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Step off the train at Sapanca, only an hour from Istanbul, and you step unexpectedly into eastern Black Sea life, for its inhabitants came here a century ago from the Caucasus. Despite its position on a major route, travelled by all the charcters of Turkey’s history, this small town remains sublimely innocent of its importance. David Barchard wonders why. Photographs by Jean Marie del Moral
A 12-page feature:
Until the motorway arrived Sapanca, a town of 14,000 souls 120 kilometres east of Istanbul, nestling beside the lake which shares its name, was just a place people glimpsed as they passed by on journeys elsewhere. Much to the surprise, and by no means to the delight, of local people, Sapanca is ending the twentieth century as one of the most chic places to have a holiday home if you live and work in Istanbul.
These daily travellers of the 1990s are following an extremely venerated tradition as they eat their boiled eggs and olives. For a great Roman road east also passed near Sapanca before plunging into the sparsely inhabited wooded hills and valleys which stretch most of the way to Ankara. The old road is still locally known as the Bağdat Yolu – the Turkish countryman’s romantic name for the ancient route, and indeed it is the “Way”, for the Baghdad Railroad later followed much the same course. The list of people who must have passed through Sapanca and along its lakeside reads like a roll-call across the centuries.
All the great emperors and sultans– Hadrian, Caracalla, Julian, Theodosius, Justinian, Heraclius, Osman I, founder of the Ottoman dynasty, and Mehmet the Conqueror – must have taken this route.
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.
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.
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. Patrica Daunt visits one family and shares their memories of a Chekovian rural life.
Also see Cornucopia 34, Land of a Thousand Mansions
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