West of Sinop, the Pontic mountains come down once again close to the sea.
The coastline is more jagged than in the east, with an endless succession of rocky coves and unspoiled beaches lining a wildly scenic (and very winding) road. The mountains are comparatively lower. They extend much further inland in three successive ranges. In antiquity the region was inhabited by the “barbarian” tribes of Paphlagonians who spoke a language of unknown origin and distinguished themselves mainly as mercenary soldiers. A number of important towns emerged in later times in the interior, mostly on the basis of Roman colonies. The coastal area was bypassed by the major currents of history.
The traveler has the choice of the coastal route to Amasra or an interior route through the interesting towns of Kastamonu and Safranbolu.
The coastline between Sinop and Amasra is one of the least frequently traveled sections of Turkey, partly
because until very recently no road existed along the shore. The area is sparsely populated. A large number of inhabitants go out to work in Germany and Austria as Gastarbeiter. In the town of Türkeli, for example, more than half of the population seems to be working in the Ruhr Basin. During the Kurban Bayram, the Muslim holiday of sacrifice, many come home on annual leave and the roads become literally jammed with convoys of fancy German carsoverladen with household goods and non-nuclear families, breaking every traffic law on the book with the excitement of homecoming.
In the rest of the year, both the roads and the beaches are quite empty, and the sun tends to shine a lot brighter than in the east. Helaldı has a quasi Mediterranean look with a pleasant beach, a rickety fish restaurant and a couple of seaside guesthouses. Abana, and especially Inebolu resume the Black Sea “look” with a wild green mountain setting and a number of fine traditional hou ses Kurucaşile fentunes the delightful beach of Kapısuyu. The interior route climbs from Sinop through the magnificent coniferous forests of the Darnaz Pass (1300 meters) to Boyabat, which was founded as the Roman colony of Pompeiopolis and has a picturesque Byzantine fortress. The road continues along an arid valley to Kastamonu, a pleasant medieval city with an attractive position on the Gökırmak River.
The name Kastamonu probably derives from Castra Comneni. It harks back to the 10th century, when the town became the feudal stronghold of the Comnene family, who would then go on to capture the Byzantine crown in the following century. Alexis Comnene’s seizure of power in 1081 was a decisive point in Byzantine history, signaling the victory of provincial military lords over the central bureaucracy. His descendants ruled in Constantinople until 118-5 and returned to
s rule in Trebizond until 1461. The t mighty fortress of their forebears dominates the city from a dizzying
height of 100 meters. It is possible to drive up most of the way through the picturesque old quarter of the tow n, where a large number of impressive 19th century mansions now serve as slum dwellings.
The town itself is replete with Turkish monuments from tile Seljuk. Isfendiyaroğlu and Ottoman periods. The Seljuks (or rather the Seljuk governor Muinuddin Süleyman Pervane. who established a semi-independent domain here under the Mongol Khans of Iran) are represented by the Atabey Mosque, dating from the 1270s. The Isfendiyar beys contributed the Ibni Neecar Mosque in 1353. The classical Ottoman stvle is exemplified in the 16th century Yakup Aga Complex which includes mosque, medrese, poorhouse and a hamam. The medieval aspect of the city is enhanced by the Karanlık Bedesten (“Dark Market”). a covered bazaar built in the 1470s and more or less unchanged since. It is located in a colorful market district that seems untouched by the 20th century.
By far the most wonderful historic sight in the Kastamonu area, however, is in the village of Kasaba, IS kilometers on the road to Daday. The allwood Mosque of Mahmut Bey is an altogether unique work of art that dates to 1366 and seems to have retained most of its original details. The mosque has an extremely cozy interior with carved-wood balconies and elaborate painted-wood decoration covering all surfaces.
A similar architectural vein is discernible in Safranbolu whose wattle and daub houses are regarded by many as the most perfect surviving specimens of 19th century Ottoman provincial architecture. The style is quite different from that of the Black Sea coast and reflects the requirements of a drier and colder climate. Most residents will graciously allow strangers to view the interior of their homes. The most striking showpiece of the town is the Asmazlar Residence which has a second-storey living room built around a
large swimming pool. The fact that the pool was built before the arrival of reinforced concrete and still does not leak after more than a hundred years constitutes a tribute to the stone-titter’s art. Nearby, the lovely 17th century arasta (market hall) once served the guiId of leather and shoe makers.
A short northward drive from Safranbolu goes via Bartın, which holds a first-rate women’s market on Tuesdays and Fridays, to rejoin the coastal road at Amasra. This spectacularly located historic port justifies an overnight stay as an apt conclusion to a Black Sea odyssey.
Amastris was founded as a colony of Miletus, and later made a capital of the Roman province of Bythinia. Pliny the Younger served here as governor. In an epistle to Emperor Trajan (98 – 117 AD) he complained about the sorry state of the city’s sewers. The stone mains tunnel that was built on the emperor’s instructions remained in use until the 1930s.
In the 14th century the town became a Genoese trading colony, and retained its unique position as an isolated outpost until finally captured by Mehmed the Conqueror in 1460. The Genoese Fortress which protected the independence of Amasra for more than a century is still the dominant feature of the port. It rises on a picture-perfect rocky peninsula at the center of a circular bay surrounded by majestic, forested mountains. The steep streets of the tiny old quarter within the fortress walls are a stroller’s delight. The impressive Fethiye Mosque is a converted Byzantine church.
Two fine beaches line the pleasant promenades on either side of the town. Several simple hotels and attractive seaside restaurants mainly serve the weekenders from Ankara. The best eateries are those reserved for various government departments whose employees spend their vacations here at taxpayer’s expense. They charge “subsidized” rates, so that a decent-looking visitor who can talk his or her way in can have a gorgeous moonlit dinner at the cost of a pot of rice and beans.