From the Eastern Black Sea to Caucasia
by Kemalettin KOROGLU
Artvin is a province on Turkey's northeastern Black Sea coast rarely discovered by western visitors, but popular with holiday-makers from the Caucasian countries.
The port of Hopa is hemmed in by the imposing backdrop of the towering Cankurtaran Dagi. The mountains do not easily give way and the streams and rivers have to thrust through deep and twisting gorges to reach the sea. Here is where one comes across the raging Coruh river, and smaller rivers and bridges.
Heading inland along the Coruh valley, one comes across deserted road. This road which clings to the hills along one side of the valley leads to the town of Artvin. Artvin Castle comes into sight first, like an eagle's eyrie on the high crags.
Artvin province and its environs are situated at a key point between Anatolia and Caucasia.
The diverse peoples who migrated to Anatolia since prehistoric times had to cross the high passes of the steep Caucasus and Yalnizcam mountains dividing the two regions.
The Kackar and Karcal mountains parallel to the Black Sea and the Yalnizcam range rise up to 4000 metres at same points.
In recent years tourists have poured into this remote mountainous part of Turkey from the Caucasian republics, through the Sarp and Turkozu border posts. Rafting on the Coruh and mountaineering in the Kackar have also put Artvin on the international map, not to mention such unique attractions as the bull wrestling tournament at Kafkasor and annual festivals on the mountain pastures.
But our subject today is neither the town of Artvin, whose population has remained constant for years, nor their events. Instead we will examine the historic monuments and sites which I recently explored in Ardanuc, Savsat and Ardahan, the latter a former district of Kars which has recently become a province.
Although Ardanuc is a small town, today somewhere between the Middle Ages and the 19th century it was an important regional centre.
The old town spreads out beneath the hilltop castle at Ardanuc.
Its importance lays in its situation on one of the routes through the Yalnizcam range of mountains linking the Black Sea coast to eastern Anatolia.
There are two other castles on the same route, Ferhatli Castle between Ardanuc and Artvin and Rabat Castle and church on the road to Ardahan.
On the flanks of Cadir Dagi, the highest peak in the region, are the ruins of settlements at Suluhan, set amidst forests and waterfalls.
Another castle which testifies to the strategic importance of the area is Kutlu Castle.
30 kilometres east of Ardanuc in the Baglar district of Kutlu village.
This magnificent structure now lies far from any main roads, time weary but still majestic in its lonely setting amidst green valleys.
The mediaeval ruins and the old road stood to the north and northeast, where the ruins of several churches indicate that Savsat was an important Christian centre. Seven kilometres to the north of the town is the church of Cevizli or Tibet, the largest of them all. Constructed of finely hewn stone on a cruciform plan, the interior is decorated with frescos. Unfortunately, like so many of the historic buildings in this region, it is in a poor state of repair. The most striking historic structure here is that known as Kirazli Odalari, which is probably the monastery referred to in mediaeval documents as being situated at a great height and concealed from sight. This group of buildings lies amidst high hills near the summit of Yalnizcam Dagi 23 kilometres from Savsat, and access is difficult.
Climbing from Sahara on the second road between Ardahan and Savsat which links eastern Anatolia to the Black Sea coast, you pass several villages on the lower slopes before entering the pine forests. On grassy pastures amidst the forested hills are the mountain chalets used by local people during the summer.
These delightful two storey wooden houses have open bays or eyvans where the families spend their daily life in warm weather. Still climbing you eventually emerge beyond the tree line onto the rolling steppe of Ardahan stretching way into the Caucasus.
At a height of 1800 metres, the character of the landscape is clearly distinct from that of the forested Black Sea mountains you have left behind.