Avrasya Üniversitesi

An Ancient Capital

Although it is considered that Trabzon was founded in 2000 B.C it has not been possible to establish the date of its foundation with absolute certainty. The historian P. Minas Bıjışkian has the following to say; “According to Diodosios and other authors this city was founded 2,536 years ago in the reign of King Ezekia, , the first settlement being founded by a colony of settlers from Sinop. Though Xenaphon, who visited Trabzon, said the same thing Euzobios gives the date of the city’s foundation as thirty years earlier, that is, five years before the foundation of Rome in the reign of King Yoatam” (1). Prof. Dr. Haşim Karpuz, on the other hand, states that “it has been established that the oldest archaeological finds date back to the Early Bronze Age. It is certain that others settled here before the Greeks” (2). In actual fact the period between the foundation of Trabzon and its attaining the status of free city really belongs to the Dark Ages.

The historian Bıjışkian uses the following metaphor to describe this ancient city, which was founded between two valleys.”Trabzon Castle resembles a peacock in a general way. Aşağıhisar (the lower stronghold) resembles a peacock’s tail feathers spreading out as far as Ortahisar (the middle stronghold). The latter, which is on the west side of this configuration and stands back slightly represents the bird’s body. İç Kale (the inner castle) represents its neck and the Tower, which bends to one side, its head”. (3)

Trabzon, too, possesses the common features to be found in all of the very first cities and is an important example of a city laid out according to defence needs and topographical conditions. The city, which was founded on a hill lying between two deep valleys, solved the problem of defence with walls built on the hill. It was just like all walled cities and consisted of İç Kale (the inner castle), Ortahisar (the middle stronghold) and Aşağıhisar (the lower stronghold). After the Free City period came the Roman, Byzantine and Komnenos periods, followed in 1491 by the Ottoman period. Throughout history many rulers have striven to add Trabzon to their territories. However, Mehmet II, who changed an entire region with the conquest of Istanbul, also conquered Trabzon and realised a dream that had for centuries proved unattainable.Trabzon was now Turkish soil, it remained so throughout a period which included the foundation of the Republic in 1923 and it still is.

The city, which has been the scene of so many civilisations, has always, both in administrative and economic, and in social and cultural terms as well, possessed all the characteristics of a metropolitan city and for this reason has for centuries been referred to as “the capital of the Black Sea”. In the city, which has experienced so many events, development was inevitable in all the places which provided a melting-pot for the cultural development of its people. The historical formation of the city and the cultural identity of its people are intertwined. Syntheses that are the common heritage of these civilisations can be observed in the life culture of Trabzon and of its people. The most important aspect of the cultural heritage that has accumulated over the centuries, is buildings. Let us now take a look at some descriptions of Trabzon penned by a number of different writers:

There was an ancient harbour one mile in length providing shelter for more than fifty ships long before Xenophon. Bıjışkian states that the writers of old referred to the harbour as being an impressive work. He goes on to say that “on one side of the coins minted in ancient Trabzon was the head of Apollo and in the other, the words TRANEZOYNTIN, together with the prow of a ship and an anchor, from which it can be inferred that in those times Apollo was the deity worshipped by the people of Trabzon and that it was a busy port.”(4)

In his Book of Travels Dr. Perunak Feruhan Bey (4) speaks of a large number of historic buildings, large and beautiful gardens, groves of trees, orchards, gardens full of flowers and the houses inside them. Again, according to the same writer , “In those years there were two big squares in the city, Gavur Meydanı, which had formerly been used as a hippodrome, and Kabakmeydanı…”On feast days these squares are full of people enjoying themselves. Apart from these squares there were places to the east and west of the centre where people went for walks such as Ayasofya, Kabakmeydanı and Tekfurçayır. There were parks planted with trees in the Yenicuma and Boztepe districts.” (5)

Trabzon historian Şakir Şevket Bey writes of large and beautiful tea gardens in Gavurmeydanı in 1877, of sports facilities in Kavakmeydanı and of old buildings in Ayasofya, Tekfurçayırı and Değirmendere.

Trabzon has always been beloved by people who possess natural values because of its architectural heritage, its churches, mosques, khans, hamams, schools, streets and squares, both within and without itswalls-embraced, cherished and nourished like a sweetheart who satisfies all our senses, those of emotion and those of perception as well, having played a decisive role in the formation and development of their personalities.

This city is closer to us because of its topography, its pattern of buildings from centuries past, its open spaces, squares both large and small, the human dimensions of all this, the harmony that comes from making use of what nature offers and lines that are not geometrical. Many of these places have now disappeared but can be identified from their photographs and mourned. However, some of them survive and with the world they offer us define the concept of living areas where happiness reigns. These survivors and the heritage they have brought with them influence our life culture and encourage its development.

Cities create the most favourable environment for human activities, provide for people’s spiritual satisfaction in the areas where they live together, determine their bonds with the past and create areas where aesthetics reign supreme. It is these qualities which give a city its personality and there are countless bonds between the personality of a city and those who live in it.

When we take a look at cities which possess personality we are struck by the number of men of the arts and statesmen they have produced and by the noble attitudes and behaviour of their inhabitants. The countless musicians, artists, writers, poets, sportsmen, statesmen and craftsmen to which Trabzon gave birth,(this particularly applies to the past) and continues to give birth to, are something to be genuinely proud of.

And what of the city’s craftsmen? At one time they lived and worked in houses and bazaars of considerable charm under the leadership and supervision of their guild. In this city blacksmiths, jewellers, tailors, confectioners, makers of sweetmeats, carters, makers of meat preserves, shoemakers, bootmakers, coppersmiths and so many others kept the guild tradition alive in their bazaars.

There are still streets where only coppersmiths, shoemakers, saddlers, tailors, money-lenders, cooks, jewellers and craftsmen with occupations it is difficult to remember once practised their trade. At the beginning of the l9th century Russia, Greece, Persia, Austria, Britain, France, Italy, Belgium and Prussia all had consulates in Trabzon. (6)

The kıraathane, an institution which functions as a public reading room and coffee house, also plays an important role in communication and exchange of information and in the formation and maintenance of friendships, too. These places have given much to the people of Trabzon, both in terms of an enjoyable glass of well- brewed tea or cup of foamy Turkish coffee, and of the other values they represent. It must indeed be an enjoyable experience to sit and gaze at the flower garden and valley from the coffee house by Tabakhane Bridge, or at the other valley and green citrus orchards from the one by Zağnos Bridge, to sit in Bahçeli Kahve in the summer heat and chat with friends under the oleasters. And there are so many cosy, friendly coffee houses, such as İstanbul Kıraathanesi, which overlooks the harbour, Selamet Kıraathanesi in Gavur Meydanı and many, many others, among them Sabah, Erzurum, Yeşilyurt, Şafak Bakoğlu and Suluhan, there in the cobbled streets of a city with honeysuckle and jasmine descending in fronds from its garden walls and the bay windows of its houses overhanging the streets..

The two bridges which afford access to this ancient city over its valleys, Tabakhane to the east and Zağnos to the west, reflect the different periods in the evolution of Trabzon with the many additions that have been made. While there were once many public baths in Trabzon, two of them built before the Ottoman conquest and the remainder afterwards, now only twelve of them are still in existence. Many of these buildings are now used for other purposes. The open spaces inside the city, its squares both large and small sometimes have a tree or a fountain as a focal point. There are so many places in the city that exemplify happiness – its mosque courtyards full of pigeons, its rich flora, its parks, gardens and bazaars…

Then there are houses, which are the cradle of so much of our lives:

The quality of life offered by the houses of Trabzon responds in a very positive way to our spiritual and physical needs. However, their place is rapidly being taken by homes which are far less a part of us, which offer us far less happiness. Wealthy homes such as the Kostaki, Nemlizade, Kabayani and Hacı Rüştü mansions should be viewed separately because while the rich can adapt to change of any kind and build elaborate and eclectic structures ordinary people develop their own art of building, incorporating traditional elements. The homes of the middle income groups bear the common traditional features of the Turkish home in Trabzon as well. The majority of them have either internal or external entrance halls, or some- times the latter is at the side of the house.

Houses in Trabzon face in a particular direction according to the sea, the wind or the sun. Most of them have two storeys but some have three. The ground floor is of stone and the upper floors of lath and plaster with roofs of wood covered with Turkish tiles. High walls isolate them from the street and the variety of flowers in their gardens make them neighbourly nests of happiness. There are goldfish ponds and just about every variety of tree and flower in these gardens, with honeysuckle, wisteria, jasmine and rambling rose draped over their walls.

In the valleys where Tabakhane and Zağnos bridges were built, two clear streams flow; water cools and is the source of life. The area is surrounded by green orchards.There is the city’s coastline, with its crystal-clear sea and natural beach-es-Ganita, Tombul kaya, Beştaş Kemerkaya and Uzunkum. On its hillsides are places such as Kisarna, Soğuksu, Kireçhane, Bostepe and Zefanos, each with its own individual beauty. These are places where the people of Trabzon retreat to their summer residences. The city of Trabzon, including its older parts, lies between Ayasofya and Arafil. The city had its own long stretch of sandy beach as well. This is the city as it was until the recent past.

Now let us take a walk inside the city walls, passing through iç kale (the inner castle), Ortahisar (the middle stronghold) and Aşağıhisar (the lower stronghold) and pass through Moloz Gate to the coast.

İçkale is separated from Ortahisar by the city walls and runs along içkale Street. The gate, which was later widened, is to the south east of Gazi Pasha Primary School and gives access to the main castle gate via another gate. A third gate of the Inner Castle, too, is at the end of the street where the second gate is located and opens into Tabakhane Valley. İç kale contained the palace, munitions stores, the Kule (tower) Baths and the İç kale (Inner Castle) Mosque.

Minas Bıjışkyan had the following to say about Ortahisar between 1817 and 1819: “Ortahisar is almost like a continuation of Iç Kale, however its wall and gate are separate. It lies between the two hisars (strongholds) and the area inside it is flat. Even though it extends as far as Aşağı Kale (Aşağıhisar) its double walls and iron gates separate it from the latter. On its west side is Zağnos Gate and on the other, Tabakhane Gate.There are public baths, houses, shops and mesjids in içkale. Some of them were built after the conquest and others, such as Ortahisar Mosque and the Gavur Baths had formerly been churches. The old Pasha Palace is surrounded by accommodation for servants and grooms and stands on high ground to the west…

The present Pasha Palace lies at the far end of Aşağı Kale. It is a large building opposite the Imaret Gate.”(7)

In his book “Trabzon’daki Bizans Çağı Yapıları” (Buildings of the Byzantine Period in Trabzon), Prof. Dr. Mükerrem Anabol has this to say about the city walls. “In 395 A.D, in the early years of the Roman Empire, the condition of Trapezos was not bad at all. In the 6th century Justinian had the castle, first built in the Hellenistic period, rebuilt to make it larger. The castle is the one which defended the city against the attacks of the Anatolian Seljuks in the llth century. Built in the reign of the Emperor Justinian, this castle consisted of walls whose thickness varied between 2 and 4 meters and a number of towers.” (8)

In 1489 Yavuz Sultan Selim (Selim the Grim) was sent to Trabzon as governor at the age of 20. On the 6th day of the 2nd month of the Muslim year H.900 (1494), a son was born to Crown Prince Selim and his wife, Hafsa Sultan (9). This child was later to be known to the whole world as Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent. We know that his father was Governor of Trabzon until 1512 and that Crown Prince Süleyman lived in the palace at Ortahisar until he was 15 years of age, receiving his education in Trabzon and later to leave the city when he was appointed governor of Kefe.

The church of Panaghia Chrysocephalos in Ortahisar later became Ortahisar Mosque. “The churches of Trabzon emerged as a branch of late Byzantine art different from that at the centre of the Empire, displaying a local character.” ( 10) Panaghia Chrysocepalos is a typical Trabzon church. The Musa Pasha Mosque, the Şirin Hatun Mesjid, Çifte Hamam (the double baths), the Fatih Madrasa, the bridges, city walls, the city gates, two of which open on to the bridges, the other two being located between Aşağı Hisar and Orta Hisar are all fine examples of civil architecture which, together with the houses and gardens of the city, make it a lovable place that is worth living in.

The Trabzon houses lined up along the city wall to the north and south of Zağnos Gate seem to be there to greet visitors to the city. Once we pass Zağnos Bridge weare in the old city and the first important building we encounter is Ortahisar Mosque. Opposite the entrance to the mosque is a mesjid, next to which stands a coffee house. Once one could sit down opposite the mosque behind a row of flowering lime trees, the scent of which mingled with that of the oleasters in the courtyard of the mosque. Now, however, in the courtyard where the oleasters were only three horse chestnuts survive. One of these is a red horse chestnut, which is not a native of the Black Sea coast, indeed no other red chestnuts are known to exist in the region.

As evening descended the gentlemen of Ortahisar would take a seat under the limes as they made their way home from work, enjoy their tea, coffee or sherbet and after a final chat would wend their way homeward. Hükümet Konağı, or the Governor’s Residence, is an important symbol for Ortahisar. After the demolition of the old residence, which was of wood, the new residence built on the same site in the 1920s is the most original example of the First National Architectural Period in Trabzon. Its gardens, which are above the city walls, extend as far as the street and once bordered on the grounds of the old prison to the south. Together with rare trees such as cedars, palms, sago palms, albizia (pink siris) and Japanese red cedar, there were well-tended beds of beautiful flowers.

This building is now used by the Ministry of Culture and its many rooms will continue to offer the people of this city a wide range of facilities for many years to come.

Hükümet Caddesi or Mimar Sinan Caddesi: The last bend in this street leaves Çiçek Street on its right and the Olcay Printing Works, which are still functioning, on its left and then descends to Tabakhane Bridge. In fact this bend is the subsequently widened gate of the ancient city, and the gate also forms the boundary of Ortahisar to the east.

Trabzon is an ancient capital within the walls of Aşağıhisar, Ortahisar and içkale… Its centre, too, is Ortahisar. In spite of damage inflicted at different times Ortahisar can still be preserved much as it was, with its surviving works of monumental value, its examples of civil architecture and relatively unchanged fabric, and for this reason it has been declared a Preservation Area.

The last part of the ancient city is Aşağıhisar, which extends as far as the coastline to the north of Ortahisar.

Aşağıhisar comprises the greater part of old Trabzon. Its walls start at Zağnos Bridge and, running northwards from Zağnos Tower extend as far as the sea. From this point the walls run parallel with the harbour, which dates from the reign of Hadrian, then turn southwards and link up with Ortahisar. It is known that the greater part of these walls was built in the reign of Alexios III (1297-1330) and later completed.

There are a number of gates in Aşağıhisar and the gates which were in use in the Ottoman period are as follows: (a) The Zağnos or İmaret Gate, which lies between Zağnos Tower and Zağnos Bridge. (b) The two Sotka (milk) gates open westwards. On his map Lynch shows a moat in front of these walls. (c)To the north is Moloz Gate, which opens on to the harbour. In the walls of Aşağı Hisar are Mumhane (chandlers’) Gate, which is near Liman Kulesi (the harbour tower) and Pazar (bazaar) Gate, which is further south. (11)

This is what Prof. Dr. Haşim Karpuz has to say about Aşağıhisar: “In Aşağıhisar we can see the Nahip Mosque (formerly St Andrew’s Church) and Pazarkapı Mosque (the original mosque, built in 1563, was demolished and a new mosque built in 1988) and the Hoca Halil Mosque.

In this district there are also two hamams (public baths), Sekiz Direkli Hamam, Tophane Hamam and fountains, together with a number of typical Trabzon houses, among them the Kundupoğlu House, the Yarımbıyık House and the Kitapçı house, all of which are well-known. There are also other important examples of similar houses in Mehmet Avni Sokak (street), Kundupoğlu Sokak, Ziver Sokak, Kenanoğlu Sokak, Goloğlu Sokak and Çulha Sokak.

Aşağıhisar, which has six gates in its walls, has managed to survive the vagaries of time and preserve its identity.

Let us take a walk in Aşağıhisar as it was yesterday. When we leave Ortahisarı through the old castle gate to the north of çifte Hamamlar we will see the grave of a saint that has been on the east side of the gate for centuries. This saint is known as Tezveren Dede (literally: quickly-giving grandfather), probably because he has answered the prayers of so many people over the centuries.To the south of the grave, at the northernmost point of Ortahisar’s walls, is the impressive stone house of the Subaşı family. The street running from içkale and Ortahisar from north to south is içkale Caddesi (cadde=main road), which inter- sects with Maraş Caddesi at the foot of the north wall of Ortahisar. At this point Islahane Sokak begins, and on the corner of its intersection with this street there was, according to the historian Mahmut Goloğlu, a school where orphaned chilrden were taught a trade, which had fırst opened as a reformatory.The subsequently built children’s home and other buildings are still in existence and continue to extend a warm welcome to orphaned children. At the point where Islahane Sokak ends, there is another street running straight down from. the junction in a westerly direction, where it is known as Sotka Kapısı Sokak and in an easterly direction, where it bears the name Sandıkçılar Sokak. In this street, where the remains of the guild system can be seen, there are still a number of craftsmen practising this trade (the making of chests). When the trousseau of a young girl of marriageable age was being prepared the first thing that had to be done was to order a chest, and these were usually made of varnished walnut. In these chests, where our mothers and grandmothers kept their trousseaux and clothing through- out their married lives, there was also a bunch of lavender, together with the garments they wished to be clothed in for their journey to the next world.

A step into another life meant a trip to this street. But did these craftsmen only make chests? Most of them also made coffins to measure – and did this not represent a step into another world as well? Whether it was to be a chest or a coffin, life and the next world, happiness and death were like brother and sister in the chestmaker’s workshops in this street, they went hand and hand.

Aşağıhisar has been Trabzon’s larder for centuries and this must be a function originating in the harbour of ancient times. In this connection, the district which is inside Aşağıhisar is known as Pazarkapı (market gate), and fruit, vegetables and foodstuffs for the city are still distributed from this place. For centuries in the morning hours the road leading southwards from Aşağıhisar has been full of Trabzon’s citizens, both men and women, carrying nets and baskets full of fruit, vegetables and groceries. When we pass through Mumhane Gate to the east of Aşağıhisar we fınd ourselves in the bazaar district where most of the trade of the old city is concentrated. It is here that old arcades and commercial buildings such as Ardıhan, Paraşkova (Sabırhan), Vakıfhan, Alacahan, Yalıhan and Fatih are located. Of these, the Fatih Arcade and Vakıf Commercial Building have Category 1 preservation orders.

In the 1950’s before the coast road was asphalted you could see the beautiful twostorey Casino building opposite Moloz Gate. In the basement of this building there were cabins overlooking the sea. In the late afternoon, when the sun was already low in the sky, the road in front of the casino would fill with the women and children of Trabzon taking a walk and enjoying the sea until sunset, when they would wend their way home in the cool of the evening. The quay at the eastern end of the beach separated it from the busy stretch of sand on the other side.

I can remember the many labourers on the sands in the days before all transportation shifted to the roads; boats, most of which brought foodstuffs to the city, were pulled up onto the sands by these labourers and there their cargoes would be sold direct to the consumer… water melons, honeydew melons, pears, oranges, tangerines and anchovy. The man in the boat would run an eye over a melon would then toss it to his mate waiting below, who caught it with the skill and agility of a goalkeeper. The latter would then sell it to a customer. Pears were mainly sold according to a unit of weight known as “kot”; one “kot” of hazelnuts was 6 kg and one “kot” of maize, 8 kg. Oranges and tangerines brought from Rize were painstakingly counted out in fives, and bargaining was carried out on this basis. The consumer would come up to the boat and buy what he wanted – and in those days of plenty, fruit was carried home by the basketful.

When the anchovy boats were hauled up onto the sand in front of Moloz Gate it was as if a feast day had started and the shrill cries of seagulls trying to steal the odd fish from the boats was the music of the day.

People with a good head for business set up small open air restaurants on these sands. There was a travelling restaurant consisting of a few chests turned upside down and a few grape crates with newspaper spread on top, a primus stove, a frying pan, anchovy dipped in maize flour and fried in olive oil served with a chopped onion or bread and radishes in front of almost every boat, and this was the food of people bringing products from the villages, of workers and the poor.

Indeed, is it possible not to be drawn irresistibly by the smell of fried anchovy? Seagulls, vendors, the people of the city, labourers and the poor were the actors on this lovely stage.

Although the coast road has suffered from the impact of more buildings, changing conditions of trade and other influences, it is still the area around Aşağıhisar, Moloz Gate and Mumhane Gate, the vegetable market, shopping centres and trade bazaars where the bustle of Trabzon’s trade is concentrated, the place where the city’s heart beats. This district, together with the historic buildings next to it are areas which need to be preserved.

I should like to take a walk round the old city and briefly remember some charming places of the recent past and the happiness they gave us. Of these buildings, which played an indisputable part in the development of the city, some still survive to show us what is meant by “likeable, happy places”. Solutions to the problems of this growing city must be in keeping with its history, culture and natural environment, otherwise Trabzon will lose its identity.

A future for Trabzon, or a yearning…

In the twenty first century the measure of modernisation will be related to the strengthening of local identity.

The ancient city and old Trabzon must be preserved, a healthier environment created as renewal and renovation take place. However, these parts of the city should not be turned into museums, on the contrary, care should be taken to ensure a dynamic integrity with their inhabitants which preserves the authenticity and culture of the city. New housing development areas, which are a necessity for Trabzon, will, together with the infrastructure to be built, open up the way for a public transport system, most of which should be rail-based.

Additions will be made to the city which will have modern lines and at the same time reflect the original architecture of Trabzon. In a growing city the objective of the transportation system must be to cut down the time spent travelling. In the city of the future joint projects, not individual ones, should be the aim. Small satellite towns in harmony with nature and the surroundings must be dealt with as a whole and the ecological balance should not be ignored. Land must be allocated to meet the vital needs of the city and its efficient use should be the main objective. When the city is viewed as a whole, a fall in land speculation in the centre of the city will be observed as problems are solved. Then the city will cease to be one with only a single centre because of the secondary centres being set up and will thus be saved from chaos. The coast and valleys through which rivers flow should be arranged so that the people of the city can take advantage of them to enjoy their leisure hours.

The ancient city of Trabzon is one that reflects its cultural identity,it is a rejuvenated and living city which has solved the problems posed by an unfavourable topography and geography. It lives comfortably here with its mild climate, has planned its future and produced solutions to the necessities and problems of life in the future today, it is a city in harmony with nature. One needs to be far-sighted to foresee the future inhabitants of this city, the generations it will produce.

Are the existing regulations and structure still viable?

Policies should be reviewed, fields of competence and application should be clearly redefined. A planning office must be set up where there are experts from a number of different fields. This office must produce detailed solutions to the city’s main problems. The city’s financial policy should be so arranged that all this work can be carried out. Publicity should ensure that the people of the city play an active role in the decisions taken, for it isonly then that they will take an interest and make sure the plans are implemented.

Is it not a modern approach for citizens, planners and politicians to participate equally in the making of decisions that affect the future of the city? Trabzon’s troubles are all of the kind that can be cured.