Safranbolu: Silk Road and tradition in Northern Turkey

Salep at Safranbolu

Sip a cup of salep under a vine; the sun sparkles through the green leaves and the purple grapes. Around you are mosques and Ottoman houses, three caravanserais and the Arasta bazaar,   which once housed all the cobblers of the town and is now a gem of wood and peace, surrounded by vines, with a great bar that serves traditional Turkish coffee.

Safranbolu Turkey Arasta Bazaar

In Safranbolu the Silk Road was one step from its longed Mediterranean end and I can imagine how the caravans would welcome this green and shady valley after the infinite vastness of the Anatolian steppe plateau.

Safranbolu qualifies as a UNESCO World Heritage sight and is an ideal destination for photographers looking for characteristic views: its traditional wooden and stone Ottoman houses are clotted around some hills. From the top of these hills you can enjoy a superb view: the city, minarets,  domes and the surrounding mountains .

Safranbolu at sunset

There is so much silence in Safranbolu, broken by the recurring calls to pray of the muezzin. But if you visit it during  Ramadan, then you should know that traditions are well respected here; so, every Ramadan’s night, few hours before dawn you’ll hear the sound and rhythm of a tambourine who goes through  the streets of the town to wake up and call the faithful to their last meal before the ritual fasting, that begins at sunrise. If  you are able to go on sleeping, that won’t get long, since at sunrise the muezzin’s chant will wake you up.  At that point, just get up and head to the scenic spots identified the day before, to photograph landscapes with the best possible light.

In the central hours of the day the light is often very raw, made even tougher by the angles determined by the stone houses, the deep shadows cast by the overhanging roofs and tents of the shops in the market . As in the first and last hours of the day as well as landscapes you can photograph details and textures, when the sun is high it will be better to focus on images with a strong graphic impact, high contrast; don’t be afraid of taking advantage of a full backlight to draw a fascinating silhouette.

House of Safranbolu

Street of Safranbolu

To walk through the narrow cobbled streets of this town is a real pleasure: there are few tourists, there is no crowd, and you have the opportunity to photograph with ease. There are markets, the walls of the caravanserai in the center of the old urban core (today converted in a 5-stars hotel but still worth a visit), and a deep and narrow canyon where blacksmiths work all the day and sell theit products.

Young girls and a bike in Safranbolu

If you can afford to spend a dozen Euros, do take a taxi to Yörük Köyü, a nearby village, almost completely uninhabited, which is magically preserved in a time warp. The name means “Village of Nomads” and its inhabitants were once famous for their ability to make bread. In Istanbul the best bakers are former inhabitants of  Yörük Köyü, emigrated to the big city.

The village is charmingly under-restored: there are ancient cream-plastered Ottoman houses dating back to the sixteenth century, quiet corners, the square with the minaret and the mosque. All is quiet and almost deserted.

People of Yörük Köyü

Today in Yörük Köyü live were very few people (officially 144). All the young men are away, mostly elderly, women and children remain here. You meet them along the unpaved roads of the village, busy with their agricultural work, or simply lounging in the cool of the shadow cast by the mosque.

This is a charming remote place where you can find peace, quietness and beautiful houses often in a poor state of preservation: not yet a ghost town , but something very close to it .

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2 thoughts on “Safranbolu: Silk Road and tradition in Northern Turkey

  1. Atilla says:

    i visited your blog and looked your photos. Well done. All of them great photos and succesfully travelling. Best regards.


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