Tokat and Its Country Houses
By NECDET SAKAOGLU
The town of Tokat stands astride the Behzat river, a tributary of the Tozanli, amidst a fertile countryside. The mountains which rise beyond the river valley are mantled in snow during winter. With the spring thaw the springs and streams gush noisily, providing an abundance of water which is reflected in the many street and neighbourhood names containing the word "su" (water). Each of the many delicious spring waters around Tokat is a familiar name to the inhabitants; Corduk, Aksu, Cirik, Marul, Ogulbeyi, Igneci and Buzluk.
Tokat has a special place in Turkey's culture and history. The tumuli of Masat and Horoztepe have revealed much information about the earliest civilisations here.
The Kings Road passed through Tokat, which was one of the principal markets in the Black Sea region. From the 12th century onwards, Turcoman tribes from Asia migrated through here, the Avsars, Varsaks, Karamanlis, Turgutlus, Bozoklus and Tekelis leaving their own legacy of memoirs and monuments in addition to those of the Kings' Road, Caesar and St. Paul.
Turkish baths like the Pervane Pasa, Tahtakale, Ali Pasa and Cay were more than a mere convenience, but an institution with their own wealth of customs and the commercial hans where merchants could live, work and store their goods. They included the Tashan, Sulu Han, Develik Han, Pasa Han and Yazmacilar Han, not to mention the strongly guarded bedestens where valuable goods were sold and stored.
Under the Seljuks, Tokat was a noted centre of scholarship, a tradition which continued under the Ottomans. Sultan Mehmet II's Seyhulislam and close friend Molla Husrev, the historian Ibn Kemal who served as Seyhulislam under Suleyman the Magnificent, Molla Lutfi whose careless tongue lost him his life in 1494, the famous 18th century physician Hekim Mustafa, Seyhulislam Tahir Efendi who issued a fetva permitting the abolition of the janissary corps, and Gazi Osman Pasa, hero of the Battle of Plevna are just some of the famous citizens of Tokat. Tokat also became well known in Turkish times for its copper, weaving, leatherwork and blockprinted cotton. Seljuk medreses and turbes, Ottoman mosques, and the handful of old konaks (large houses) and houses in the districts of Behzat Camii and Beyler Sokak give an idea of the town's former splendour.
Overlooking the orchards and vineyards of Tokat is an imposing rocky crag on which a magnificent castle is perched known as Budun, the source of the well known simile used in Turkish folk poetry, "a fortress like Budun". A local folk song sings the praises of the lush green countryside around the town:
"Tokat is surrounded by gardens My rose is in the cup My loved-one is from Tokat His heart is generous." Another describes "My vineyards near Tokat My cloud wreathed mountains."
Early in summer the people of Tokat traditionally move to their country houses, not returning until the autumn. Groups of three or four vineyards and orchards known as baglar form a homestead, each with its own name, such as the Cemal, Kemer, Topcu, Biskeni, Malkayasi, Delikkapi or Kasikci. At a distance is the Doganci Baglari. Each is renowned for one or sometimes more fruits. Cemal is famous for its cherries, Akbayir and Malkayasi for their fenerit, coban cavusu and narince grapes and kisbeyi pears, Kasikci for its gelinparmagi and cincife grapes, sour cherries and plums, and Biskeni for its misket and black grapes.
Each farm is a family-sized Arcadia where children and adults alike enjoy their summer holidays. In addition to fruit from the orchards and vegetables from the garden, there is honey from each home's own hive. Each farm has its own hower in the garden, pool, courtyard and well. But best of all is the house itself, known as alacuh. Not one of these picturesque two-storey houses is the same as another. Some have belvederes on the roof, and all have a recessed balcony known as a hayat overlooking the garden.
Fruit and vegetables are dried for the winter in the attic. Every evening the family and guests gather on the balcony or in the courtyard.
The kitchen takes up most of the ground floor, with its ovens, fireplace and larder. One wall is entirely covered with cupboards, and the row of ovens and open fireplace stand along another wall. First comes the bread oven, then the large fireplace with its arched chimney hood used for cooking the flat bread and paper thin sheets of pastry known as yufka on a griddle, for heating water for laundry, and cooking food for guests on special occasions. Next to this is the kebab oven where the famous local specialty, Tokat kebab, is cooked, and finally the ordinary stove for cooking in small quantities for the family.
In addition, there is a sink for washing the dishes, a pump for water and work surfaces for preparing food.
The traditional summer parties which the old folk remember have become a thing of the past.
The guests would eat their delicious kebabs and other specialties, converse under the moonlight, and stroll until daybreak to the sounds of music from the ud and clarinet which echoed in the air. SKYLIFE