Amasya – Beautiful, Historic, Captivating

TARDISAnother tale from the log book of the ‘Tardis’; for those who don’t know this amazing machine its name stands for TimeAndRelativeDimensionInSpace. Tardis is a time and dimension machine that appears (literally) for all intents and purpose to be a British Police Call Box circa 1950 – appearances, however, can be very deceptive – but that’s another story.

It is June 2004 as we materialise . . and so to Amasya, where the Sultans of old would send their eldest sons to learn the ropes of state-craft.

J had got some info on a pansion that was a restored Armenian merchant’s house, and this ismodern bathroom in the cupboard old Armenian house Amasya Turkey where we are. IT IS BEAUTIFUL! My dream home. The bathroom is through one of the wonderfully carved cupboard doors. Honestly! And it is totally modern and functional. We will be exploring the sites tomorrow; meanwhile we both felt a desperate need for a cold beer. That took some finding, I can tell you. Nowhere but nowhere to sit down with a frosted glass of the amber nectar could we find. Began to think the population was made up of Seventh Day Adventists or Wesleyans! Then we discovered a discreet little place where the owner slipped us a pack of five under the counter wrapped in two black plastic bags. Whew! Saved.

circumcision in TurkeyAs we were making our way back to the pansion, we were stopped by what sounded like the Keystone Cops’ sirens. Loads of them! Along came the motorcycle police escorting a convoy led by one of those Disney type trains you see at Margate or Southend. It was full to the brim with little Turks off to become big Turks following some genital mutilation courtesy of Blue Gillette! There must have been at least a hundred or more. All dressed up as little soldiers in blue or white uniforms trimmed with white fur. I expect the fur was to wrap around their . . . Don’t go there, Alan! They were followed by busses crammed full of the proud family members . . . proud family members? Sorry, no pun intended. I bet the young girls were glad they were girls, even if they will have to work all day whilst their old fellows, (Oh dear!) . . are down the coffee house playing cards.

Amasya is a very nice place. The setting is quite something. Originally, the whole town would have fitted into the gorge on either side of the river. Now, of course, it’s spreading itself out over what would have been farmland at either end. It still has a cozy feel to it, especially here in the original bit that contains the old houses, mosques, hamams, etc.

We didn’t wake up until eight this morning after our first night in this lovely house. It felt like bedroom merchants house in Amasya Turkeyemerging into a different world – a sort of time warp thing. The room was just catching the sun, which was filtered through the muslin curtains (original copies). It was cool in the room; as is the whole house, no doubt due to the high ceilings and non-concrete construction. That’s something I love about these old houses, the proportions are so . . civilised.

Breakfast in the courtyard, surrounded by the bric-a-brac from years of collecting by the owner. The house is full of old stuff too; it really is a joy to be here.

J and I began our exploration of the town with a wander through the old Ottoman houses on the North side of the river. Some restored; some badly decayed and derelict and a dreamer’s delight. What I could do with one of those, I mean, look at the setting, look at the size of the gardens, look at the potential, look at the cost! Where’s the lottery ticket seller? Some have been beautifully restored, and one is open as a museum house. It is mouth-wateringly gorgeous (in my opinion). They all sit under the cliff face where the tombs of the Pontic kings are carved out of the rock. A bit like Dalyan, just a thousand or so years older. Then on to the town museum, described in our really ancient Lonely Planet guide as a gem amongst provincial museums; and so it proved.

Amasya mummyWe’d almost finished when the cashier came rushing up, pointing at her watch and saying ‘Time, time!’ In Turkish, you understand. We felt inclined to hang it out, but then if I was a poorly paid civil servant, wanting to go to lunch, I’d want the bloody punters to go too! You can still go into the museum gardens, we were told, and as these contain a mausoleum with five desiccated mummies of Mongol big-wigs, we thought we were doing good – getting real value out of our 70p admission fee! We hadn’t reckoned with the other member of the museum staff who wanted his lunch too. Selfish bastard!

We did get to see the mummies though; and J got to comment on the enormous scrotum of the Mongol governor of Amasya circa 1274 AD!! So I went to have a look at his concubine’s . . . Nothing to write home about, bit dried up after eight hundred years!

We had a tasty lunch at a locanta in an old Han which has fallen into disrepair. old medrese AmasyaThe Han is now occupied by dozens of metal-bashers turning out all sorts of stuff, from scythes to samovars. Then a stroll to an old medrese or religious seminary with a splendid entrance way that is now used as a conservatoire for the town and province. We were invited to sit and rest and enjoy an impromptu music performance. There was also a marbling artist (ebru) working and displaying her stuff. As we were leaving we were grabbed and taken to a locked room to see their collection of old musical instruments. Being obvious foreigners has its advantages!

Next was the tortuous drive up to the castle that overlooks the town. Once we’d left the car, I was glad to find my heart was still in good nick as we made the final scramble over rocks and scree to the top. What a view!

Must just go back in time to when we’d just left the museum. We were walking along the street when this smiling young man came up to us, and in very broken English, seemed to indicate that he knew us. We were a bit nonplussed. We tried to find out where we’d met, without success. Then he said ‘English, English?’, we agreed that was what we were. ’I love you!’ he said, clasping me to his bosom. ‘I hope not’ said I, ‘this sort of thing is not done in public!’ His eyes opened wide and he hurried away. Was it something I said?

Amasya at nightOur evening meal was at the Town Club overlooking the river, where we were a bit of an attraction. At one point all of the staff were hovering around our table as we set about ordering our meal of river catfish (delicious) and the only bottle of wine in the house (TL28,000,000 – 2004, remember). Total bill . . TL51,000,000 which means the meal was a damn sight less than the bottle – mind you, it was really not a bad drop of stuff!

This has been an enjoyable couple of days out of our journey to Erzurum. We’ve hit the town at a good time as it’s their festival week, which commemorates a speech that Ataturk made here that proclaimed the campaign for the foundation of the Republic. There’s music and mass circumcisions to be enjoyed, and after our meal we were drawn by the wonderful wail of the zourna to the main square. It was great; wild Turkish folk music and the local men strutting their stuff, and do they know how to strut! A fitting close to our first visit to this lovely town of Amasya.

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü


Hattuşuş – Capital of the Hittite Empire

Here we are, embarking on another journey through time, aboard the ‘Tardis’. On this adventure we head back to 2004 and a trip J and I made to Erzurum Province. One of the places we dipped into on route was at Boğazkale, site of the ancient Hittite capital of Hattuşuş. Join us as we wander around this amazing place . .

HattusasWe arrived at the site pretty early in the morning – so early, in fact, that the guardian was nowhere to be seen. As the gates were open we drove in and followed the road as it curved around and climbed the hill that dominates the remains of the city. The view from the top puts the size of the place into perspective – it is vast! It also meant that we had the pleasure of watching the poor guardian, who had seen us enter whilst still eating his breakfast, racing along the roads to try and find us and ensure we paid the entrance fee.

The Hittite Empire once challenged both the Assyrian and Egyptian empires, controlling huge Hattusas postern tunnelareas of Anatolia and northern Syria; and the scale of their capital city is awe inspiring. Huge earthworks, faced with millions of cut stone blocks, stretch for about 5 miles and literally changed the landscape! (A bit like Kent after the Channel Tunnel went through!) Originally eight tunnels or posterns, ranging from 70-120mts in length, led through this massive fortification. These days only one is accessible and walking through the narrow, triangular, dry-stone construction left us very aware of all the tons of ramparts above us.

Hattusas Lion GateAt the top is the much-photographed Lion Gate; what you see today is a reproduction, the original being inAnkara. The site really is ‘monumental’ with amazing reliefs of gods and kings and fantasmagorical beasts. The place was known as the City of a Thousand Gods for a good reason!

An additional bonus for me was that our visit was in Spring forCentral Anatoliaand the whole site, not to mention all the roadside verges, in fact everywhere is a botanist’s wet dream come true. I could have spent days just taking pics of flowers, so many and so beautiful! Another time.

Hittite War GodsA quick drive along the processional way from Hattuşuş and we were at the sacred site of Yazilikaya where two small ravines contain the pantheon or temple site that has relief carvings of all (it is claimed) of the Hittite gods and goddesses. Here we were accosted by the inevitable ‘student of history who just happens to be staying with his brother who carves stone replicas, but didn’t want any money’ chap. He seemed pretty disappointed when his job description was proved correct!

Then we were off to the place described as the most important Hittite site – Alacahöyük. Hittite gold treasureAmazing finds were made here back in the 1930s when a bunch of royal burial chambers were excavated.You’d have to go to Ankara to see real things, but we were told that the site museum contained loads of other stuff as well as very convincing replicas of the original finds. The site is a bit of a detour to get to along pretty duff roads, so you can imagine our delight to find that the place had been closed since 2001 for ‘restoration’. Restoration my arse! I was pretty miffed to be charged TL4 million (2004, remember those days?) to view some supposed Winged Lions etc that turned out to be made of crumbling concrete!! The highlight of the site was a rusty old miner’s tilting trolly on six feet of rusting track! Burası Türkiye! This is Turkey!

As we were passing through Çorum we decided to stop off at their local museum. What a little gem! More than made up for the earlier disappointment at Alacahöyük.

Hattusus Massive Ramparts and lower Postern Gate
Hattusus Massive Ramparts and lower Postern Gate

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü


Aezani – The Temple of Zeus and a ‘Lost World’

I suspect that most people drive through Çavdarhisar and barely notice; it is, after all, a pretty nondescript dot on the map on the road to or from Kütahya about 60km southwest of that town. If you take the time, turn off the main road, and follow the signs for about 1 km you’ll arrive at the site of the Roman city of Aezani.


Aezani is spread out over a vast area each side of the road, but it is the Temple of Zeus built by Hadrian in 125 AD that dominates the site. Said to be the finest surviving example this temple to the ‘God of Gods’ is truly impressive with an immense underground vault or sanctuary dedicated to Cybele whose well preserved bust stands at the foot of the temple mound.

Imposing as Aezani is, it is not what fascinates me and draws me back from time to time. My interest lies in the ‘village’ of Çavdarhisar that lies between the main road and the historic site. As you arrive at the site, roads either side of the river lead to a ‘lost world’ of village life and scenes – rather than try and describe this world to you I’ll let my inadequate views through my battered old SLR lead you into this world. Perhaps, like me, you will be drawn back again and again . .

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü


window detail

Goosey Goosey Gander . .
the yard

their life in ruins . .
old Roman bridge
mosaic floor found under a cow shed in village
sarcophagous water trough
ruins from ruins


İznik; Tiles and Tranquility

The tourism Mecca of Dalyan lies just 10 minutes down the road from Okçular. Dalyan is steeped in history and is set on a canvas of outstanding natural beauty with a beautiful lake on its doorstep.

İznik lies just south of İstanbul, about 2 days drive from Okçular (we always take the scenic route over the mountains). İznik too is steeped in history and sits at the edge of a large and beautiful lake.

There the similarities end; Dalyan town itself is bereft of charm; there is little to appeal to the eye with concrete villas set in their 500 cubic metre plots. The tea garden trees are dying, everywhere is paved with blocks that radiate the sun’s heat and graceful, old eucalyptus trees, which may not have been native but gave welcome dappled shade and ‘texture’ to the town centre were cut down and ghastly, out of place palm were planted.

In contrast, İznik feels and looks like a Turkish town; İznik has retained its trees and İznik has not fallen into the trap of paving everything in sight. The promenade area is grassed with little man-made promontaries and islands reaching into the lake. The whole feel of the town is of quiet gentility.

J and I have just returned from a trip to the province of Karabük in the north of the country. On the way home we diverted to spend a little time in İznik and we were both taken with the place – it is a really nice town.

Originally named Nicaea by the Greeks, it served as the interim capital city of the Byzantine Empire between 1204 and 1261, following the 4th Crusade in 1204, until the recapture of Constantinople by the Byzantines in 1261. Much of the original defensive walls still stand along with 2 imposing gates. The city and national authorities are carrying out restorations of old mosques, churches and hamams to the highest aesthetic standards using real craftsmen to do the jobs.

With the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the town lost a great degree of its importance, but later became a major centre with the creation of a local faïence pottery-making industry in the 17th century (known as the İznik Çini, Çin meaning China in Turkish – Chinese porcelain stood in great favour with the Sultans.) İznik tiles were used to decorate many of the mosques in İstanbul designed by Mimar Sinan. Attempts to recreate the perfection and colours of the early pottery glazes have proved elusive. As an aside, one of my prized possessions is an original İznik bowl; although slightly chipped the (hazardous) cobalt blue of the glaze can be found in no pieces other than these originals.

I like İznik; it makes a great staging post for exploring the area or as a stop-over to or from İstanbul. Its true value is as a gentle, relaxing place to spend time replenishing the inner self, wandering back streets, searching out the surprises (see below) and enjoying the finest catfish kebap to be found anywhere in Turkey.

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

old hamam restoration

the quality of restoration is oustanding

the mighty northern Istanbul gate

the scary sight that awaits those entering the Istanbul gate

would you want to mix it with these jokers?

the southern gate

. . can you work out what this is?

admit it, you’re amazed to see it’s an electricity sub-station

the back view of the triumphal march

part of the extensive defenses

. . . and yet more


The South East; the story begins

I’ve already said that this blog will be a bit like tripping in the ‘Tardis’; time and space (and sometimes a few memories) warped as we zip backwards and forwards. Here we go on the first of those journeys; back two years to April 2009 . . .

So, here we are; April 1st and day 3 of this trip. We’ve arrived in Mardin, our base for the next couple of days. The town is quite a sight as you drive in perched, as it is, high on its pinnacle of rock (1325 mts) and crowned by its mighty fortress. The fortress would be a great place to view the surrounding countryside; except you can’t because the military use the place to keep an eye on us (and the Syrians who are just a few miles away!).

We’ve found one of those wonderful butik, as we say in Turkey, hotels; this one has also had Prince Charles as a guest but that hasn’t stopped the fixtures falling off the walls or the shower from flooding the toilet/bathroom! The building is a really nice restoration of a very typical Mardin stone house; all tunnels, arched ceilings and cast iron window grills. The porter is an enormously tall fellow whose “uniform” is the local men’s fashion – baggy trousers that friend Gordon once irreverently described as . . .  (nope, I’m not going there!), waistcoat with the whole topped off with one of those very Turkish peaked caps. And the place has wi-fi!

This evening we had an aimless wander about, as you do when you’re a tourist, “Ohhing” and “Ahhing” at the sights and views and attracting the attention of all the school kids who want to practice their English. Later, sitting in a tea garden taking in the

magical minaret

view towards Syria through the dust clouds and watching the antics of the Tumbler Pigeons and thousands of swallows as the sun set behind one of the most beautiful carved stone minarets you can imagine was memorable.

Janet’s just sent for the man to come and mop out the toilet!

Turkey is the Land of Unbelievable Coincidences, but let’s see if you can top this; on our wander about we were looking for a likely place to eat and there was another wonderful restoration that was a hotel that advertised its restaurant. We decided to give it a whirl and were led down steps and along (arched) passageways to the restaurant that was in what was probably the cellars of the old house – very tasteful, very nice! Our young waiter

who's following whom?

settled us in and then summoned his colleague who could speak English. He, of course, wanted to know where we came from, “Muğla” said we, “do you know it?” “Of course,” said he “where in Muğla?” “Near Ortaca, do you know Ortaca?” “Of course,” said he “I worked at the Ley Ley restaurant, do you know it?” Can you believe this? I’m not making it up! We’ve just traveled 1340 odd kilometers, picked a restaurant at random and the waiter (eventually) remembers me as the guy who spends 2/3rds of his life hunched over his computer using the Ley Ley Restaurant’s free wi-fi! Naughty weekend? Forget it!

Anyway, back to the bit about getting here; the first stage was to Alanya where we stayed in a modern hotel overlooking the harbour in the old part of town. Modern Alanya is ghastly but the old part around the castle is much more attractive. We had hoped to stay at a restoration up in the castle but that place wasn’t open and didn’t look as though it would. A great shame as it really is grand up there. Day two found us in Gaziantep having driven some of the finest coastal cum mountain roads in Turkey; the views were stunning! It made crawling along behind giant trucks a real pleasure. Eventually we forsook the normal roads for the motorway (the object being to get over here reasonably quickly and then do the meandering on the way back). For those of you not familiar with Turkish Otoyols let me tell you, they are fantastic! I mean really fantastic!They are engineering marvels of the highest order; they are cheap to use and they are largely empty – so empty that one

a crowded motorway in SW Turkey

wonders what induces anyone to continue building them. Be that as it may, they are a drivers delight although sharp wits and constant concentration are required. Why is that, I hear you ask, if they do be empty? Well, it goes like this; you are bombing along for mile after empty mile at a legal 120 or so kph. In the distance you perceive a couple of trucks, you move into the middle lane in good time. Just as you come up to the lumbering behemoths the back one pulls out, without warning, to overtake. Now, no truck driver in Turkey worth his salt is going to take up just one lane and no Turk with Istanbul number plates on his black Merc or BMW is going to drop his speed from 200+kph as he screams up the outside lane; these guys know that putting their headlights on clears any passage, they certainly cleared mine a few times I can tell you!

And so here we are, back where I started; tomorrow the pace of things moves down a gear or two. We will probably take a run over to Hasankeyf which is about two hours from here in a roughly Northeasterly direction and lies on the banks of the mighty Euphrates River – I’ll tell you about that another day.


One thing I can say about this “Butik Otel”, the bed is very nice; I’m not sure what Janet thinks yet, she’s still waiting for the warm water to come through for her shower! In the two previous places the beds were like lying on planks and watching me getting out of them in the morning was (Janet is happy this morning; she’s just done a rendition of “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life – de dum – de dum de dum de dum”) Geriatric Ward the Sequel!

Gaziantep old town is very nice and well worth a bit more time; the magnificent castle was closed because of the renovations which are on a vast scale and very well carried out. All around the castle the area has been restored (there’s still much to do) and little businesses

Usta Metal-Basher