İznik; Tiles and Tranquility

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.

iznik1

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.

iznik2With 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 ÇiniÇin 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.

A few impressions to be going on with:

iznik3
old hamam restoration
iznik4
the quality of restoration is outstanding
iznik5
the mighty northern Istanbul gate
iznik6
the scary sight that awaits those entering the Istanbul gate
iznik7
would you want to mix it with these jokers?
iznik8
the southern gate
iznik9
. . can you work out what this is?
iznik10
admit it, you’re amazed to see it’s an electricity sub-station
iznik11
the back view of the triumphal march
iznik12
part of the extensive defenses
iznik13
. . . and yet more

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

Elmalı – Appley

There was a time, way back, when I believed in maps – I’d been weaned on a diet of Ordnance Survey military and Wayfarer maps as well as Shell Route Planners. Maps were maps, maps were accurate, maps were reliable, things of beauty, treasure troves of information – and then J and I came to Turkey!

Here, we rapidly learned, maps were the physical manifestation of someone’s fevered imagination! Designed to confuse Greek third-columnists and Soviet ‘Spetsnaz’ special forces; maps here showed roads where none existed and nothing where they did. Whole towns upped sticks and moved miles to where you might eventually find them – if you were lucky, had unlimited time or happened to pick up a local who was hitching a lift there! Navigating off of the main roads, and even on them, was a trifle hit and miss to say the least.

So it was that way back when J and I were searching out places to settle down we set out very early from our overnight stop at Kalkan. In our search for places that would give us the right sort of vibes, we were heading up and over the mountains behind the town following the so-called main road to the town of Elmalı – ‘Appley’ (or ‘With Apples’ if you want to be precise) in English.

Pretty soon the asphalt ran out and we were on the dirt which got progressively rougher until we considered ourselves lucky to get into second gear from time to time. The hours dragged on as we ground our exhaust system across the uneven terrain and dodged the heavy construction vehicles that were working on a new baraj. Eventually we crept into the small town of Gömbe, a pretty enough place nestled to one side of the river valley, where we stopped for a very late lunch.

These days, anyone making the journey would wonder what the fuss was about as they whizz along the new road that bypasses the baraj and Gömbe. Back then it was a nightmare and because of the construction work the road from Gömbe to Elmalı was also a mess. The plain between Gömbe and Elmalı lies 1100mts above sea level and my enduring memories are of the glorious smells of apples and woodsmoke (it was winter). By the time we got to Elmalı it was dark and J and I had had enough – it was going to take a lot more hours to get back to our base in Dalyan so instead of stopping in the town we drove on and until a couple of months ago we had never been back.

When we did, we were delighted! The town has great charm with many lovely old houses, a beautiful main mosque, a quaint little mosque and water from the mountains cascading down gullies in the steep streets. The air is cool and sweet in summer and although it gets bloody cold in winter it makes a great base to explore the surrounding countryside which is magnificent. Missing this little gem the first time around was a mistake.

Elmalı and little Gömbe both have charm and interest but for me they are mainly useful as a base to explore the stunning mountains that surround them. I’m not going to spend any time describing in detail, suffice to say that J and I spent three days walking, touring and exploring before taking the magnificent drive back that takes you up over the mountains and down to Seki before rejoining the main mountain road from Antalya to Fethiye. It wasn’t enough, so we’ll be back for more.

If you haven’t been to Elmalı or explored the surrounds I recommend it to you, especially when you want to escape the heat of summer for a while. Meanwhile, here are a few photos to whet your interest.

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

Elmalı Camii and Medrese
Little Camii on the hill
fascinating back streets

 

‘oldish’ house
interesting insects
across the rooftops of Elmalı

 

more back streets

 

view from the top with karamanlar (fat-tailed sheep)