Write: Hasan Mert Kaya - Photo: Ahmet Bilal Arslan / Arif Avize
With its endemic plants species on its mountains and magnificent past, and its waters, which are the most abundant in all Anatolia, Kahramanmaraş is a city of wealth and fertility. Situated at the feet of the Taurus Mountains, the city’s face is open to all sides—a gate to Syria on one and a dignified city of passages and historic routes stretching to Anatolia on the other.
Although its written history dates to the Hittites, the latest research in the Döngel Caves pushed the city’s past to millennia ago. This is truly an imperial city—and how could it not be? Water, fertile plains that offer fecundity in all four seasons, and steep, sheltering mountains made it one of the most valuable settlements of the emperors of Rome, too. Known as Germanicia in antiquity, the city is home to Roman-style villas and floor mosaics nourished from the same source as neighboring Zeugma. Floor mosaics uncovered recently in an area very close to the city center, known as Dhulkadir–Karamaraş,have started to be exhibited.
From the Umayyads to the Ottomans
The wealth and location of Kahramanmaraş caused many civilizations to desire ownership of the city. The Umayyads, Abbasids, the Mamluks of Egypt, and the Dhulkadir Beylic have all ruled in Kahramanmaraş at some time, and with the famous eastern campaign of Sultan Selim I, the city was incorporated into the borders of the Ottoman Empire. The minaret balconıes on the city’s traditional mosques are traces of the eras of the Mamluks and Dhulkadirids.
Shades of Green and Blue
Kahramanmaraş presents an exceptional natural environment rarely encountered elsewhere. In particular, its steep mountains decked in emerald-green forests in the region of Andırın are able to make you think you are on your way to a fairy-tale realm, a thought made even stronger when you see the medieval lookout towers on the steep eagle’s-nest peaks. Spring and early summer are the best times to go up to the plateaus of Kahramanmaraş. Scents of flowers rising from hyacinths, carnations, and violets offer a visual parade, too. The plateaus of Başkonuş and Yavşan, the Döngel Caves, and Kazma Orchards at the feet of Mt. Ahir generously offer tons of green to their visitors. Meanwhile, in Menzelet Dam Lake, Ali Rock, and the Tekir Yeşilgöz Excursion Spot in particular, the turquoise hues of blue invite one to the languor of nature.
In the City Center
The oldest settled area in Kahramanmaraş’s city center is the area in which Maraş Citadel stands. Today, there are various social facilities and places to eat and drink in the citadel is in fact built on a mound that is a very large tumulus dating from the Hittites. The citadel is also the best place for a panoramic view of the city.
Ordered built by Ramazan Bey—one of the rulers of the Dhulkadirid Beylic—and dated to the 14th century, Ulu Mosque is one of the city’s characteristic structures. The Mosque of Abdul Hamid II, meanwhile, perched on a location commanding the entire city, is one of the largest mosques in both Maraş and Turkey, while the dozens of masjids of various sizes one sees when touring the city bear traces of past civilizations.
The Grand Bazaar
Kahramanmaraş boasts an extremely vibrant grand bazaar and is also one of the most important centers for jewelry in Turkey. One can find many local products unique to Maraş when wandering here. Those interested in cooking can find Maraş-made knives and Maraş red pepper and other fresh local spices. The bazaar may at first glance seem small from the outside; but as you enter it and dive into sidestreets, you will feel that you are in an exotic eastern market. Its coppersmiths, woodcarvers, and rich variety of cheeses and other breakfast goods will definitely pique your appetite.
Must-Dos in Maraş
Maraş cuisine is highly celebrated. In this realm of legendary deliciousness, where the cuisines of the Mediterranean, Inner Anatolian, and Southeast Anatolian regions are synthesized,you must first try the soup of boiled sheep’s head and trotters, “kelle paça.” Kelle paça is so delicious and popular here that the scores of soup diners populating the city center are open twenty-four hours a day! Among Maraş’s dishes, “analı-kızlı” soup,stuffed intestines,meatball croquettes, and other dozens of local delicacies are especially mouth watering, and maraş “tarhana”—a dried mixture of herbs, curds, and flour—will surprise you with its taste, which differs considerably from the usual kind.
This Maraş artisan is the last representative of this near-extinct local value, hardworkingly producing rawhide sandalsin one of the grand bazaar’s side streets with his years of experience.
Museum of Archaeology
The Kahramanmaraş Museum of Archaeology is full of select artifacts that shine a light on the city’s illustrious history. Artifacts from the Hittite era especially stand out in the museum, which is located at the city center.
One of the delicacies Maraş has undoubtedly contributed to the world is its ice cream. Made from the milk of goats fed on organic, highly aromatic fresh herbs, Maraş ice cream is an exceptionally tasty treat.