Situated on a flatland lining both banks of an emerald green river among the mountains, Amasya has welcomed many kings, rulers, and young princes. Today, it welcomes travelers with an interest in nature and history.
Some cities wait for the right time to open their doors for you. I hit the road towards Amasya, a city I haven’t had the chance to visit despite the fact that I was born and raised in the Black Sea region, as if I’m about to open a veil of mystery behind the mountains. Named Amasseia, Amasia, and Amasiyye at different points of time, the city has preserved not only its original name but also its geographic richness and cultural values. I plan a tour filled with architecture, archaeology, and gastronomy. The first thing on my list is a stroll along Yeşilırmak River and the discovery of Yalıboyu Evleri (Coastal Houses) along the bank.
Flowing down between magnificent mountains, the green and vibrant river of Yeşilırmak was called Iris in ancient times. In fact, Yeşilırmak resembles a deeply impressive, green iris in the heart of Amasya. Right before me is Mount Harşena, a striking sight interlaced with the Yalıboyu Houses that look almost like hand drawn. I feel I’m in a period movie but it’s hard to decide which period. Behind them are the King Rock Tombs which decorate the slopes of the mountain like crowns. Home of young Ottoman princes and their mothers for more than 150 years, the region of Kızlar Sarayı (Girls' Palace) neighbors these tombs dating back to the time of Pontus kings. Atop Mount Harşena is Amasya Castle hidden among white clouds. Even by looking at the city from one spot, I can see the history before my eyes like a film strip.
Born in Amasya, the famous geographer of Anatolia Strabo summarizes the city’s longestablished history as such, “Although it has become a state, Amasya once belonged to the kings.” Ruled by the Kingdom of Pontus, Hittites, Romans, Byzantines, and Seljuks followed by a long Ottoman sovereignty, Amasya bears the traces of all these civilizations. Like an open-air museum, the city crosses my path with bridges, inns, madrasas, bathhouses, and mausoleums. Knowing that cities that do not embrace their history cannot have a future, the locals in Amasya protect this great heritage with a number of museums. The Archaeological Museum of Amasya is a good place to start delving deeper into the city’s layers with artifacts from many civilizations from Hellenistic remains to mummies from the Ilkhanate period, Byzantine sculptures to Roman sarcophagi.
Being the city where young Ottoman princes were trained as sanjak-beys not only bestowed Amasya with a mission and power but also left it with memories of the Ottoman times and young princes. This heritage is kept alive at Şehzadeler (Princes) Museum. One of the loveliest of the Yalıboyu Evleri along the Yeşilırmak has been transformed into a two-story museum. I can almost see the wax sculptures of Ottoman princes including Murad II and Bayezid II who later became sultans- breathing before me. The stories of the princes and the mansion’s impressive interior decor, which resembles Ottoman palaces, take me on a journey to the time of the Ottoman state’s period of ascent.
“People who visit this city should not leave without getting lost in the Hatuniye neighborhood at the foot of Mount Harşena,”I think to myself as I weave around the stalls full of colorful tablecloths, fragrant soaps, Amasya’s unique okra çiçek bamya, and red misket apples. There are some Ottoman and Seljuk structures in Amasya which earned themselves a place in my memory and heart such as Sultan Bayezid II Kulliyyah, built by Sultan Bayezid II for his son, Prince Ahmed, who was the governor of Amasya; Gökmadrasa Mosque, a Seljuk structure which immediately strikes the eye with its façade of turquoise tiles; and the octagonal Kapı Ağa (Büyük Ağa) Madrasah.
One of the places I admire the most is Darüşşifa (Hospital), a building dating back to the Ilkhanata period which mesmerizes me first with its crown gate’s elegance and then with its story. Built between 1308 and 1309, the structure was used, for centuries, as a hospital where physicians were trained and the sick were cured. Darüşşifa, among whose disciples is Şerefeddin Sabuncuoğlu, one of the most important physicians in the history of Turkish medicine, now hosts a peerless museum named Sabuncuoğlu Museum of Medicine and Surgery. Using the healing power of music for spiritual discomfort, Darüşşifa teaches me which maqam (a melodic mode used as a basis for improvisation or composition in Persian, Arabic, and Turkish music) is good for which ailment and about the effects of the sound of water on the soul.
One should listen to the history of love in Amasya as much as the history of civilization. Associated with Amasya in Anatolia for centuries, the legend of Farhad and Shirin tells the love story of Princess Shirin, the sister of Mehmene Banu, the female ruler of the city of Erzen in Azerbaijan, and master muralist Farhad. The ancient water canals on the Amasya-Tokat road were named “Farhad Water Canal” based on this legend and, a few years ago, the city opened a Farhad and Shirin Museum of Lovers, where I witness a parade of love full of surprises, like wax sculptures and lighting, telling the stories of, among many, Kerem and Aslı, Architect Sinan and Mihrimah Sultan, and even Romeo and Juliet.
Sixty kilometers from Amasya, the emerald colored Lake Borabay opens the doors to a completely different world. Borabay, one of the best places to visit in the Central Black Sea region for a weekend spent in the local bungalows or a day in the bosom of nature, is a favorite among locals. Besides, the journey from here back to Amasya has another surprise. Near the town of Ziyaret, I see another mighty rock tomb known as Aynalı (Mirror) Cave. The magical tomb’s pediment reads “A tomb of Father Tes” in ancient Greek letters. The reason it’s called "Mirror Cave" is that the façade shines brightly with the sunlight.
Amasya turns into a fairyland at night. In the dark, the elegant Ottoman houses in Yalıboyu glitter beautifully with colorful lights. They look even prettier when the moonlight hits the surface of Yeşilırmak. The view reminds me of Van Gogh’s paintings.
Some of the mansions by the river have been restored in accordance with the original planning and have been turned into hotels or restaurants and they hide the city’s culinary gems. Reopened as a hotel with its authentic look, Sarı Konak Otel deserves a visit for its chic atmosphere and service of local delicacies such as fırın keşkek (an oven-baked dish of mutton or chicken and coarsely ground wheat), the famous local hash pastry, and bakla dolma (vine leaves stuffed with fava beans). Visit Seher Ana for the local tırtıl dessert, and Anadolu Mantı Evi in Hatuniye for delicious mantıs of all kinds.
There’s a lot to tell about Amasya. The humble workshop and stories of Mustafa Sofu, the last copper samowar master; Mehmet Paşa Mosque with its peaceful garden and elegant fountain; the historic Sofular neighborhood which has been recently renovated; the newly opened Şeyh Hamdullah Museum of the History and Art of Calligraphy; Burmalı (Wreathed) Minaret Mosque from the Seljuk period; Fethiye Mosque, which was transformed from a Byzantine church; and many others! In this ancient city, which has succeeded in belonging both to the past and to the present, there are many stories to leave for tomorrow.