Amasya’s charm and interest derives from several sources, the first being nature. Situated in a narrow valley along a beautiful, winding river, the old city is flanked on its north side by a sheer rock face and on the south by hillside nearly as precipitous. At what point does a rock become a mountain? I don’t know, but I can report that those that enclose Amasya are awesome in their size and proximity.
Like most cities in Turkey, Amasya has ancient roots. The geographer and historian Strabo was born there in 64 BC, and his description of his birthplace is as accurate today as it was two thousand years ago.
According to legend, the city was founded by an Amazon queen but more likely began as a Hittite settlement. Alexander the Great conquered it, and after his death it fell under the control of Mithridates, an adventurer from a Greek city further south. Mithridates founded the Pontic Empire which lasted several generations and whose kings are interred in spectacular rock tombs cut into the north face above the town. By day or night when they are lit from below, these tombs are a beautiful and evocative sight.
Blessed by nature first, then blessed again and again through the centuries by Seljuk and especially Ottoman monuments, Amasya contains in microcosm the best of Turkey’s past and present. The city holds itself dignified in ways that most Turkish towns do not, as if conscious of its long and important history. During the Ottoman period it and its surrounding province were a kind of training ground for young Sultans-to-be.
Sent there to learn how to govern, they improved the city with beautiful Islamic structures. Though centuries old, many are still in daily use and perfect condition. There is much restored, residential Ottoman architecture to admire as well.
A good example is the lodging where we spent a couple of nights. Restored and adapted by an architect whose office is located in the ground floor, Ilk Pansyon was built along Ottoman lines by an Armenian family sometime in the 19th century.
Its lovely, quiet courtyard with its antique outdoor cooking arrangements was where we took our breakfasts.
Inside, the décor was strictly Ottoman – lots of wood on the walls and ceilings, and carpets and textile coverings everywhere. Even the modern bathroom was disguised behind the doors of a built-in wall cabinet. In Ottoman times, even the elite bathed in what today seem impossibly tiny tubs hidden in cabinets as if there were something shameful about the process. In spite of having to climb over a two-foot threshold to get to the bathroom, we were very comfortable in our large, airy corner room.
To conclude this report of our continuing travels, I’ll only say that I wish all cities in Turkey would try to emulate the city fathers of Amasya. The beautiful park-lined promenade along the river, the benches, litter baskets, lighting and other street furniture are wonderful modern complements to the beauties and amenities of earlier times. They are the final reason we will continue to think of Amasya as the prettiest town in Turkey.