Giresun, where the cloudy skies are encompassed by patches of fog, offers all the fineness of the Black Sea with a history that extends back to the age of legends, and tables adorned with the abundance of the land and sea.
G iresun city center was built on a peninsula. As you climb up to the Giresun Castle, the city gradually begins to reveal itself. The castle, which is situated at a point dominating this peninsula, is believed to have been built by Pharnaces I King of Pontus. It still stands as one of the witnesses of the city’s history of thousands of years and arouses excitement as a part of the city’s daily life. Today, the castle that was once vital for the defense of the city has become a haunt with its sea scenery for those who want to add pleasure to their day. I join those observing Giresun from the castle, accompanied by a cup of tea with its steam immediately disappearing in the cool weather. As the fierce waves of the Black Sea add to the liveliness of the city, Giresun Island, visible in the distance, appears disguised amidst eternal tranquility. This island is a resting place for migratory birds and is dominated by waterbirds like seagulls and cormorants, and boasts a mystical past adorned with legends. As the story goes, the bronze-beaked, fierce birds that were forced to abandon Lake Stymphalia from fear of Hercules’s anger settled on Aretias Island. When the Argonauts led by Jason arrived on Aretias Island in a quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece, these fierce birds attacked the brave sailors. The sailors, who lost one of their companions as a result of this attack, cursed the island, boarded their spectacular ship, and set sail on new adventures. Giresun Island is believed to be the legendary Aretias Island. But this is not the only mythological tale about the island: it is rumored that the Amazons, the legendary warrior women, also lived on this mysterious island.
Since antiquity, Giresun has been a desirable location due to its fertile lands and the harbors that open onto the sea. Many civilizations settled on these lands, and the advantages of this port amazed many merchants. The city’s earliest traces date back to 600 BC. From antiquity, the city was called “Kerasion” or “Kerasus” meaning the “Land of Cherries.” In fact, Giresun is recognized as the homeland of cherries. The tasty journey of cherries began when Roman commander Lucullus brought cherry saplings that he had never seen before to other continents. Today, although the production of cherries is relatively less in Giresun, which has been adorned with cherry trees throughout the centuries, this fruit is one of the produce that has left a mark on the region. Cherries are a local delicacy not only as a fruit, but also salted and stir-fried.
Hazelnuts have been the city’s most popular agricultural product for many years, grown amidst the bountiful nature of the Black Sea region. The Giresun hazelnut is reported to be one of the world’s highest-quality hazelnuts as a result of its taste and oil content, and bears a significant economic value for the region. Hazelnuts also play an important part in the local gastronomical culture. One of the main delicacies produced with hazelnuts, which add flavor especially to sweets and cakes, is croquant. I am on my way to the Şebnem Patisserie, one of Giresun’s classic venues, with half-a-century history to have some croquant. Hazelnuts, the hallmark of the city, in the form of croquant does justice to its fame with its crunchiness, consistency, and the way it melts in the mouth.
I ignore the rain, and taking advantage of being in the heart of the city, I go for a short walk along Gazi Street. Gazi Street, which brings together the university students and shopping enthusiasts, is the most popular destination in the city. Without moving too far from the main street, I head towards Zeytinlik which gives the feeling of strolling around a nostalgic film set with its historical houses. Zeytinlik is a neighborhood that was shaped around a multicultural environment in the 19th century. The structures that combine the perfect harmony of Turkish and Greek architecture carry the elegance of a past era into the present. In these streets leading to the sea, the aroma of orange trees growing in the gardens blends with the smell of seaweed. As I am absorbed in the past, the Giresun Museum appears before me in all its grandeur. The building was constructed for the local Greek Orthodox community in the 18th century and is also known as the Gogora Church. The museum sheds light on the history of the city, and presents visitors with archaeological and ethnographical works in a historical environment.
Following the sign Sanat Sokak (Art Street), I find myself in an area adorned with colorful cafés and stands decorated with handicrafts. I don’t forget to visit the small mantı (Turkish ravioli) shop on the corner of the street to taste the legendary mantı made from Giresun’s thinly rolled dough. I can’t forget the taste of the yarımca böregi (filled pastry in the shape of a half-moon), a traditional flavor, and the nettle-filled mantı that amazes with its green appearance. In the quiet backstreets, I come across the hardworking women of Giresun with their small stands. Black cabbages, pumpkins, crocus, and other herbs I have never heard of before are lined up in front of me while the women don’t forget to give me their recipes. They immediately remind me that everyone who visits Giresun must try the local stews (haşlama).
The next day, after a delicious breakfast of börek made with dry pastry in a small café called Kavak Yelleri on the Aksu shore, I set out towards the Kuzalan Waterfall. Wooden houses, stone bridges, and huge trees are lined up along the winding, twisting road following the Aksu Stream. As the altitude increases, the temperature begins to fall; after a while, the snow that fell gently at the beginning has covered everything like a white blanket. When I reach the Kuzalan Waterfall, I am totally fascinated by the magnificent scenery formed by the ice and water. Kuzalan Nature Park with the travertine created by the water sources that are rich in minerals, its caves, thick forest, turquoise lakes, and waterfalls pouring down from hundreds of meters, look like something out of a surrealist painting. The snow and ice added to this scenery are proof of just how beautiful Kuzalan can be in any season.
As the branches of the huge pine trees tremble from the weight of the snow, I stop in front of a tap that has a sign “mineral water.” I can’t help thinking, “How many places can there possibly be in the world that have mineral water flowing from their taps?”
When I reach Kümbet Highland surrounded by pine forests, I look around at the snow that has covered everything like beautiful white lace, and I am overwhelmed by a childish kind of excitement. The combination of the snow and forest captivates me. It is as if the sound of every snowdrop can be heard here. I am so amazed that just a few hours distance from the city center, the earth has taken on a totally different appearance. The Kümbet Highland, with its pure tranquility and surrounding untouched pine forests, is certainly unlike any other place.
Giresun is a city that has become skilled in handicrafts under the difficult conditions of the climate and the Black Sea. The integration of different cultures here has enabled the creation of authentic products, especially in the fields of weaving and carpentry. The kemençe (small three-stringed violin) that infiltrates the serenity of the city from time to time is a stringed instrument that was born from Giresun’s world of strong emotions. The craftsmanship involved in making the kemençe has maintained its existence in the master-apprentice relationship, and continues today with the same enthusiasm by the craftsmen of Görele. I am on the way of Görele in the traces of kemençe which has a unique sound. As Ali Kol, a kemençe master for 25 years, explains the fine details of his occupation, the sparkle in his eyes doesn’t fade even for a moment. Ali Usta played a Giresun song for me on the kemençe he has made from juniper wood. I set out once again, this time accompanied by these emotional melodies.
On my way back, I buy some sourdough bread whose secret is concealed in its 150-year-old yeast, and stop off at the Tirebolu Doğal Dükkân. Salted, stir-fried cherries accompany this bread cooked to perfection in a stone oven. In Giresun cuisine there is the blend of the practicality of the local people, the kindness of nature, and the accumulation of time. Flavors such as hamsi çıtıratma (fried anchovies), karalahana diblesi (stewed green cabbage), ısırgan yağlaşı (nettle sauté), Piraziz köftesi (meatballs), and salted stir-fried cherries are a reflection of Giresun’s tradition, which it has maintained for centuries, and, of course, its wonderful nature.
As the waves of the Black Sea thrash the Tirebolu shore relentlessly, the seagulls fly against the strong winds they are accustomed to here. I say goodbye to the city with the strong taste of the Tirebolu tea still lingering on my palate.