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Article: SONER ŞENEL Photosw: ENGİN DOĞRU
A major stop for European merchants since the 16th century for its rich mineral deposits and location on the Silk Road, Gümüşhane is of breathtaking natural beauty as well as being an attractive spot for historical tourism with its ancient Roman ruins and profusion of historic castles and monasteries.
Founded some time in the 5th millennium B.C., Gümüşhane was known in the Roman era as Argyropolis meaning ‘silver city’. Among other names by which the city was known in different periods are Canca, Caica, Catha and Caniha. The 17th century Ottoman traveler Evliya Çelebi also mentions the name of ‘Urla’, and the Arab historian Ibn Battuta called the city simply ‘Gümüş’ (Silver).
A LIVELY CENTER OF TRADE
Gümüşhane and its environs came under Turkish rule in 1048, changing hands between a number of Turkish tribes. Incorporated into the Ottoman lands with Mehmed the Conqueror’s conquest of Trabzon in 1461, its silver mines went back into operation, and the coins that made up one sixth of the empire’s treasury were minted here in the area called Canca, the site of Old Gümüşhane. The city’s population grew apace due to the presence of the mines, and its people were enriched. With a population of sixty thousand in 1570, Gümüşhane was a major stop for merchants, who came from countries like Iran, India and Syria bearing carpets, silk and other fabrics and returned home with silver coins.
The mines experienced their busiest period during the reign of Murad IV. Although they were closed down briefly, they were re-opened by an Imperial Rescript issued in 1839. But production was halted again in 1894 when the favorable terms that had been granted to the miners were rescinded and technical difficulties set in.
Gümüşhane is situated on the Anatolian Silk Road in the Eastern Black Sea region. At 1,153 meters above sea level, it is the Black Sea’s gateway to Eastern Anatolia. Surrounded by the winding, young Black Sea mountain ranges, the province is mountainous over sixty percent of its area. Some 2,000 to 3,400 meters high, these mountains appear to be punctuated by deep valleys.
OLD HOUSES AND UNIQUE ARCHITECTURE
Gümüşhane attracts attention for its pristine natural environment. Nestled against the two banks of the Harşit River which flows through its center, it is also blessed with original architecture. And one of the most fascinating aspects of that architecture is, without a doubt, the old houses, which have managed to survive to our day as if in a challenge to time. Standing tall with their architectural style, their construction materials, their roofs and balconies, these old houses exhibit the dignified bearing of the past, almost all of them abounding with examples of the old, refined taste. A journey that commences when you fall under the spell of the beauty of the Gümüşhane houses, shaped by their geographical location and climatic conditions and the life lived within them, will take you to old Gümüşhane (the Old City), scattered over 1500-meter ridges on the steep slopes of the Musalla River valley southwest of today’s city. Home to a variety of civilizations, the region in which the city is located is known today as a district by the name of Süleymaniye, administratively attached to Gümüşhane. Besides the historic houses surviving from that period and the Canca Castle which rises like a giant chateau, the city ruins, which are spread over a broad area, greet visitors as the last witnesses of a now faded splendor.
A CASTLE PARADISE
The multitude of historic ruins and castles at Gümüşhane is such as to astonish a visitor. There are seven large monasteries in the province, clinging to steep precipices in the high mountains. One of the most magnificent of them all, and well worth seeing, is without a doubt the Olucak Monastery. Completely carved out of the rock, Çakırkaya Monastery in Şiran township’s village of Çakırkaya is also worth a visit. But the really impressive structures that leave the monasteries in the shade are the castles, perched atop rock formations that seem to pierce the very sky. Built to defend the mountain passes and centers of settlement, they number forty in all, their numbers an indication of how important this region and its trade route were in the past.
THE ANCIENT CITY OF SATALA
Nor is Gümüşhane’s historical richness limited to this. The ancient city of Satala in the Kelkit township village of Sadak is known to have been a major army headquarters of the Roman Empire in the East. Meanwhile the settlement of Santa with its 350 households, not as old as Satala and thought to have been founded in the 18th century, is also known to have had a rich past. And on the way to Santa, the light and airy whitewashed houses with their pointed roofs in the village of Yağmurdere and the interior decoration, worked like fine lace, of the two stately village houses used today as a guesthouse in the village or Sarıçiçek are worth seeing as well.
25 DIFFERENT CAVES
Characterized by deep, labyrinthine valleys, these lands exhibit a special texture replete with unending surprises created by the rough, towering mountains that dominate it completely. There is no way to come as far as Gümüşhane and not be bowled over by these mountains. The peaks of Zigana and Soğanlı in the east, the Balaban Mountains in the west and the Gümüşhane Mountains in the south are all exceedingly rich in caves. Twenty-five have been discovered up to now, all exhibiting unique properties. Among them, Karaca cave has a special place.
Highland festivals in spring and summer turn Gümüşhane and the entire area into a center of recreation, tourism and trade. There are some 450 highlands in the province where the ‘horon’, a traditional Black Sea folk dance, is danced to the strains of the davul, zurna and kemençe (drum, clarinet and three-stringed violin). Every year tens of thousands of people take part in these festivals which are held on highlands such as Zigana, Kadırga, Kazıkbeli, Erikbeli, Taşköprü and Cami Boğazı. The Örümcek or ‘Spider’ Forests in the township of Kürt cover forty thousand hectares and the road through them reaches a hundred kilometers in length. Towering 60-meter firs and spruces, the tallest trees in Europe, grow in the Nature Preserve in these forests.
Recently a Tourism Master Plan was drawn up for the province to exploit its touristic potential and incorporate it into the national touristic itinerary. Gümüşhane stands to be a serious candidate for a touristic center in the near future.