The Black Sea Coast


This rugged, mountainous region of Turkey has a wild beauty, but lacks the wealth of historical and climatic attractions of the rest of the country, while the thunderous main road leading west from the CIS destroys much of the local atmosphere. Despite the variable weather, there are several coastal resorts with good, sandy beaches. These include, from west to east, Kilyos, Sile, Akcakoca, Sinop (also very interesting historically), Unye, Ordu and Giresun, many of which are sadly tacky, catering to the poorer end of the home-grown tourist market. There are also several fascinating historic towns such as Safranbolu, a short distance inland, whose traditional Ottoman architecture has been deemed worthy of UNESCO World Heritage Status; coastal Amasra with Hellenistic walls, Roman ruins, Byzantine churches, and 14th-century Genoese fortresses; and Amasya, a dramatically sited town which was capital of the short-lived Pontic Kingdom (founded in 120 BC) and has a wide range of ancient, Byzantine and Ottoman buildings, including the rock tombs of the Pontic kings.

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Keep to the side roads if you want charm, between the two regional centres of Samsun and Trabzon. Samsun has an important place in modern history as the War of Independence began here in 1919, which is reflected by one of the finest monuments in Turkey, though little remains to testify to its ancient origins. In Trabzon (the sadly shabby Trebizond of history), the ruins of a Byzantine fortress can still be seen, together with many fine buildings including the Fatih Camii, built as a cathedral during the 200-year rule of the Comnene family (11th-century upstarts who overthrew Byzantine rule and carved themselves a small kingdom). The spectacular 14th-century Monastery of the Black Virgin at Sumala, 54km (34 miles) from Trabzon, is set into the face of a sheer cliff, 300m (1000ft) above the valley floor, and contains some magnificent frescoes.


East of Trabzon, there are few large towns and tourism concentrates on the fascinating lifestyle of the small Laz and Hopa peoples, hiking in the remote, beautiful Kaçkar Mountains and the region of Artvin, once the centre of Turkish Armenian culture and home to several magnificent century churches dating from the ninth to the 11th centuries.

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