The Greeks called it the Iris. Until the very end of this tour shortly before getting to (spoiler) Ferda’s village in Sungurlu, I was pedaling in the Yeşilırmak drainage basin. Tokat and Amasya (future posts) are both on the Yeşilırmak. Niksar is just above the Kelkit Çayı, the Yeşilırmak’s longest tributary.
This was supposed to be Mehmet’s first self-supported bicycle tour. However, it was not to be. We made the 18-hour (bus) journey from Antalya to Çarşamba together and started pedaling from there, not far from the Black Sea and the mouth of the Yeşilırmak.
Before leaving Çarşamba tourists should be sure to visit Göğceli Camii, perhaps Turkey’s oldest wooden mosque, built in 1206 according to US dendrochronologist P. I. Kuniholm.
For comparison the temples at Nara (future post?), some of the oldest wooden buildings in the world, were built about 500 years earlier. As usual there’s been restoration (in 2007 in this case), and it’s hard to know what is original.
Mehmet and I camped next to the abandoned school in Biçme that night,
and it was here (photo below) just before the steep switchbacks to Mumlu that Mehmet abandoned the tour and returned to Antalya.
He had a number of problems, some with his touring setup. He had not ridden his fully loaded bicycle before leaving Antalya (something I had highly encouraged). You can see he’s trying to do a self-supported tour with no front rack, no rear rack, and no backpack. His front bag rubbed the front wheel, and his rear bag swung around, rotating on its single attachment point at the seat post. The list goes on… next time, Mehmet.
My ride went on. The next three days were probably the hardest of the trip — almost continuous climbing and descending, often rather steep, an average grade of over 6% for the next 90km.
I found another wooden mosque in Alan, this one from the 20th century.
It felt like a lot of up and down to get to the Karacaören Şelalesi (a waterfall) which doesn’t have much water at the end of August. I was happy to take a rest and eat.
From there it was about 1000m of fairly continuous climbing to get to views that didn’t get a lot better than this:
It was all hazelnuts through here (Çarşamba, Salıpazarı, Akkuş) even on very steep slopes. The harvest was underway though some owners were still waiting for teams of workers to show up.
I woke up near Tahnal in a cloud and rode that morning in mist/light rain.
Suddenly, as soon as I entered Salman, the biggest town on my route between Çarşamba and Niksar, I was in a thick cloud, and it started to rain harder. I found a small awning with a cut log for a seat and ate while I waited out the rain. On the other side of town I slowly descended out of the cloud. I was in a different world — wide open valleys instead of the steep slopes of the Black Sea. Also, there were no more hazelnuts. It was surreal, magical.
I wondered if the steep roads were over. However, I turned onto a dirt road and dropped 450m in 5km (9%) down to the Karakaş Çayı (aka Gökçebayır Creek), thankful I didn’t have to go up that road. I knocked off early that day, enjoying this wonderful, beautiful, kind of remote canyon.
It was only when I was down at the creek resting that I started to look at the rest of the route to Niksar. The next morning started with an 11% climb for the first 4km, and there was another section near the top that felt just as punishing. This ended up being the hardest climb of my three-week trip. An average of 7% over 12km doesn’t sound so bad, but it was all on dirt roads. Or maybe I’m just getting old.
The pavement started in Günebakan after a long descent on dirt, followed by what felt like way too much descending on pavement. Can I really go down so much? All the way to the 13th century Selçuk Talazan Köprüsü over the Kelkit Çayı:
From there it was flat (!) with a tailwind (!!) to Niksar.
Where did I get it in my head that Niksar was an historic tourist destination? I only saw one other tourist on my wanderings. She was up at the Yağı-basan Medresesi in the fortress on the hill. It’s the oldest medrese in Anatolia, but compared to the medrese that I recently visited in Erzurum and Sivas, it’s not interesting.
Locals (and a TRT documentary) claim that Niksar’s fortress was the second largest in Anatolia, but you really have to look around to find anything that’s still standing.
Supposedly Niksar’s Ulu Camii is one of the oldest large mosques built by Turks in Anatolia. This balcony thing was a bit interesting.
I had it in my head that I’d find more wooden mosques in Niksar… minarets yes:
but the only wooden interior I found was this one:
That’s 20th century as is the Arasta Camii with this painted ceiling:
I think my idea for visiting Niksar started when I was reading about Anatolia’s beylik period for it was here in Niksar that Melik Ahmet Gazi founded the capital of the Danişmend Beyliği. You can visit his tomb,
but his painting is probably more interesting.
Christianity came early to Niksar. Gregory Thaumaturgus, born here in 213, had allegedly converted almost everyone in the city to Christianity by the end of his life. This is perhaps the remains of a church,
and supposedly you can see a carved cross in the grass if it weren’t so overgrown.
Of course the Romans were here. They called Niksar Neocaesarea and built this bridge (now called Leylekli Köprüsü (aka Yılanlı Köprüsü)) which has a carving of a pelican (leylek) with a snake (yılan) in its mouth.
If you’ve come this far, you’ll want to walk down to the Roma Arsenalı.
Unfortunately it’s locked. So go (back up) and talk with Celal müdür (unless it’s August 30th, a holiday in Turkey) at the culture and tourism office in this building, also Roman if I remember correctly:
The next morning İbrahim got the key and took me down to this unusual Roman structure, reminding me of an unfinished version of the world’s largest wine cellar in Kvareli.
Experts haven’t studied the Roma Arsenalı yet so what the Romans used it for is only speculation.
Thank me for such a thorough tour of Niksar. If you run out of time and have to skip Niksar, don’t let it keep you up at night. Now you know.