Why tourists often skip the Black Sea Region is a riddle to us. It’s definitely one of the most beautiful regions of Turkey! The lush green mountains, delicious food, nice & mild climate. It is here where tea is produced, and it’s also known as hazelnut and honey region. And when I read that the most expensive honey on earth is from here we had to visit it.
After a fabulous time in South East Turkey it was time to move up North again. It feels a bit like criss-crossing through the world but well, we enjoy that. So from scorching hot temperatures to a wonderful mild climate at the Black Sea region.
But, this was not why we were here. It was also not because of the amazing green mountains you can find here, though very welcoming. No, I – Milene – wanted to go here to see the Hemshin people and check out their beekeeping. They are famous for it.
Even so famous that there is cave honey which you can buy. It’s a tad expensive though: Eur.10.000,- for 1kg. So, we didn’t buy it. Neither did we get to see it, unfortunately. But we did get to see the modern way of beekeeping of the Hemshin, which is equally as nice.
The ancient way is actually not that interesting as the bees work the entire season and only once per season the beekeeper goes there (2500 mtrs above sealevel) to check out how they did. Next time we’ll definitely visit the caves in the right time 😉
We did buy some local hemsin honey from 2.000 meters above sea level and tasted it of course. And we didn’t only taste honey we also got to join a beekeeper and see his work. The bees in the fabled honey forest of Camlihensin are often in trees or high platforms to keep the bears from stealing the honey. Only one animal is allowed to steal honey of course. We got up one of those platforms and even though it felt as if it would collapse anytime we didn’t feel too scared while not wearing a beekeeping suit. The bees were actually quite relax, not aggressive at all. We checked out the queens together and looked at the pollen, honey and eggs.
It’s important to check upon the bees cause like pandemics in human lives, bees also get diseases. These diseases go easily from one to the other colony so as a beekeeper it’s your task to check for diseases and not spread it but stop it. Luckily these bees were as healthy as ever, maybe that’s why they were relaxed. The queens were doing a great job and the weather was amazing. No reason to be aggressive at all. And remember, when a bee stings she often dies so it’s better not to sting.
The Hemshin people
Not only is the beekeeping in this area interesting, also the people. They are the Hemshin people, originated from Armenia.
To survive, these Armenians gave up their religion. They converted to Islam. They also started to speak the local language; Turkish. Some of the Hemshin people still speak the ancient Anatolian (western) Armenian dialect. But only very few.
The Hemshin are without doubt one of the most enigmatic peoples of Turkey and the Caucasus. As former Christians who converted to Islam centuries ago yet did not assimilate into the culture of the surrounding Muslim populations. As Turks who speak Armenian yet are often not aware of it. As Muslims who continue to celebrate feasts that are part of the calendar of the Armenian Church. And as descendants of Armenians who, for the most part, have chosen to deny their Armenian origins in favour of recently invented myths of Turkic ancestry, the Hemshin and the seemingly irreconcilable differences within their group identity have generated curiosity and often controversy.
We drank local Ayran with one Hemshin beekeeping family and got to see how they live in the beautiful countryside of the Black Sea.
We stayed a night in the amazing forest of the Black Sea Region, made ourselves a nice campfire and slept like babies.
The next morning it was, unfortunately, time to go. We could have spend a lot more days in this amazing area but like we say to most places “we’ll be back!”
After Midyat it was time to move North. Finally we would visit the capital of the Kurdish people in Turkey: Diyarbakir. Yes, the Assyrians and Armenians mostly left this area due to oppression and hate the Kurdish people are still here. Turkey is a wonderful country to travel through and we won’t get into politics too much but one has to admit while travelling in this immens country that the history and even present is a bit violent. There is still no peace, neither is there equality.
While driving to Diyarbakir there are many roadblocks where military is stationed. They check the IDs of people before letting them pass. For us no problem of course because we are tourists.
The city was ruled by various Arab, Turkish, Mongol, and Persian dynasties until its capture by the Ottoman sultan in 1516. Capital of a large and important province under the Ottomans, it regained its prosperity. Its location near the Persian frontier also gave it strategic importance, and the town was used as a base for armies facing Persia. The old town is still surrounded by the ancient black basalt walls that gave it the name Kara (Turkish: “Black”) Amid. The triple walls, an outstanding example of Middle Eastern medieval military art, were greatly expanded and restored during the Arab and Turkish periods; they are about 3 miles (5 km) long and have numerous towers. We of course climbed on top of them.
Diyarbakır, also spelled Diyarbekir, historically Amida, city, southeastern Turkey. It lies on the right bank of the Tigris River. The name means “district (diyar) of the Bakr people,” an Arab tribe that conquered the city in the 7th century CE. The modern spelling of –bakır (Turkish: “copper”) is said to refer the region’s abundance of copper.
Just one night we stayed here but oh my do we love this city. It’s bustling with life, on every corner something is happening. The old city is walled and has two main streets. Behind those main streets is a labyrinth of little alleys connected by bazaars and caravanserais.
We visited three caravanserais in the city, all turned into a place to have food, a drink or sleep. I say turned but actually the caravanserais haven’t changed. When merchants came to Diyarbakir many many years ago one would go immediately to a caravanserai. Here the traveller would find food, a bed and sometimes a hamam. He would be able to change his horse for a fresh one, get information about the road ahead and maybe even do a little bit of trading already. I’m intrigued by the caravanserais and it’s fabulous to see that they are still used the same way 800 years later. Maybe Marco Polo once visited this caravanserai.
Along the way here several people mentioned Mardin a must visit on our Turkey trip. Ignoring tips from local people would be a stupid thing to do so we continued our journey East to Mardin.
Mardin is a very interesting city. It’s a migratory city with lots of Turks, Arabs and some Syrians. Not long ago it was inhabited by Assyrians and Armenians, however during the genocide they were either brought to the killing camps nearby or they fled. Why they left behind was incredible architecture, churches and monasteries. The city now is quite the touristy place, you can rent a horse which will take you up and down the narrow streets of the city, you can take a photo with a parrot or cats and there are many things to buy especially; soap, gold and spices. All once traded along the Silk Road.
We visited some mosques, a madras and the bazaar. We had tea, Ayran and delicious pide. We walked the unfamiliar and untouristy streets of the city and bought some natural face mask.
Then we moved on to an Assyrian monastery nearby and slept there. We had a good conversation with the security man Aydin who works there 6 nights a week for 200 Turkish Lira per week. That’s €80,- per month.
Midyat, city of rebellion
Another tip from the locals was Midyat. Smaller than Mardin and also less touristy. We love that! So we moved to Midyat. Found a nice spot to sleep via Park4Night and headed to a caravanserai turned restaurant. We checked out the caves in which people used to live. Summers cool, winters warm and it protects someone from intruders. I get it, very convenient in those times.
To watch the sunset over the city we walked up to ‘the guesthouse’, an old gentleman’s house. Again the architecture of this place is insane! Details, stairs, balconies. Romeo and Juliet would be jealous! And so is anyone who doesn’t live here.
Or not. In the summer it gets so hot that people move their beds to the roofs and sleep there. Sounds amazing but there are mosquitos and it can be quite noisy.
Anyway, we loved both cities. The history is a bit grim being the two cities from which thousands of Assyrians and Armenians were transported to death camps close by. The genocide is one that Turkey is still not willing to admit, but it’s there. Visible in the buildings, in the faces of the people, in the stories of the streets. Nonetheless the architecture of these cities is amazing, truly magnificent. The details in the houses, the windows, the doors, ceilings, it’s a work of art. Done mostly by the Armenians who are known for their fabulous craftsmanship. We enjoyed visiting both cities but it was time to move on. Not East, but North this time.
It is sometimes a bit hard to keep up with the blogs. Not because I don’t like it or have nothing to write but probably because there is too much to write. Every morning, middag and evening another adventure awaits, in the morning we don’t know where we sleep at night and when we think to take a break something unexpected happens.
But we love keeping you all up to date about our adventures and of course it’s a journal for ourselves so after one year we remember all we did 😉
The oldest temple of the world
The past couple of days were intens. From Nemrut we drove to Gobeklitepe. The oldest known settlement or temple on earth. At least for now, until another one is found. The settlement is at least 11.000 years old, wow that’s old isn’t it? And still the carvings in the pillars are incredible and very visible nowadays.
While tour groups took their time we did go through it on our own pace, which means; quite fast. The thing is, if we want to know something special we can read about it online. While we’re there at the sight we just love to visualise how life must have been in that time, we imagine how people were walking there and what they would think if they could get a glimpse of what we’ve done to the earth. So we did that and than we moved on.
The city of prophets; Sanliurfa
To the city of prophets. It is believed that Abraham was born here. Sanliurfa is a big city, 2 million people live here. That’s double the amount of Amsterdam, still it doesn’t feel that big at all. But maybe that’s because it’s Sunday and on Sundays the Turkish people are in lockdown. Tourists can do whatever they want but the locals have to stay out.
We went to the famous Balikligolu, fish lake, where the sacred carp lives. These carps are protected and the people believe that when you kill a carp you will become blind. There are stall everywhere to buy fish food so you can feed them. We’re sure one of the fish had eaten too much, he was floating and died while we were watching him struggle. Does this make our eyesight bad? We hope not because that makes driving to China quite hard.
We then found a nice Airbnb to stay for the night and the next day moved on.
It was time to leave Cappadocia behind and with that the for me, Milene, known part of Turkey. The kind owners of the hotel we stayed in told us about the best way to travel to Nemrut. And boy was he right.
Our first stop would be a caravanserai. This is a place where travellers could stay, exchange their horses, have food. Sometimes the local tribe only let a traveller pass if he promised to visit all the caravanserais on the way. That way he would spend money in the area which was a good deal. Unfortunately the caravanserai, Han in Turkish, was closed and we could only see it from the outside.
The Turkish highlands
Afterwards we were surprised by a valley resembling the highlands of Scotland. Truly! Even the weather made us think of Scotland. From sunny and hot weather we drove into a thunderstorm roaming the hills and mountains of the Tekir Valley. And with the thunderstorm above our heads we decided it’s time for a break. We parked the car in the middle of purple flowers overlooking the beautiful green hillside.
We slept like babies here, that is if the baby sleeps quietly. Even though the place was amazing it was time to move on. Our destination for today would be Nemrut dagi. It’s quite the touristy destination, mostly for Turkish people though.
Nemrut Dağ is the Hierotheseion (temple-tomb and house of the gods) built by the late Hellenistic King Antiochos I of Commagene (69-34 B.C.) as a monument to himself. The mausoleum of Antiochus I (69–34 B.C.), who reigned over Commagene, a kingdom founded north of Syria and the Euphrates after the breakup of Alexander’s empire, is one of the most ambitious constructions of the Hellenistic period.
Mount Nemrut is a mountain in south east Turkey and famous for its sculptures on top. Faces of Apollo, Zeus and the King himself. An eagle and lion to protect the statues. 11 years ago, when I stayed in Kilis, I wanted to visit Nemrut. However something, a war, came in between. We arrived at Mount Nemrut right before sunset. The road to the top of the mountain is very steep and we had to take it slow with Alexine not to destroy her by overheating. But we got to the top and checked out the sunset at the mountain. Magnificent!! The downside was that it was incredibly crowded and people did not respect the statues at all. There are ropes in front of the statues so people would not climb over it. But of course some still do. Surprisingly it were mostly adults who should understand what it means when ropes are withholding you from touching the statues. It annoys us as a lot of you can read here but it luckily doesn’t kill our mood totally. Nemrut is amazing, even though there are a lot of people.
We slept near the statues in the van and woke up at 3:30 the next day to check out sunrise. While many people looked at the sun rising over the hills in the far distance we looked at the statues and their ever changing colours and faces. The stones are not from around the place and had to be taken all the way up here. That is incredible! Just to worship some Gods and show your power. But thousand years later we are enjoying this art, thus we’re thankful.
At some point everyone was gone and it was just us and the statue. What a magnificent ending to this visit.
Today we had another very interesting sight on our itinerary. It’s the oldest manmade settlement or temple found on earth.
The oldest part of the area is built 9.000 BCE, that’s 11.000 years old!! The pillars of the buildings are still standing, the stone cut animals very much visible and it’s very clear that this was a special place for humanity at that time. It could very well be the first religious place on earth! So, we went over there, paid a ticket (for all these places you have to buy a ticket) and went over to check the sight. It’s not to big so very doable and all the information is written in English as well as Turkish. We missed a bit of explanation to what we are actually looking. Especially about the animals cut on the pillars. To be honest it’s just unimaginable that this is so old. It looks very well preserved. And our minds always go wondering when we think of live 11.000 years ago.
Our stop for the night would be Sanliurfa, city of Prophets.
In the previous post you could read about my, Milene’s, thesis on Cappadocia. Lets see what happened in the past ten years.
First a bit about Cappadocia
The Persian name of the region was “Kappa Tuchia” which means “The land of beautiful Horses”. Cappadocia is deprived from that.
The secret of Cappadocia is hidden with the geographical formations dating back to 60 million years. The smooth layers formed by the lava and ashes spewed out from the Mount Erciyes, Mount Hasan and Mount Gulludag has become rocky formations first and than corroded with the rain and wind for million years and finally showed up today’s geographic formations.
Cappadocia has also been home to many civilizations since the stone age throughout history. Using the advantage of this structure of the region, many rock-cut settlements, houses, monasteries, churches, chapels and underground cities were built. This is how most of the fairy chimneys are located inside.
The region was active during the Hittites period. Since it was located on the historical Silk Road route, the region was a kind of commercial center at that time.
Afterwards, the Persians in the 6th century BC, the Kingdom of Cappadocia during the time of Alexander the Great in 332 BC, and the Roman Empire reigned in the region until 17 AD. When the last King of Cappadocia died in 17 AD, the region becomes a Roman province.
After the settlement of the Christians here in the 3rd century AD, the region became a center of education, religion and thought. However, between the years of 303-308, the pressure of the Roman Empire increases and the people make shelters and settlements carved to the rocks in the deep valleys, that are invisible from the outside.
Again during the 11th and 12th centuries, Arab raids dominated the region, and then the Seljuks. Peace was dominant in the region during the Ottoman Empire, and after the Treaty of Lausanne, the Christians migrated and left Cappadocia between the years 1924-1926.
Tourism in Cappadocia
You can imagine that this place with its fairy chimneys, cave houses and underground City became a tourist attraction. Ten years ago I already saw the side effects of tourism; name marking in cave houses, old weaving shops making place for tourist shops, locals moved out and outsiders moved in.
Ten years later the only thing that changed was the amount of everything. Many more hotels, many more tourist shops, many more tourism companies where you can book any type of excursion. Now you cannot only book a horse back riding trip but there’s ATV’s, Jeeps and camels. You cannot only visit one open air museum but at least four. The open air museum is not €1.50 but €10,-. There are not 10 restaurants but 50 and all the weavers that I loved so much have left the village. It saddens me deeply to see that the culture made place for tourism. Money being more important than heritage.
That being said, Cappadocia is still a place worth visiting. It’s still a very interesting place, historically and culturally. I just wish that people would come here understanding the beautiful culture, the incredible historical value and the breathtaking natural formations. Cause that’s exactly what this place is: history, culture and nature combined. The stories that this place holds are so immense. Instead of Instagram photos with rugs, balloons and fairy chimneys I would love to see another kind of tourists. In my thesis I called this Cultural Heritage Tourism. Travellers that connect with a place, leave nothing but footprints and come back home with stories about the horses in underground cities, the hidden houses so invaders couldn’t find them and the pigeons they kept to fertilize the grounds.
And yes we’re also on Instagram, we also flew in a balloon and drove to Ask Vadisi for a photo. So I’m sure the future of this place is bright and that tourism and natural & cultural sights can work together. As long as we fight mass tourism taking over a place completely.
Enough rant, lets go back to our stay in Cappadocia.
We stayed at an amazing hotel; Gazide Cave Hotel. Beautiful rooms, great location and wonderful people. We ate testi kebab from the pottery (a must when visiting Cappadocia), manti at an eco restaurant (absolutely my favourite up to now!) and flew in a balloon! We visited many churches of which one was quite hidden and we had to get a key first. Drove around to see several fairy chimneys and visited the amazing labyrint of the Derinkuyu Underground City.
Then after three nights it was time to move on. More East but this time mainly South. We’re going to the Syrian border! After 12 years of dreaming and wanting to visit this place it’s going to happen; Nemrut dagi. But also the oldest settlement found on earth; Göbleklitepe, old cities like Midyat & Mardin and the Kurdish capital of Turkey; Diyarbakir. As Syria isn’t open to tourists thanks to Covid-19 we have to skip Aleppo which is a pity but probably better for the hearts of our parents 😉
Hi there! We are Milene & Yuri. We are travelling the world together since 2015. Our endless curiosity and will to explore has resulted in many cool, and somewhat extreme, adventures. On MYgrations you'll read all about our adventures, you'll find lots of information about the countries we visit you won't find anywhere else and more. Enjoy!
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