Seven Journeys to Anatolia: Episode IV



Trabzon, near the eastern end of the Black Sea coast, was founded in the 7th century BC by Miletian colonists. It was the capital of the Empire of Trebizond which survived for a few years after the conquest of Byzantine İstanbul. The Byzantines ruled here until 1461 when the Ottomans conquered the area. The restored 13th century Byzantine church of Hagia Sophia, used for centuries as a mosque and now the Ayasofya Museum, is the jewel of Trabzon’s Christian monuments. Splendid frescoes, some of the finest examples of Byzantine painting, cover the interior walls.


Altındere National Park provides a magnificent setting for the 14th century Sumela Monastery, the “monastery in the clouds”, perched on a cliff face 270 meters above a deep gorge. Surrounded by the ruins of the monks’ dwellings, the monastery’s main church is covered Inside and out with brilliant frescoes. Southeast of Trabzon, Uzungöl, a lovely alpine lake surrounded by mountains and meadows, is an excellent camping, hiking and fishing destination.

Rize is set at the base of mountain slopes covered in tea bushes which look like puffy green pillows. Be sure to see this typical Black Sea city’s 16th century İslam Paşa Mosque and the remains of its Genoese castle. From the Ziraat Park you can take in a splendid panorama of the whole area. Turning inland you come to the beautiful little town of Çamlıhemşin straddling a rushing alpine stream. Nearby is the Fırtına Vadisi (Storm Valley) with stone bridges from Byzantine times, and the beautiful Zil Castle. Relax in one of the area’s many hot springs. For those who like mountain climbing, this is the best starting point for scaling the Kaçkar Mountains, the natural beauty of which is protected in Kaçkar Dağları National Park. This emerald mountain range is among Turkey’s best and most challenging.

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On the way to Artvin there is a wonderful alpine lake, Karagöl, with various pine trees, flora and fauna. The road to Artvin traverses the Cankurtaran mountain pass, where verdant landscape changes to barren rocks. Hatilla Valley National Park is another beautiful place to see in the region. The canyons inside the park, with their sheer cliffs and vertical drops, are quite dramatic. Because of its unique microclimate, both Mediterranean and Black Sea flora flourish in the park.


A winding drive midway up a mountainside takes you to Artvin, the capital of the province of the same name. At the foot of an escarpment, a ruined 16th-century castle crowns a rocky outcrop. Clinging to the mountainside high above, Artvin is a charming city with beautiful old Turkish houses, typical of the region. This area came under Georgian sovereignty during the Middle Ages, making Artvin a good base for touring remains of the Georgian past. Wonderfully scenic roads lead to the ruined churches and settlements that stand as a legacy of this period. The best preserved of these are at Barhal and İşhan, Hamamlı, Dörtkilise, Köprügören and Tekkale. Ardanuç, formerly a Georgian capital, has a famous castle which overlooks the longest canyon in the region.


East from Artvin Is Şavşat, an alpine town surrounded by meadows of wild flowers and butterflies, rushing streams and quaint chalets. The local women’s organization has established a weaving instruction center in an attempt to keep local carpet and kilim traditions alive. Karagöl – Sahara National Park has one of the beautiful Karagöl alpine lakes and the famous, beautiful Sahara Plateau.

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