Wow, this section was really fun. The scenery wasn’t great, it was fairly windy and too hot, but the people were wonderful, the apricots were plentiful and tasty, there were things to see, and the mosques, well, the mosques were perhaps the most interesting I’ve seen in Turkey.
The route started in northern Adana (Tufanbeyli İlçesi), passed through Kayseri (Sarız İlçesi), (Kahraman) Maraş (Afşin and Elbistan İlçeleri), Malatya (Darende and Kuluncak İlçeleri), before ending up in Sivas (Kangal and Divriği İlçeleri). So that’s five provinces (İl) and eight districts (ilçe). I’m guessing it’s more distance than I covered in any other week of this tour (so far!).
Here’s a sample of the scenery:
You’ve been warned.
The first tourist site was the Roman city of Comana in Şarköy, not far from Tufanbeyli. I was offered tea at the village entrance, turned it down, but was grateful for the rather detailed directions of how to find the sites around town. They’re a bit spread out, a bit hidden, and there are no signs. First, however, I thought the village store was in a beautiful building:
The Roman hamam was less impressive:
and there wasn’t much left of the theatre either:
Up the hill a little was quite a gate, but it was the only thing standing.
The large paving stones and huge diameter pedestal made me wonder if there wasn’t a large temple here. All wikipedia says is that it’s a “a fine Roman doorway” and “the exact site of the great temple has not been satisfactorily identified”.
The reason Şarköy is on tourists’ radar is a bit further up the hill, the Şar Kırık Kilisesi (a 4th century Roman church). The most impressive bit is the western face so if you’re there first thing in the morning like I was, well, it’s a bit hard to get good photos.
Not bad for a forgotten village.
The next day it was the Romans again with Hurman Kalesi, guarding the confluence and crossing of two creeks. There’s a church up in the castle as well.
I followed one of the streams up a pretty valley to Dokuztay, crossed the creek, and started climbing for real.
Before long I was mostly above the trees and into the shadeless heat. In Büyüktatlı I was given a cold drink. Further on in Örenli I stopped to rest in the shade of the trees in someone’s yard. Serdal, about to start high school, came out, and we had a good conversation. He was a bright kid who listened well. His mother wouldn’t let me go without giving me yufka. Yufka is a popular Anatolian village flat bread, usually with no yeast. It lasts a long time. Many households keep a stack like this:
The road still climbed, was kind of high, kind of rocky (just like Serdal had warned me), and kind of remote, crossing from Afşin to Elbistan (both in Maraş, famous throughout Turkey for Maraş ice cream). This is the road:
There had been no traffic at all, and then a small truck/van came. It was İlyas from Afşin selling (or in this case giving away to me) Maraş ice cream! Unbelievable.
I felt like my smile was even bigger than İlyas’!
This area was dry, rocky, and desolate, and then I came across a couple families who had run out of gas. Yikes, it was hot and dry. I told them where I had seen water.
In Kurudere, a tiny village of shepherds, a couple was hauling milk up the hill. I asked about buying cheese, but they insisted on giving me some (partly because I insisted I could only take about 200g; it spoils too quickly in the heat) — yufka too.
A 600m descent brought me to another of Turkey’s Disneylandesque waterfall attractions, Günpınar Şelalesi, complete with colorful letters reminding me that I had made it to Darende İlçesi. The annoying, bored kids and the stupid conversation were in sharp contrast to Serdal up in Örenli. Clearly that stop didn’t work out as well as it could have.
Darende is in Malatya, and if you’ve heard one word about Malatya, well, it’s “apricots”. Turkey grows over 20% of the world’s apricots (by far more than any other country), and the production is centered around Malatya. Almost as soon as I crossed into Malatya I started seeing apricot orchards. I bought a bag of dried apricots on the side of the road on the way up to the waterfall. For days I stopped at many trees and ate fresh ones, as many as I wanted, almost whenever I wanted. I felt a little bad about nicking the drying ones because a bit more effort (by someone who makes their living this way) had been expended, but sometimes they were too tasty to resist.
In Karaoğuz I had a late lunch with the Güleç family, whose multiple generations work at the Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı) in İstanbul. They were in their village for the holiday.
It ended up being dinner for me.
In addition to apricots Darende is also known for its kerpiç (adobe) architecture. I started seeing it in Karaoğuz:
It continued the next morning in Balaban where a couple invited me for breakfast of menemen, tea, bread, tomatoes, cucumbers from the garden, cheese, olives (plus cheese and yufka to go!):
As Pat Yale points out, in Balaban one could be forgiven for thinking they were in Yazd (conspicuously minus the badgirs). Maybe Rayen is a better comparison? Mom, Dad, Megan — comments?
The first photo (above) is Balaban, the second Rayen.
The adobe continued in Irmaklı where I had to really insist to turn down breakfast since I had just eaten in Balaban.
I reached Darende on the first day of the four-day Kurban Bayramı holiday. That’s when people kill a cow or sheep or goat and share the meat with family, friends, and people in need. For me I suppose the highlight of the day was swimming in the pool at the Somuncu Baba memorial complex.
I passed a couple restored 18th century Ottoman bridges on the way into town.
The canyons at Somuncu Baba are certainly pretty, and the pool taking advantage of the cool natural spring water is clean and tastefully done.
For me, that was perhaps a better way to celebrate the first day of the holiday than slaughtering an animal.
I stopped quickly at another tomb complex on the way out of Darende, this one the Hasan Gazi Türbesi.
I climbed out of town that evening and found what ended up being a very windy campsite, so windy that my tent poles collapsed. I’ve never had that happen before. I changed the orientation of the tent and added the fly (which allows for five additional stake points on the upwind side) and survived the night. The tent appears to be undamaged.
The first thing I did on the first day of August in Turkey was put on my down jacket and take a selfie!
Two hours later (it heats up quickly when the sun comes up), as I was pedaling uphill, three guys from Malatya stopped and gave me a cold beer. So that’s how I ended up celebrating the second day of the holiday with an 8am beer!
In Ayvalı wanting to take advantage of the cooler morning weather I turned down a couple offers of breakfasts, but by noon I found myself at Alper’s house for a lunch of kurban eti (meat from the previous day’s sacrificed sheep), yufka, tomatoes, cheese, and watermelon.
His wasn’t the only house where I saw both adobe construction and drying apricots.
There’s an active creative artist in the village of Konaktepe. The mural at the village fountain was my favorite:
From here I guess you could say I was getting anxious to get to Divriği. That was my excuse for turning down lunch with Yücel in Akçamağara (that and I had earlier accepted a bunch of lunch supplies from a couple guys in a truck when I mentioned I hadn’t been able to find a store).
Coasting toward Divriği the next day an old woman stopped me and gave me a bunch of apples she had picked that morning on the way home from visiting her husband’s grave.
I know, I know, what about the mosques? you’re wondering. Don’t worry, saving the best for last, I think.
Medişeyh Mosque and grave (türbe) looks like what?, a Luigi Manini castle?
Darende’s Çarşı Camii is perhaps not dissimilar to Medişeyh? Or perhaps more like Portugal’s (since we’re on the theme) monastery cloisters?
Darende’s Ulu Camii (Selçuk style) looks like a warehouse (and even more like a warehouse from the inside!):
There’s an unusual roof in the mosque at the Somuncu Baba Complex:
İğdelidere’s mosque: Chinese pagoda style?
Divriği has at least three mosques with wooden minarets.
The star, however, has to be the Şeyh Abdurrahman Erzincanı Camii in Balaban. It supposedly has five sides, representing the five pillars of Islam, but it’s hard to tell when you’re there.
In the inside the mihrab and minbar are combined into one piece. Have you ever seen that before?!
It also has an interesting ceiling:
Well, I’m sure no one is quite so excited about all that as I am.
Very nice! Great as always.
Brian, your blogs are fabulous and this one made me cry. I so miss the warmth and hospitality and cultural diversity and beautiful scenery (and food!) of Turkey and other places in your part of the world that are off limits to us pariah Americans who can’t seem to get our own affairs in order. Our California and Utah/Nevada road trips have been wonderful, but fires and smoke have even put the kabash on those now. We just have to remind ourselves how lucky we were to live in all those exotic places around the world where we could get out and explore amazing spots on our weekends, holidays, and vacations without going far, kind of like you are doing now. We all are so very fortunate! Big hugs and lots of love, Jennie
Yes, I also keep thinking about how fortunate we are. It’s been distressing to read that covid 19 has put the brakes on and even reversed the tremendous success that the world has had in pulling people out of extreme poverty in the last few decades. This pandemic is particularly devastating for the world’s most vulnerable people who can normally rely on neighbors, fellow villagers, or relatives in a distant city for help in a crisis. This crisis, however, affects everyone.
Thank you for the great comments.
A great post, lovely pictures, keep pedalling man!
Kerem, from Istanbul