TURKEY – THE FACTS
Turkey has multiple identities, poised on two continents between East and West. Although in some respects Western, Turkey retains its contradictions: mosques coexist with churches, and Roman remnants crumble alongside ancient Hittite sites. Politically, modern Turkey was almost entirely the creation of one man, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Turkey is an explicitly secular republic, though the majority of its people are Muslim. It's a vast country and a great place to travel, not least because of the people, whose reputation for friendliness and hospitality is richly deserved.
The Black Sea Region: From the European border with Bulgaria to the Georgian border, dense pine forests cover the mountaintops while lush vegetation and bountiful crops grow on the lower elevations and valleys. Along the coastline, mile after mile of beautiful un- crowded beaches offer sun, swimming and relaxation. In the springtime, delicate wild-flower blossoms carpet the rolling meadows of the eastern hills. The wooden houses in fishing villages and mountain hamlets alike preserve indigenous and traditional architectural styles. The humid climate and fertile soil encourage cultivation of a variety of crops including tea, tobacco, corn and hazelnuts. The magic of such a diverse landscape proves irresistible to any friend of nature, whether hiker, mountain climber or canoe enthusiast, whether you go in by mountain bike or by jeep safari. Archaeological excavations from the early Neolithic Age settlements at Ikiztepe in Samsun Province have uncovered evidence of the region's earliest inhabitants between 7000 - 5000 BC. The Hittites, Miletians, Phrygians and, according to Homer, the Amazons all colonized parts of the coast. Alexander the Great in his world conquest also brought the region under his sovereignty. Eventually, it was incorporated into the Roman and then the Byzantine Empire. The 15th century saw the greater part of the area come under the Ottoman rule of Sultan Mehmet II.
Flora and fauna: Caucasian spruce, Nordmann fir, forest pine, deciduous oak and Asian beech all flourish throughout the region, as do rhododendrons - the white-bloomed Caucasian rhododendron occurring extensively, the purpley-violet and yellow-flowered Pontic variety forming an undergrowth beneath the beeches and pines. Both the woodland and high altitude zone are rich in wildlife, and brown bears, Caucasian chamois, bearded vultures, Caspian partridge and Caucasian black grouse are still found.
The Kackar Mountains: In the lush landscapes of north-eastern Turkey, the Kackar Mountains form the northern section of the Anatolian mountain chain. The Kackar-Kavron summit, at an altitude of 3932 meters, is the highest point in the range. Extensive glacier and water erosion have given these mountains their craggy, rugged look, and they are known for the complexity and power of the streams and rivers, which rush down to the lower altitudes. In fact, this range is the third most important glacial region in Turkey following the Agri (Ararat) and Cilo-Sat Mountains. The geological and mountaineering aspects of the Kackars contribute to their importance in Turkey's economy and tourism.
The region enjoys an almost sub-tropical climate. On the northern flank an immense variety of vegetation flourishes in the rainy climate. Up to 500 metres above sea level, tea plantations and citrus orchards cover the hillsides. Chestnut, hornbeam, beech and other large-leafed trees forest the slopes to 750 metres. Between elevations of 750-1500 metres, pines mix in with the large- leafed trees until gradually they remain the only species of tree from 1500-2000 metres. Alpine meadows and other grassy vegetation cover the ground above 2100 metres. On the southern faces of the Kackars that receive strong sunshine and less precipitation, the agriculture is based on the cultivation of fruit and vines. On the northern side, in the higher elevations, meadows of wild flowers and grasses blanket the slopes up to elevations of 2300 metres.
Trabzon: a provincial capital 346 km east of Samsun, has a long history. The earliest evidence of civilization dates to 7000 B.C. In 1200 B.C., warriors from Trabzon reportedly participated in the Trojan War. The area has been ruled by: Assyrians; Miletians; Persians; Romans; Goths; Comnenes and Ottomans. The Miletian colonists came in the 7th century BC and Alexander the Great in 334 BC. The Romans engaged in an extensive building program from 110 to 118 AD. The Goths conquered the area in 258 then came the Byzantines and the Ottomans.
Kars: standing at an altitude of 1750 meters in Eastern Anatolia, has played an important role in Turkish history and was at the centre of the Turkish-Russian War. The Russian legacy can still be seen in much of the town's architecture. The lower city unfolds at the foot of an impressive Seljuk fortress of the 12th century. Kars is particularly known for its distinctive kilims and carpets, and it retains a strong heritage of folk dancing. On the mountain pastures, villagers produce excellent Kasar cheese (yellow cheese) and delicious honey.
Ani Archaeological Site: The medieval city of Ani (Ocakli) lies mostly in ruins though impressive fortified walls still encircle the ruins of numerous churches, mosques and caravanserais. Although the ancient settlement of Ani began as an Armenian settlement, it endured waves of successive conquerors: Muslims, Byzantines, Mongols among them and it was not until the Mongol rule of Asia Minor that the city was abandoned. In 1336, the mostly Armenian citizens were forced to leave and Ani was never again inhabited.
Among the structures left behind were proto-Gothic-style churches that may predate by 125 years Europe's first Gothic churches. Replete with palaces, defensive walls, a bridge, and even an early post office (!), for centuries before its abandonment, the city had been a medieval capital of political, economic, cultural and architectural importance. The site is vulnerable to earthquakes, harsh weather and winds, and vegetation growth.
Van: the ancient Urartian capital of Tuspa tempts visitors to its location on the eastern shore of the lake. This remote but important city is set in a verdant oasis at the foot of a rocky peak. An imposing 9th century citadel overlooks the new and the old parts of town. Steps carved in the rock lead to the Urartian fortress: halfway up inscriptions in cuneiform pay homage to Xerxes. Within the fortress are several Urartian royal rock tombs. In the old city, the Ulu Mosque, Husrev Pasa Mosque, Kaya Celebi Mosque and the Ikiz Kumbets reflect Seljuk and Ottoman architectural styles. Still very much part of a traditional lifestyle, the women of Van produce beautiful kilims woven in blue, red and white patterns. Also look out for the exotic white fur Van cat, a protected animal, distinguished by one blue and one green eye.