29 September 2023
It is a short, rather pleasant drive 140 miles north to Safranbolu located not far south of the Black Sea.
The temperatures have cooled to below 90° and dark clouds are overhead. A few drops of rain has produced a small rainbow in the east. I read in the news that Istanbul is experiencing a downpour and severe flooding. Perhaps Zeus is angry about something.
We arrive in Safranbolu in time for sunset. Our first stop is up a hill and to a terrace overlooking the city. The views across the valley are well worth the climb. The entire town of Safranbolu joined UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1994 due to its well-preserved Ottoman houses and architecture. This is deserved as the soft light on the minarets, Han and baths, red tile roofs, white Ottoman homes, and opposite cliffs is quite stunning. And always the ubiquitous red flag atop the highest point.
Region of Saffron
Safranbolu gets its name from “saffron” as the old city was located on east-west trading routes and was a center for growing saffron. Situated in a ravine in the shadow of the mountains is Old Town. (New Town is above on the plateau.)
Strolling the old cobblestone streets of the Çarşı district is like strolling through Ottoman history. Our lovely hotel, Çeşmeli Konak, is just a short walk from this center of history.
Evening in Safranbolu
Evening, we walk the cobblestones to our restaurant. Streets are quiet and dark. Narrow passages move uphill to hidden hotels, homes and cafes. Stone walls and foundations, many supporting the motorbikes of locals, date back centuries. Under a huge mulberry I enjoy a cool glass of white wine, delicious dried tomatoes, and the company of the neighborhood cat. Rain drops can be heard on the roof and leaves while I remain dry. The call to player resounds across the city. A nearly full moon breaks out from behind the clouds.
Walking the cobblestone streets of old town
Old Town is like stepping into a time machine. Ornate wooden houses compete with rugged stone houses, both traditional Ottoman architecture. Most are the homes are cantilevered style which provide extra space on the upper floors while also providing shade and protection for the lower levels. The design is not only functional but enhances the charm and aesthetics of the buildings.
Hundreds of these historic Ottoman houses with their distinctive red roofs can be seen. The Cinci Han is a 17th century caravansary with rooftop views over town. Nearby, Tarihi Cinci Hamam is a restored 17th century bathhouse. Along the streets are countless local artisans working their handicrafts much like their ancestors did centuries ago.
I tour the Kaymakamlar Museum House located in the bazaar area. Built during the 19th century, its owner was a wealthy merchant and official in Safranbolu. The second floor rooms, or winter floor, has several rooms for sleeping, eating or relaxing. The wood beamed ceilings are lower in order to conserve heat.
The second floor is the summer residence. Ceilings are higher and the cooking is done on this floor. A handy “lazy susan” rotating tray in the corner allows the women to send the men their food without their being seen. There are plants of private rooms and the house is built with housing multiple generations of family members.
Within Old Town are 25 mosques, 5 rock tombs, 8 historical fountains, 5 baths, 3 caravanserais, and hundreds of homes, picturesque shops, a museum of Turkish coffee, and some pretty nice panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. The cobblestone streets are a bit challenging but strolling thru town is a wonderful way to pass a day.
The Old Ottoman Town of Safranbolu is a must-stop, preferably for more than an afternoon. It is with sadness that I leave too soon and return to Istanbul and the excitement of bright lights, big city.