From Ankara to the Black Sea and through the Kaçkar mountains in nine days
By Heidi Trautmann
The basic idea of this trip was to get a closer view
on the history of population across a part of Turkey going back as far as 1800
BC when the Hittites settled in Anatolia, also touching the various other ethnical
and cultural influences, but also to visit one of the most beautiful mountain
areas in Europe for a long time untouched but now being the centre point of
ambitious national plans.
We started with a visit of the Museum of Anatolian
Civilisations in Ankara located in Uluş, the heart of Ankara, on one of the
many city hills, in order to get a better understanding of what we were going
to see, here the Hittite culture. The museum includes an extraordinary
collection of archaeological findings at Hattusha, the capital of the Hittite
empire which was on our route of discovery, an archaeological site discovered
in 1834 with excavations started in 1907 by the Deutsches Archaeologisches
Institut with interruptions during the two world wars.
It is quite a difference to learn about a cultural
period at the original site and stand face to face with the artefacts – meaning
literally face to face with man-size stone sculptures and half-reliefs of kings, sphinxes and lions, that were positioned
at the city gates, showing an enemy approaching the power inside the walls of
I was amazed at the skill and fine craftsmanship in works
of iron, bronze and gold, clay utensils for the house and for worshipping in
the temples, and especially the amazing bronze, even silver and clay tablets
with scripts in cuneiform writing and hieroglyphs, the most important being the
tablet in Akkadian script - a correspondence
from Egyptian Queen Nefertari (wife of Ramses II) to Hittite Queen Puduhepa
(wife of Hattusili III) written after the Kadesh
Peace Treaty - the first peace treaty in
the world history, dated 1275-1220 BC. On the height of their power, that was
around 1400 BC, the Hittites reigned over the whole of Anatolia (the old name
of Turkey) and Syria. Inner conflicts and the arrival of the sea people –
nobody really knows who they were – ended the empire which disintegrated into
several independent Neo-Hittite city states.
The museum, however, owns artefacts from periods as far
back as 8000 BC when weapons and utensils were still made from stone, later in
metal. Before the Hittites the Assyrian Trade Colonies introduced writing for
the first time. Phrygians with their mother goddess Kybele; the Lydian Period
with artefacts from the 6th century, and the classical period and
Ankara through the ages; The collection includes Greek, Hellenistic, Roman and
Byzantine Period artifacts as well but those parts of the museum were closed
for the public due to renovations.
We left Ankara the next day eastwards towards
Hattusha. What a busy city Ankara is; we had had a short tour in Uluş, the city
centre and saw the Temple of Augustus and the Column of Julian, proof of Roman
presence. Ankara was one of the knots in the tight net of roads across the
country on the way to trade stations in Persia and the Far East and therefore of
interest for nations from the west. Later, the place became rather unimportant
until Atatürk made it the capital of modern Turkey. The people of Ankara were
poor in the middle of the 20th century as I learnt from the Cypriot artists
I interviewed during the last years who came to the universities in Ankara for
The highways in Turkey are worth a special mention,
not only is the road net across the country newly renovated and well planned
but the sides of the roads are pleasant to look at with plant designs and
flower patterns, hardly ever did we see neglected areas or littering. The doing
of today’s environmental politics, also the many social constructions to
replace the poor areas. It takes no wonder that Turkey’s leader Erdoğan has his
fans among the poor and working class people.
Two and a half hours away we arrive at the capital of
times past at least what is left of it. A wide valley, bleak hills around, no
trees, although it is said that there were forests in the Hittite times because
they used wood for the infrastructure of their houses. At the lower entrance to
the city some wall towers are reconstructed the old way, the bottom part in
stone and air dried mud tiles were used for the walls and the roof. Thousands
of these bricks were fabricated by hand but cheap labour was available in those
days and there were most certainly slaves brought home from the expeditions of
From the very top where the King’s castle is located
with a governing view of the entire city plan we can overlook the lower and
upper city and the temple area, all well designed with water and waste water
channel systems, vaults for the grain. The city was surrounded by strong walls
and tunnels of 80 m length ran through them as a sort of escape to the outside
world, the tunnel built of rough stones in the form of a triangle, so the walls
could not collapse, we went through one; just imagine, these tunnels are three
thousand years old!
The original people that lived there were the Hattis.
The Hittites, an Indo-European people from the Pontic Steppe, today Ukraine, it
is said, mixed with them, obviously without any problems. The Hittites must
have been good craftsmen but also talented trade people; for example they
delivered the chariots, they were known for, as far as to Egypt as is described
in wall paintings and reliefs and contracts written on wooden, clay or metal
The early people of our globe believed in nature and
created gods and goddesses around the vital things in their lives. There is the
Hittite sanctuary not far away in Yazilkaya, also a UNESCO world heritage,
within a formation of steep rocks with reliefs of them on its walls.
After the Hittite empire had collapsed around 1200 BC,
the city lost its significance and people left. For hundreds of years it was a
desolate place. Traces of other tribes from the north were found, then it
became part of the Phrygian Empire, proof of that was found in constructions added
in Phrygian style and also a statue of Kybele the mother goddess was found in
the King’s castle. The kings of the Phrygians, several by the name of Midas
were famous, one, so it was said in legends, had the golden touch, i.e.
everything he touched was transformed into gold; the other who had his seat in
Kolchis, father of Medea, owned the legendary Golden Fleece, Jason, the
Argonaut, was out to steal. Oh, there were many legends spun and heroes and
young people wanting to be one, who had heard about them, left home to gain
fame and riches.
Thus people came and went, even the Persians who left
their traces, also the Celts who had come from Middle Europe, until Alexander
the Great came and with him the Hellenistic time began: Shortly before the new
Christian era the Romans took over, ruins of dwellings, graves and road
construction were found.
In the 11th century the Byzantines started
to restore some of the city and built a church, rests of it can still be seen.
These lost their power over a wide part of Anatolia to the Seljuks. From that
time on the place was forgotten but rediscovered in 1834.
At the end of the 11th century the Ottomans
flooded into Turkey, conquering in their time vast stretches of Europe and the
Middle East with Cyprus in 1571, finishing with Byzantine empire whose royal
families fled to the Black Sea and established their refuge and exile empire in
Full with impressions of Hittite culture and its antecedents
and successors we continued our trip towards the coast of the Black Sea where
we turned off again into the mountains along the river Yeşilırmak, one of the
many rivers pouring their mountain water into the Black Sea, towards Amasya, a city of some fame and important
past. Just beyond the rock tombs of the ancient Pontus kings on the banks of
the same river we found our small hotel, a boutique hotel, wow.
In part II, I will continue with Amasya and its rich
history, famous for its delicious apples; a visit to the charming old city of
Tokat; the Hagia Sofia in Trabzon/Trapezunt, once the capital of the Byzantine
exile empire; the Sumela Monastery, important pilgrimage place to both
Christians and Muslims. Visiting some old Georgian churches we come through the
fascinating Kaçkar mountains with lots of stories to tell.
Responsible for the planning and organisation: http://www.zypernreisen.com/en/index.htm
For more photos please refer to my website www.heiditrautmann.com