Some say the mountains make people hillbilly, others say they preserve their cultural identity. Whether the inhabitants of the Black Sea region are more Turkish than Turkish or something like the East Frisians of Turkey is not to be discussed here. One thing is certain: several mountain ranges separate the Black Sea region, which stretches from the Marmara region in the western part of the country to the Georgian border in eastern Turkey, from the rest of Anatolia.
And for the Turks living there, there is hardly anything greater than hospitality. Almost one-fifth of the country is covered by the Karadeniz Bölgesi (in English: Black Sea Region) area, which includes almost the entire Turkish southern coast of the Black Sea. And these have rarely been on the agenda for vacationers in Turkey; they are mostly drawn to the Mediterranean Sea. Wide, empty sandy beaches lure along the Black Sea coast. In summer it can get hotter than 40 degrees Celsius locally, but in winter it can also be freezing cold with up to minus 20 degrees.
The highest elevation of the Pontic Alps, which towers ever higher towards the east, is the Kackar Dagi (3932 meters), which can be climbed as part of guided tours; in winter, the mountain is a destination for heli-skiers. The Coruh River, which is considered an excellent rafting area, has its source in the Kackar Mountains. The mountain lake Uzungöl, which was formed after a landslide, offers a picturesque sight. On the high plateau of Ayder, framed by pine forests, where hot springs gush, thermal baths promise relaxation.
In the fertile coastal regions, olives thrive in the humid climate; The region is also known for the cultivation of tobacco and tea - especially the city of Rize, where the Islampasa Kursunlu Mosque from the 16th century can be admired. A coastal metropolis worth seeing is Amasra in the western part of the region and in the hinterland the small town of Safranbolu. The ensemble of old half-timbered houses there was worth an entry in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1994.
The city of Samsun on the coast is of particular historical importance: the landing of Mustafa Kemal Pasha there on May 19, 1919 with the ship "Bandirma" is considered the beginning of the liberation struggle after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire.
How did people do that? Almost 300 meters above the gorge of the Altındere River, in English: golden brook, the Sumela Monastery in the Zigana Mountains seems to be stuck to the rock. How does it get there? According to legend, two angels placed an icon of Mary in a cave that had been painted by the evangelist Luke. The two Athenian monks Barnabas and Sophronios got wind of this and created a memorial to the icon in the cave, the cornerstone of the monastery to which it was expanded in Byzantine times.
Only in the 19th century were the prayer and sleeping buildings visible from afar on the rock face added. Fountain, bell tower, chapel, aqueduct and all rooms are connected in a complex system with wooden stairs, balconies and bridges. The relics are said to have once included a splinter from Jesus' cross, which was used to consecrate the well water.
St. Mary's Monastery was busy until the end of the Ottoman Empire and the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey by Kemal Atatürk, when it fell into disrepair and was restored in 1972. Today, Sumela, located south of Trabzon in Altındere National Park, is an important place of pilgrimage for both Christians and Muslims.
As Maryam, Mary also experiences great importance in the Koran as the virgin mother of Jesus. At the instigation of the Greek-Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, a service was held in the monastery - which is open all year round as a museum - in 2010, for the first time in 87 years.
He likes to eat Caucasus black grouse that live in north-east Turkey, but also chamois, deer, goats - actually. It is disputed whether the Anatolian leopard still exists at all. Archaeological finds show that the big cats were hunted in this region as early as the Early Bronze Age. Trophy hunters almost wiped them out in Asia Minor until the 1970s.
In 2013, a leopard fell into a photo trap in the Kaçkar Mountains in Trabzon province. In the same year, shepherds in the south-eastern Turkish province of Diyarbakır shot a leopard, apparently in self-defense, which, however, was assigned to the subspecies of the Persian leopard according to genetic tests.
Another photo was actually taken in 2021, but the authorities did not specify where it was taken for animal welfare reasons. Whether the Anatolian leopard (Panthera pardus tulliana) represents its own subspecies is uncertain. The search for him continues, including with wildlife cameras.
75 percent of all hazelnuts worldwide come from Turkey - and most of them from the Black Sea region, where millions of hazel bushes grow in the hilly landscape up to the Georgian border. Smallholders in particular cultivate areas here that, taken together, are almost three times the size of Saarland.
The hazel needs little care, each cutting grows into a large bush. The unofficial hazelnut capital is Giresun with the largest hazelnut factory and even a hazelnut harvest monument.
Other centers of fındık, as the nut is called in Turkish, are Akçakoca, Trabzon, Samsun and Ordu, where a large festival honoring the hard fruit is held every September. The dessert baklava is then prepared with chopped hazelnuts instead of the pistachios usually used, specialty shops sell hazelnut butter or hazelnuts with chocolate coating.
The nut, which was cultivated in the area around 2838 BC, has long been known. was cultivated, has become a cultural asset. It appears as a divine fruit in folk songs and legends, and a twin hazelnut is said to bring good luck to lovers.
At the end of the performance, the dancers often shake their shoulders as if they were fish caught in a net - and one understands the origin of the Horon folk dance: fishermen are said to have invented it. It is one of the most fervently lived traditions and is often danced for hours at engagement and wedding celebrations, but also at other festivals, whether in the Trabzon highlands, in the provinces of Rize and Giresun or elsewhere in the east of the Black Sea region.
Those dressed in traditional costumes take their positions in a ring, semicircle or lined up like a straight string of pearls; they hold hands and follow the accelerating sounds of the kemence, the three-string box-necked lute, and the bagpipe tulum, which musically sets the tone.
You have to try the traditional Black Sea fondue. Kuymak is slightly thicker than the Swiss cheese fondue and is often eaten for breakfast rather than in the evening.
Thanks to the regional, long-matured Trabzon cheese, which makes every Appenzeller look old, it's also spicier. Mixed with butter, salt and cornmeal, the cheese is simmered in the pan until it has melted. You simply dip the bread in the large pan, which increases the sociability factor of the fondue. To melt away.
"Conversations without tea are like a night sky without a moon"
The Turkish proverb has a special meaning in the Black Sea region. Two thirds of Turkish tea comes from the area around Rize – the city is located in the easternmost part of the Pontic Mountains.
When importing coffee became too expensive in the early 20th century, the Turkish National Assembly decided to grow tea here. This was the beginning of the triumph of the hot drink. And in honor of the Rize tea, there are various tea festivals in the summer.
Drinking tea is part of everyday life and a sign of family cohesion, whoever drinks tea together decides on a friendship. It is traditionally drunk from small glasses, and it is boiled in a double-decker pot called a caydanlik.
Bizarre, record-breaking, typical: You can find more parts of our regional geography series here.