Vulcans Of The Black Sea Region

From the vantage points of Karabük Province, Safranbolu may seem like a fortress aged village  which is being constructed in Age of Empires, where mighty minarets stand tall watching over the clusters of Ottoman houses. We were curious to explore this historic city which hosted many civilisations including; the Romans, Byzantines, Seljuk’s and Ottoman Empires.
The old town of Safranbolu exudes less of a touristic vibe. It is so different from its fellow prosperous cities Bursa and Istanbul, yet presents a wealth of fascinating details loaded to the brim with unadulterated Ottoman beauty.

The 6 hour bus ride to Safranbolu from Bursa was a long-haul journey. We were told by a few Turks that the roads heading towards Black Sea region would be clogged by “çok kar” (harsh snow). The Turks were right. Fortunately our journey was not interrupted by the weather. The luxurious busses, frequent pull-overs and breathtakingly picturesque views did not make it an experience to whine about. Our tropical eyes had a lot to see through the hazed shutters, making the shutter-bugs literally gaze through their window absorbing the serene beauty of mid-winter.

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The earth exhaled the earthly scent of melting snow. This was during the last few days of winter in Safranbolu, a historic city best known for its listing in 1994 on the UNESCO World Heritage list for its well preserved Ottoman architecture. It offers a captivating day out for history buffs to get lost in the splendours of the past. During the 17th century Safranbolu was on the main Ottoman trade route, famously known as the “Silk Road”.  This brought commerce, prominence and money to Safranbolu and became a popular residence for the Ottoman royalty.

During the medieval Seljuk times, merchants used to stop by night in inns known as caravanserai , literally ‘caravan palaces’. These buildings provided accommodation for the merchants and stabling for their animals. – goreme.com

Amdist the ruins and remnants of the old town, you would find “Cinci Han” one of the big, little mixed caravansarays established on historical Silk Road that runs from China to Anatolia Land throughout the centuries.

Safranbolu has an allure of a quintessential European town. Some might see it as the Prague of the East. The narrow cobbled streets lined up with quaint red-roofed clusters of houses, antiquated fountains and clock towers which stood tall provide a captivatingly authentic picture of Turkish country life.

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The city held peculiar fascination for me with its rural charm. Being an ardent vintage car admirer, I found myself gravitated towards old yellow taxis perched up in steely hills or parked near the pretty stone buildings and winding lanes. The town’s rustic streets made a perfect backdrop for instagramming renaults and fiats by blending the elements of bygone era with the present.

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The old town of Safranbolu also known as Eski Çasi is ravished with layers of culture of east and west making it a fascinating architectural expedition for travellers like me. The well-kept Ottoman houses reminded me of the famous mansions seen on Danish Dunsk cookie jars. The interior had a resemblance to Dutch mansions in South of Sri Lanka. These wooden houses charmingly reflect its rich heritage, combining the enthralling building designs of Ottoman and Byzantine era.
While marvelling at these architectural wonders, one would catch a whiff of history of the Turkish social life and the old civilisation of the 18th and 19th century. At present, many of these old public buildings of interest throughout the town have been refurbished and freshly restored to “konaks” (inns) and museums. Their grandeur still remained resplendent and undimmed.

Most of these Ottoman houses are two or three stories, with 6 to 9 rooms.  Each room had detailed decorations, with delicate woodwork, carved walls, ample window space and ceiling decorations.  Most houses were entered through a high wall, which opened into a garden area, allowing the women of the houses to do their chores without being seen by others.

One of the notable features of Ottoman houses that I found quite charming was the bathrooms hidden inside cupboards (bench seating, which ran around the walls, which could be converted into a bed or cupboard).

We spent two nights in a 200 year old inn called “Sari Konak”. Owned and managed by a young Turk named Genghis. He was not a descendant of the Mongol Emperor Genghis Khan, but Turks have striking similarities with the Mongolian culture sharing the same Altaic language roots. Genghis was a soft-spoken young family man born and bred in Eski Çasi. He was delighted to have his first Sri Lankan visitor to his mansion and made sure we had a memorable stay with all homely comforts.

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The Ottoman Empire reached its peak in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was one the world’s most powerful empires. It is also one of the most strongest civilizations to play on Age of Empires III. I recall my brother spending hours strategising over his artillery, cavalry and infantry, trying to fortify his empire.  During the fortress age, artisan workshops aerated the old town centre of the kingdom. The streets of Safranbolu took me back the Medieval age when I meandered through the street side huts of blacksmiths forging iron utensils, horseshoes, weapons and armour. Local craftsmen and artists took pride in showing us their work as they invited us over to have some Turkish çai.

We met Kazim Madenoğlu, a blacksmith who finds great pleasure and passion in making meticulously ornate swords and knobs. He was delighted to know that we share his family name Kazim, Turkish for Cassim.

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The best thing about being a free-will traveller is that you could walk as you wish, drifting into corners that catches your fancy like peeping into barber shops and gazing at the cats on benches who are preoccupied with their own business. Wrapped by the February cold and darkness, we strolled hours along the narrow alleys, exploring the charm of an unspoilt town with old mosques, aristocratic mansions and old men with berets. It was a moment to live in a postcard from the past!

Life was moving at a slow pace in the old town. Those who are looking forward to have a break from the bustling city life in Istanbul might find a sense of tranquility at Eski Çasi. The town centre is a charming hub of life with a number of quaint restaurants and hotels for visitors looking for a relaxing vacation in splendid isolation. Despite its small size, Safranbolu contains many attractions to keep its visitors stimulated.

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The name of the town derives from ‘saffron‘ and the Greek word ‘polis‘ (city), since Safranbolu was a trading place and a centre for growing saffron. Used in small quantities and known for its strong aroma to spice up Mediterranean cuisine, dried saffron is considered one of the world’s finest and the most expensive spices. Over the years, Saffron vendors of Safranbolu have ventured into producing a range of Saffron products including Saffron lokum (Turkish delight made with saffron), soap and eau de cologne.

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Bread, the staff of life for Turks is baked to perfect goodness in many shapes. The irresistible aroma of hot bread which were just out from the furnace drew the hungry customers like us to the local bakery. The freshly harvested oranges wafted its citrus aroma filling our senses with vitamin C vibes. Everything felt and smelt organic here.

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Arasta bazaar is nestled in the city centre. Since it was mid-winter, the bazaar was less crowded and less congested by the human traffic.
This is a market where you could find multitude of artisan products ranging from freshly forged swords to traditional hand-woven table clothes and leather wear. Turks are known for their magnanimity and generosity towards travellers. Their faith is what animates the soul of Safranbolu. We were invited to their boutiques to have some small talk over a çai (again!) In almost every house or hut, you would see tendrils of smoke rising from the pot to hint that the water is being boiled for the next cup of tea ! Their doors are always open for the travellers with kindred spirits.
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Dolma is a vegetarian’s turkish delight! This basically consists of grape leaves stuffed with tomato, pepper, onion, zucchini, and eggplant, usually served with yoghurt or some bread. We also tried Mantí (Turksih/Armenian Ravioli) topped with a sublime sauce made of garlic, yoghurt and red pepper. If you want to satiate your challenging taste buds, I would recommend you to try the restaurants run by locals. We walked around 3 miles looking for Zencefil, one of the best eateries in Safranbolu. Although it was located off the beaten path it was worth the walk because I had the best Gözleme over there. (Turkish quesadilla with white cheese and lamb)

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Incekaya Kanyon is an old aqueduct north of Safranbolu past the village of Incekaya. It’s a wondrous sight to behold if you are not afraid of heights and deadly cliffs. The aqueduct spans a gorge and unspoilt countryside.
The scenic and serene view cascading through the Incekaya steeps create breathtaking panoramic landscapes for photographers. I wish I had a cup of Turkish tea to complement the fresh mountain air.

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“A unique feature of Safranbolu is its erratic weather patterns, with summer days often ending in thunderstorms, which envelope the sunken valley into darkness”
After witnessing a incandescent sunset at Kanyon followed by a snow shower, we went back to our lair in good spirits. The following morning at the first glimpse of dawn, We headed back to Ankara, the heart of Anatolia. It started to snow again.

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3 Comments
  1. A knight in a shining armour was here.

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    • Thanks for the visit Sifu ! 😀

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      • It was a pleasure, lady Khutumarq!

        Reply
        1

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