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Amasya, Tokat and Merzifon were once on the trade routes to China, centres of scholarship and commerce. Today they are secluded enclaves of traditional pleasures. John Carswell enjoys a feast of delicate architecture and heady wines. Photographs by Simon Upton
… It was half-past two, and 500 miles later, when we finally reached Amasya. We were on a mission to rediscover this capital of the Pontic kings, once one of Turkey’s most royal and scholarly towns, and Tokat, its more commercial equivalent. I had never been so far east in Turkey, and had a simple curiosity about these two famous places.
Amasya, birthplace in 60BC of the geographer Strabo, was visited by Ibn Battuta, Evliya Çelebi and other famous travellers. It has mirrored all the great events that have taken place in Anatolia, from Alexander’s progress to the east, to the successive occupations of the town: Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk, Mongol, Ilkhanid and finally Ottoman. It was in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, under the Ottomans, that it was most important, as a school for princes. Many future sultans received their early training in statecraft by serving as governors of Amasya, inviting a splendid array of artists, artisans and poets to their court. Much later, on June 22, 1919, it was here that Atatürk made his famous Amasya Declaration, announcing the determination of the nation to create a new democratic Republic of Turkey.
Hidden among the concrete blocks of Teşvikiye is a magnificent mansion riddled with mystery. Masquerading as a Venetian palazzo, Tozan House has disappearing passages, secret stairs and eccentricities it shares with its creator
When Mike Read, the plant conservation officer for Fauna and Flora International (FFI), uncovered a large illegal trade in wild bulbs from Turkey in the 1980s, he and his colleagues were greatly concerned…
The finest school of sculpture in all antiquity was in Aphrodisias. Above the valleys of the Meander in Turkey’s Aegean hinterland, this favourite city of the Emperor Augustus remained largely unknown until the photographer Ara Güler brought it to the attention of the Princeton scholar Kenan T Erim in 1959. Here Ara Güler returns to the city and John Julius Norwich recalls Professor Erim and his first impressions of the sculptures that took his breath away.
The Mosque of Esrefoğlu in Beyşehır, is one of the most beautiful in Anatolia. Built in 1298, it recalls earlier Central Asian traditions. Wooden columns with carved capitals support the splendid roof.
Tracing the history of this beautiful fruit is like reading a fairy tale. It spans continents and cultures like no other fruit, from its presumed natural habitat in the foothills of the Himalayas to the scented paradise gardens of the eastern Mediterranean and the orange groves of California.
More cookery features
The bunch of Narince grapes Ali Riza Diren is holding in his Anatolian vineyard (illustrated in this vintage issue of Cornucopia) is the raw material of a well kept secret. Tokat’s is an ancient wine, and its production was revived by Ali Riza’s father, to the delight of ambassadors and the approval of a Sotheby’s connoisseur.
High on the central Anatolian plateau, the craggy undulations of Cappadocia’s volcanic landscape conceal a silent world: countless Byzantine sancturies and cathedrals lovingly hollowed from the rock. David Barchard finds two valleys undisturbed since the Dark Ages. Photographs by Sigurd Kranendonk
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