Taking the less used pathway from A to B; getting out of the car and venturing into the unknown usually brings rewards far beyond the anxiety of arriving on time or the risk of wondering exactly where you are. There is only one road to Ulu Dağ, so it doesn’t really count as a back road; getting out of the car and wandering off along animal tracks into the forest does.
In a similar spirit, J and I went many miles out of our way to take a back road on our journey from Bursa to İznik. I don’t know if wild flowers and wild snails turn you on, but they certainly do me! The forests of Ulu Dağ are splendid, in direct contrast to the ghastly ski resort at the top. If this is Turkey’s premier ski resort it is a bloody disgrace! Getting off the road led to the discovery of thousands of Fritillaria pontica, three different crocus, scilla, great swathes of Muscari latifolium and a
number of, as yet, unidentified flowers along with one of the finest snails it has been my privilege to meet!
Turning off on to a back road to İznik we drove through countryside festooned with wild dog rose; met an old man, his son and grandson who farm pears and peppers. The old fellow was amazed that I wanted to photograph ‘weeds’ and told his son that foreigners were very odd (or words to that effect). Stopping to find a bush for a pee, led to the discovery of beautiful clumps of Iris germanicus and a solitary Orchis lactea.
The tourism Mecca of Dalyan lies just 10 minutes down the road from Okçular. Dalyan is steeped in history and is set on a canvas of outstanding natural beauty with a beautiful lake on its doorstep.
İznik lies just south of İstanbul, about 2 days drive from Okçular (we always take the scenic route over the mountains). İznik too is steeped in history and sits at the edge of a large and beautiful lake.
There the similarities end; Dalyan town itself is bereft of charm; there is little to appeal to the eye with concrete villas set in their 500 cubic metre plots. The tea garden trees are dying, everywhere is paved with blocks that radiate the sun’s heat and graceful, old eucalyptus trees, which may not have been native but gave welcome dappled shade and ‘texture’ to the town centre were cut down and ghastly, out of place palm were planted.
In contrast, İznik feels and looks like a Turkish town; İznik has retained its trees and İznik has not fallen into the trap of paving everything in sight. The promenade area is grassed with little man-made promontaries and islands reaching into the lake. The whole feel of the town is of quiet gentility.
J and I have just returned from a trip to the province of Karabük in the north of the country. On the way home we diverted to spend a little time in İznik and we were both taken with the place – it is a really nice town.
Originally named Nicaea by the Greeks, it served as the interim capital city of the Byzantine Empire between 1204 and 1261, following the 4th Crusade in 1204, until the recapture of Constantinople by the Byzantines in 1261. Much of the original defensive walls still stand along with 2 imposing gates. The city and national authorities are carrying out restorations of old mosques, churches and hamams to the highest aesthetic standards using real craftsmen to do the jobs.
With the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the town lost a great degree of its importance, but later became a major centre with the creation of a local faïence pottery-making industry in the 17th century (known as the İznik Çini, Çin meaning China in Turkish – Chinese porcelain stood in great favour with the Sultans.) İznik tiles were used to decorate many of the mosques in İstanbul designed by Mimar Sinan. Attempts to recreate the perfection and colours of the early pottery glazes have proved elusive. As an aside, one of my prized possessions is an original İznik bowl; although slightly chipped the (hazardous) cobalt blue of the glaze can be found in no pieces other than these originals.
I like İznik; it makes a great staging post for exploring the area or as a stop-over to or from İstanbul. Its true value is as a gentle, relaxing place to spend time replenishing the inner self, wandering back streets, searching out the surprises (see below) and enjoying the finest catfish kebap to be found anywhere in Turkey.