Write:Melih Uslu Photos:Aydın Sertbaş/Halil İbrahim Özdemir
Erzincan, the heart of the Upper Euphrates Basin, which resembles a lush green oasis in the west of East Anatolia, offers a rich selection of options for nature and cultural tourism, ranging from authentic bazaars to adventure sports.
Our plane is soaring above one of the most exciting parts of Anatolia. Erzincan stretches immediately below, on a green, fertile plain spread out by the foothills of the Munzur Mountains. We touch down softly at Erzincan Airport, which is large and comfortable enough to rival airports in global metropolises. Its elevation of around one thousand meters and the clean, pure air immediately make themselves felt. The asphalt road to the city center presents a comfortable drive. One already starts hearing the sounds of the Euphrates’s waters. Finally, following the steep cliffs, we reach the city. We grow anxious to get to know the city as we settle into our hotel.
In Erzincan, we are at the center of a deeply rooted history. The first traces of settlement in the city, which spent a long time under Hittite rule, date back to the 3000s BC. Some historical sources indicate that the local population was composed of intellectual people who could speak dozens of languages and were adept at trade. After five centuries of Roman control, the city entered Turkish rule in the 11th century. The remains discovered in Altıntepe, fifteen kilometers outside of Erzincan, point to a time-enduring Urartu city that has lasted up to this day. Nothing comparable to the 2,500-year-old mosaics unearthed here has been encountered in East Anatolia. Drawing attention with its colorful wall frescoes, temples, and palace complexes, the site is described as the “Zeugma of Erzincan,” referring to the ancient city in present-day Gaziantep. If you wish, you can design a highly pleasant trail for yourself by following the historic city walls of Erzincan, the city of citadels. Our first stop, the Erzincan Citadel, bears the traces of the Seljuk period. In Kemah, the new favorite of paragliding enthusiasts, there is one of Anatolia’s oldest citadels. The Melik Gazi Tomb, Gülabibey Mosque, Tugay Hatun Tomb, and Buz Caves are also very close by. As we make our way toward Çadırkaya Citadel, we stop in Tercan. While we are there, we pay a visit to the mosque building complex and caravanserai bearing the name of Mama Hatun, the female ruler of the Saltukid era. Girlevik Falls—one of Erzincan’s loveliest natural spaces with its ebulliently flowing waters and lush green environment—is thirty kilometers southeast of the city. After watching the waterfall with great admiration, we move out toward Otlukbeli. The Otlukbeli Plain, which has been the stage of great battles throughout history, is packed with rare flowers and historic gravestones. Another of the region’s wonders is Lake Otlukbeli. Located immediately outside the district center, the lake is unlike any other on earth. A travertine dam, the lake is one of a kind in the world with its bowl-like shape and in the manner with which it was formed. With the thousands of colors on its surface, the lake, which continues to change in form via natural subterranean waters, brings to mind a giant painting.
On the Silk Road
Next comes perhaps the most surprising part of our trip. We are headed toward Kemaliye, or Eğin as it was once known. The prevailing view is that this is Erzincan’s “touristic showcase.” Kemaliye Valley, formed by the Karasu—one of the two source branches of the Euphrates—eroding the limestone rock formations over millions of years, possesses a rich habitat and climate diversity due to rising in altitude sharply within a short distance. Furthermore, the district, which possesses a rich cultural heritage due to its position on the Silk Road, is also one of Turkey’s most important ecological holiday and outdoor sports centers with its rare wildlife. Kemaliye is one of the few settlements nominated by the Foundation for the Protection and Promotion of the Environment and Cultural Heritage (ÇEKÜL) to become a world architectural heritage site. The plant-motif doorknockers decorating the traditional houses of Kemaliye are one of the district’s distinct heirloom features. Shaped by the forging of red-hot iron, the doorknockers bear the motif of the lady of the house’s favorite flower, an Ottoman tradition. The district is known as the town of terraces due to how the native population shaped it in order to use the limited agricultural areas productively. The importance given to the land facilitated the development of a distinct architectural and landscaping style. Kemaliye Valley, surrounded by mountains as high as four thousand meters, is well suited for mountain and rock climbing with slopes varying in level of difficulty, limestone rock formations, camping locations, and rich environment and wildlife. The old-growth forest ecosystem covering the Munzur Mountains, on which Kemaliye rests is back, is a good choice for observing the endemic wildlife.
An Outdoor Sports Paradise
The Kemaliye Outdoor Sports Festival held every spring has acquired an international dimension. Athletes, musicians, photographers, and scientists from all over the world flock to the district, which assumes the air of a carnival for the duration of the event. The fifteen-kilometer-long Karanlık Canyon, whose rock walls constrict to a width of ten meters in places, is ideal for boat safaris, canoeing, waterskiing, and speedboat tours. Kırkgöz, which resembles an eagle’s nest with a view of Kemaliye Valley and possesses forty springs, is the favorite of paragliding enthusiasts. Javelin competitions run by equestrian sports clubs coming from various parts of Turkey are presented to the admiration of viewers in the district. The eight-kilometer-long Taşyolu Tunnels, which were formed with the excavation of the mountain slope facing Karanlık Canyon over 135 years, has ideal paths for SUV safaris, motocross, mountain biking, and trekking. Out of the hundreds of hiking trails in the district, experienced local guides recommend Sorak Creek especially. Sorak, a creek trail surrounded by forests, promises a hike on which one can see Koçan Falls, Davar Yatağı Cave, and Sorak Citadel, lasting for about four hours. Hiking trips to surrounding villages also conducted during the festival, as are foraging expeditions for the true morel unique to the region. The historic church at the entrance of the district has been laid out as an ethnographic museum and cafeteria. Zincirlikaya, in Taşdibi, is a giant rocky mass that was chained to the slope during the Ottoman era against the risk of it rolling down on the town. In Koçan, there is a waterfall that is 150 meters tall. In Kırkgöz, there is Taşdibi Mosque, an Ottoman building dating to 1635. Many more historic mosques in the district await discovery. Now, how about it? Surely discovering Erzincan’s beauties will be worth it!
The flats surrounded by mountains become covered in flowers in the spring.
The renewed Erzincan Airport is world class.
Photographs of Erzincan are on display at the Culture House in the city center.
The Mama Hatun Tomb in the district of Tercan was built by the Saltukids.
Girlevik Falls in Çağlayan is one of the city’s natural beauties.
Erzincan hosted the Paragliding World Championship in summer 2011.
The Karasu, one of the branches of the Euphrates, is ideal for canoeing.
The mountains surrounding Erzincan become covered with endemic flowers.
The rivers that give life to the city await water sport fans.
The doorknockers unique to Kemaliye are forged from iron.
The historical houses in Kemaliye, which is on the Silk Road, are scattered atop green slopes.
The route traveled by the Eastern Express is covered with flowers.
Daily life in the wooden houses of Apçağa village in Kemaliye.
The region’s mountainous terrain conceals several tracks for four-wheeler safaris.
The Five Delicacies The flavor of the Erzincan-style döner kebab comes from the quality of the meat. Raw, on-the-comb honey accompanied by dry clotted cream is a breakfast essential. The sugar content of the tart, full-bodied Cimin grape is close to zero.
Copper and Roasted Chickpeas
You won’t have a hard time finding gift-worthy items in Erzincan’s bazaars. Among the things you can buy—besides carefully handmade copper items—are the famous Erzincan roasted chickpeas, of which there are salty and sweet varieties.
Erzincan is animated year-round by various athletic and cultural events.
The road from Erzincan to Divriği progresses alongside rural scenery.
The two banks of the River Karasu are connected by small iron bridges.