In May, gliding through the blue waters of the Black Sea and arriving in Samsun means more than just reaching a city -being in Samsun in this time of the year means witnessing the first steps of a legendary revival. May 19, 1919, which was described by Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, as his birthday, is celebrated with excitement all across the city. Samsun, where Gazi Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his comrades started the Turkish National Movement, aims to become a brand city with an international potential for culture, arts, and sports. It feels as if the entire city has come together to achieve this goal, finalizing their efforts that have been taking place for months and even years. In addition to events from a youth choir to robot contests, thematic tours to a torchlight procession, Samsun May 19 University carries out a program titled “100 Events on the 100th Anniversary.” The events here also include new records such as the 1,919-meter-long Turkish flag which will accompany the parade, planting 19,019 tree saplings in Samsun, or the biggest oil painting in Turkey with digital projection of scenes from the Turkish National Movement.
Samsun, which has caught up with world standards and improved its social life, is one of the emerging cities on the coast of the Black Sea in recent years. Hosting the longest public coast in Turkey, Atakum was chosen as the most developed district in the Black Sea region. I walk around Atakum which is animated with people walking along the coast or enjoying the sea all day long and discover many cafés, restaurants and hotels, whose quality is on par with their international counterparts. I also learn that Atakum hosts a beach volleyball tournament and folk dance festival every summer. My tour here ends with the famous Bafra ice cream.
Organizing many opera and ballet performances, Samsun’s trust lies biggest in its youth. The Republic of Turkey, entrusted to the Turkish youth by Atatürk, is strengthened with May 19 Commemoration of Atatürk Youth and Sports Day -and Samsun is a city rich in sports facilities. The long coastline between the districts of İlkadım and 19 Mayıs is lined with sailing, tennis and golf clubs; bowling and ice-skating halls; horse riding and water sports centers; cycling paths; jogging and running trails; and the recently built city stadium.
Tütün İskelesi (Tobacco Pier) is my next stop to experience the spirit of May 19 in Samsun. The arrival of Atatürk and his 18 comrades in Samsun is reenacted with wax sculptures on a wooden platform inside the pier. Depicting a nation’s rebirth and spirit of solidarity, the monument was made by Austrian sculptor Heinrich Krippel and it is the second most important one in Samsun after the Monument of Honor revealed on January 15, 1932.
Up ahead is a replica of the SS Bandırma which instills a sense of excitement in every visitor without exception. Built as a 1:1 replica of the SS Bandırma which brought Atatürk from Istanbul to Samsun, it tells the years of the Turkish National Movement with photographs, wax sculptures, and models. I decide to complete the greater picture of the republic in Samsun by visiting the museums in the city center. I walk to the Gazi Museum in the city center, housed in the building where Atatürk stayed when he visited Samsun. Known once as Mıntıka Palace, the building exhibits many documents and artifacts from the history of the republic. In order to further experience the magnificent republic heritage in Samsun, I add new stops to my must-see list such as the Kuva-i Milliye (National Forces) Museum which undertook an important role in the early years of the Turkish National Movement, Atatürk House in the district of Tekkeköy which is a perfect recreation of the house he was born in Thessaloniki, and the Alaçam Population Exchange Museum which was a school in the 19th century. Next, I head for the 98-kilometer-long Independence Road to turn the spirit of May 19 into a travel story as this is the road Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his comrades traveled from Samsun to Amasya. Marked with special signs, the route is filled with bells which were used as guides in the past, ox carts, old automobiles, and nostalgic objects. The three-story Mesudiye Hotel where Atatürk stayed in Havza, a paradise of hot springs, is now a museum known as Atatürk House. Gazi Odası is the room where he studied during his stay in the house between May 25 and June 13 in 1919.
As someone passionate about exploring the cuisine of the cities I visit, I pay special attention to Samsun’s delicacies. In addition to its pide (a flatbread baked with toppings in a stone oven), the city whets the appetite of its visitors with Bafra nokul (a delicious pastry), kaymaklı lokum (Turkish delight with clotted cream), crispy simit (Turkish bagel with sesame seeds), Çarşamba kıvratması (a dessert similar to baklava but without the syrup), samovar tea boiling on wood fire, menemen (a dish with eggs, tomato, green peppers, and spices cooked in olive oil or sunflower oil), and beans of various colors and flavors. For a perfect feast, I visit Çakallı Inn housed in a 13th-century Seljuk inn. The vaulted stone structure on the Samsun-Amasya Caravan Road has a restaurant which serves guests delicious dishes such as kaz tiridi (goose and brewis), kocabaş turşusu (pickled red beet), sour acık (or acuk) sauce made with locally produced small, wild apples, and roasted kırçan herb.
After the meal, I go on a stroll around the inn and pass the historic stone bridge to visit the 19th-century wooden Kasımzade Ahmet Sofi Mosque. According to Hilal Özdal, who works at Samsun City Museum and has accompanied me on my journey, the city is home to more than 80 wooden mosques which can be regarded as historic. Then, I take the cable car in Batı Park for a short but scenic route to the top of Amisos Hill. It’s easy to notice the region’s rich history wandering among powder mill tumuli and the Amazon village. Founded in Samsun, which was the home of the warrior-like and brave Amazons, the city of Amisos thrived for 2,600 years until the early years of the Ottoman state.
The list is endless when it comes to the natural gems of Samsun where rivers flow down from green mountains and meet the sea. Kızılırmak Delta which is estimated to host 484 registered bird species is a perfect place to visit for bird watching. Kunduz Forests, which were preferred by young Ottoman princes and pashas for leisure, and Şahinkaya Canon on the famous Vezirköprü plains organize boat tours which promise views similar to those in Game of Thrones. Moreover, Samsun's heritage of natural beauties is enriched by Galeriç Su Basar Forest, the turf islands on Ladik Lake, nature sports in Ayvacık, Kabaceviz Waterfalls in Tekkeköy, the rice fields adorning the banks of Yeşilırmak, Kavak surrounded by picnic areas, the oxygen-rich Akdağ Highlands, the fun festivals of Asarcık, and the hazelnut fields in Salıpazarı.
The sun rises once again in Samsun, the city of the Turkish Republic, as it becomes a city of history, culture, nature, and sports with endless blessings for its guests. It’s like it was on May 19, 1919 -never to descend.