near Erzincan in 1953.
Natural Beauty and Historic Sights
One of the first things that come to mind at the mention of Erzincan is of course the Girlevik Waterfall, located at the village of Girlevik in Çağlayan about 30 km from the city center. Flowing between sheer rocks, the river nourishes the neighboring plant cover, turning the area into an important picnic ground. From a distance the cascade, which falls from a height of 30-40 meters, looks like a veil of fine tulle. Freezing over in winter, its waters display an utterly different wonder of nature, whose beauty is further enhanced by
the Keşiş and Kılıçkaya mountains that surround it.
Another river, the Ekşi Su (literally, the ‘Sour Stream’) about 11 km from the city center, is famous in the region for its natural mineral waters. Said to be good for many an ill, this water is extremely healthful. Meanwhile the township of Üzümlü just a stone’s throw away has a reputation for its fine grapes (‘üzüm’ in Turkish). The black grapes peculiar to the region are grown on the mountain slopes.
The Euphrates: source of life
The Euphrates, which flows through Erzincan from one end to the other, is its most important source of life and has ensured the founding of numerous settlements around the city. One of these is the lovely town of Kemaliye. Founded on a slope on the banks of the river, Eğin, as it was known in earlier times, means ‘Beautiful Garden of Paradise’. The minute you spot it from the hilltop you will think you are looking at an enormous garden. Set amidst lush green gardens dotted with wooden houses each more beautiful than the last, Kemaliye is under protection by the state. ÇEKÜL (the Foundation for Environment and Culture), which opened an office in Kemaliye in 2002, continues its work in
the area today.
Towns grOWING up on the Euphrates
The township’s most important spot of natural beauty, Karanlık Kanyon is impressive to the nth degree. Accessible both over land and by water, the canyon draws scores of visitors every year.
Meanwhile behind Kemah, one of the major monuments left behind by the Mengüceks, rise the majestic Munzur Mountains. Kemah Castle is one of the most important natural castles in the township. Located about 50 km from Erzincan, Kemah is also home to the deep valley of the Tenasur which flows down out of the mountains.
İliç is another of the new towns founded on the banks of the Euphrates that we cannot pass by without mentioning. Quite advanced in the raising of livestock, this area is where the tasty Erzincan ‘tulum peynir’ (a sharp, salty cheese preserved in a goatskin) is produced in quantity. The township of Tercan on the way to Erzincan is actually closer to Erzurum in terms of climate and culture. The historically important Mamahatun caravanserai and mausoleum, where stone workmanship reached its zenith, are two must-visit sites in the township.
Otlukbelli, founded when the battle of Otlukbelli was fought in 1473, is another important township for Erzincan. The ram’s head gravestones found in the town and its environs are extremely interesting. Some of them are on exhibit in the garden of the Erzincan Department of Culture. Displaying a variety of forms and figures, these gravestones provide important information about the person buried below them. A picture of a saz (traditional string instrument), for example, on a gravestone means that the person was an ‘ozan’ or folk poet/musician, while a picture of a horse indicates a warrior. Otlukbelli lake in the region is cited by experts in the field as the only one of its kind in the world in terms of its formation and its basin. A travertine lake 1855 meters above sea level, it is red like the soil around it and looks absolutely incredible when seen from the surrounding mountains.
The townships in and around Erzincan harbor beauty and treasures of many different kinds. Nature virtually puts on a spectacle here. While its mountains, valleys and canyons may turn your head, the culture created by the river will work its way into your heart. Every place touched by the Euphrates seems magical. At the end of our tour we cannot but think how right its warm and friendly people are to love and protect it as they do. We may have left the city behind, but its taste remains fresh on our palates...
Turkish Airlines flies round trip Istanbul-Erzincan every day of the week.