Allan Langdale is an art historian and lecturer, who earned his doctorate degree from the University of California at Santa Barbara. His specialties include Italian Renaissance art and architecture, medieval art, and Byzantine art. His recent publications include the definitive guidebook to the art and archaeology of northern Cyprus and the travelogue, Palermo: Travels in the City of Happiness (2015).
One of the most charming stops on our Black Sea tour is the traditional little town of Safranbolu, tucked into the peaceful arms of a quiet little valley in the northwest countryside of Turkey. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the town has encouraged its citizens to preserve traditional Ottoman building styles and techniques, so walking there makes you feel as if you’ve stumbled upon a 19th-century Ottoman village. Saffron is produced there, plucked from the delicate white crocuses of early spring, and the locals also drink a delicious yellow tea made from the rare spice.
Safranbolu’s confectioners are known for the best ‘Turkish Delight’ in all of Turkey (Turks refer to it as Lokum). If you think you know what it tastes like, try it again in Safranbolu and you’ll become an instant lokum connoisseur.
One of my favorite parts of the town is a little alley filled with metal workers, who grind, weld, hammer, and file their noisy, clanging wares. Huge metal platters, door hinges, knockers, and all manner of metalwork are made there. One can find the strangest things, both decorative and utilitarian. All this takes place at the base of a towering minaret of the town’s 500-year-old mosque. When the call to prayer comes, the clanging goes on in a strange but marvelous cacophony.
The village’s cobbled streets, medieval in character, lead in all directions, yet the place is so small you can’t really get lost. We enjoy lunch there in an Ottoman period han or caravanserai—a sort of hotel for camel caravan traders—where today, modern carpet sellers hopefully unroll their beautiful products in a tumble of brilliant color and marvelous geometry, flirting with potential customers.
There are traditional Turkish bakers there as well, molding the large loaves of bread in an assembly line and sliding them into huge glowing ovens to bake several at a time. As they’re drawn out, the streets fill with that unmistakable and most wonderful smell of fresh baked bread, here made white flour with a crisp crust like a French baguette with golden tones. The loaves are so hot you can’t carry them right away unless you want to use newspaper to protect your hands.
Safranbolu is a delightful little time capsule, an intimate glimpse into a past long forgotten in many other Turkish villages and towns that have been transformed by the nation’s accelerated modernization. It’s just one of many gems on Zegrahm’s Circumnavigation of the Black Sea.