In the rain forests of Turkey’s Black Sea Mountains, where jackals howl and the River Firtina (the Storm) crashes towards the Black Sea, live the Hemşinli people, who were here when Jason came in search of the Golden Fleece. In more recent years they prospered as bakers and restaurateurs in Tsarist Russia, returning to their beautiful, haunting country houses hidden in the hills east of Trabzon. Patricia Daunt visits one family and shares their memories of a Chekhovian rural life. Photographs by Simon Upton
Even before Jason led his band of heroes along the shores of the Black Sea – then known as the Euxine – to fetch the Golden Fleece from the foot of Mount Caucasus, the Hemşinli inhabited the rainforests in the surrounding valleys of the Kaçkar Mountains. The pragmatic Hemşinli are a singular race even by Black Sea standards. Isolated in remote, narrow valleys, they have preserved their own language, dress and customs.
The heartland of the Hemşinli is the Fırtına Valley, the “Storm” valley now known as the Büyükdere, one of the most beautiful places in the world. This is a wild and we land of thundering rivers and misty landscapes, where jackals howl unceasingly and beehives are hidden high in the trees out of reach of the honey-loving bears.
Beyond the towering Black Sea Mountains lies a hidden landscape rich with forgotten medieval churches. For centuries they were ignored, their ancient glories allowed to crumble to dust. Before new roads reached the Coruh Valley, Brian Sewell had to enlist the help of shepherds on his quest to find these forerunners of Romanesque and Gothic architecture.
Outside the seraglio, away from the discreet charm of the bourgeoisie, the Turkish interior is a source of inspiration for modern designers: ergonomic, minimalist, refreshingly white-washed.