A thriving outpost in the dry expanse of Anatolia, Sivas was founded by Hittites in 1500 BC. The city saw the successive rule of Assyrians, Persians, Romans, and Byzantines before flourishing under the control of the Selçuk Sultanate of Rum. Sivas still bears the marked imprint of the Selçuk architectural style. In modem Turkish history, Sivas is renowned as the site of the Sivas Congress of September 1919, during which Atatürk sought to fortify Turkish resistance against Allied attempts to partition Anatolia. The traveler arriving at the outskirts of the city would never guess that hidden among the squat, cement-and-glass cityscape are the intricate geometric patterns of one of the best-preserved collections of Selçuk architecture in Anatolia. In addition to being a center for kilim production, Sivas is also famous for its massive sheepdogs, bred for power and vigilance and exported to shepherds across Turkey.
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The easiest way to get into town from the otogar is to take one of the many free service buses to the bus company offices in Hükümet Meydanı; ask the driver for the şehir merkezi (city center).
Flights: THY office (221 11 44) is on İstasyon Cad. Service to Ankara, Bodrum, Diyarbakır, Erzurum, Gaziantep, İstanbul, İzmir, and international destinations.
Buses: Sivas Huzur (224 06 58), on Atatürk Bul., is reputable and drops their listed price 10% for tourists. To: Adana (8hr., 1:30pm, $10); Afyon (10hr., 4pm, $15); Amasya (3/2hr., 2 per day 8am-5pm, $7); Ankara (6hr.; 8, 9am, 1:30pm, midnight, 12:30am; $10); Bursa (11 hr., 7pm, $15); Eskişehir (9hr, 7pm, $13); İstanbul (12hr.; 9am, 5:30, 7:30, 9:30pm; $15); İzmir (13hr., 4pm, $18); Kayseri (2hr., 2 per day 1:30-6:30pm, $5); Konya (8hr„ 6:30pm, $12); Mersin (5hr., 1:30pm, $10); Samsun (3hr., 8am-5pm, $9); Tokat (1/2 hr., 4 per day 8am-5pm, $3.50). Minibuses to nearby destinations such as Kangal (1hr., $1) depart from the traffic circle at the downhill end of Atatürk Bul.
ORIENTATION AND PRACTICAL INFORMATION
The city is centered on Hükümet Meydanı, the square containing the tourist office and most sights. Atatürk Bui., where most of the banks, hotels, and restaurants are located, runs southeast from here toward the new otogar, 3km south of the city. İnönü Bul. (İstasyon Cad.) heads southwest from the square toward the train station.
- Tourist Office: (221 35 35), inside the Valilik building in Hükümet Meydanı; ask the police officer inside for the “turizm danışma.” Provides a decent city map and brochures. Open M-Sa 8:30am-noon and 1:30-6:30pm.
- Banks: Approaching the main square along Atatürk Bul., turn left into Belediye Sok. for Sekerbank, Ziraat, İş Bankasl, Emlak, and Halk. Additional branches line Atatürk Bul.
- Laundromat: Ms. Çiti Laundry, Hikmet Işık Cad., Adliye Arkası (223 04 50), directly behind the Valilik building. Wash and dry $2.75. Open M-F 8am-8pm
- Hamam: Kurşunlu Hamamı, 23 Arap Şeyh Cad. (223 24 88), is Sivas’s oldest. Follow Atatürk Bul. from the city center and turn right after Otel Ergin; the hamam is on the right, about 300m ahead. Bath $2; kese $1; massage $2. Open daily 4:30am-11pm.
- Hospital: (221 60 20), north of Hükümet Meydanı. There’s also a more convenient Kizilay 24hr. private clinic; $10 per consultation. Turn left off Atatürk Bul. into Belediye Sok.; the hospital is on the first left corner.
- Internet Access: Sivas has many cafes in the city center. The Blue Moon Cafe (221 33 49) is opposite Hotel Fatih on Kursun Cad. $.75 per hr., open until 10:30pm.
- PTT: Off Hükümet Meydanı. Open 8:30am-12:30pm and 1:30-5:30pm. Phones 24hr.
Most of Sivas’s hotels are on Atatürk Bul. There is a cluster close to Hükümet Meydanı, and another 1km further away around Kursun Cad. A local directorate grades hotels and controls prices, but rates are often negotiable.
- Otel Akgül, 17 Atatürk Bul. (221 12 54), strikes a good balance between quality and price. Rooms away from Atatürk Bul. are quieter. Airy and clean, with 24hr. hot water. Singles $9; doubles $14.
- Yavuz Otel (225 0204), on Atatürk Cad., is clean and roomy, if a bit dark. The best budget choice, if you can brave hallucinogenic carpets and wallpaper. All rooms with bath. $7.50 per person.
- Otel Madımak (221 80 27), on Eski Belediye Sok., just off Atatürk Bul. by the PTT, İsa 2-star hotel and one of the best in Sivas, despite its tragic history (see Heartbreak Hotel, below). Recently rebuilt, it has pleasant rooms with bath, upholstered chairs, and elegant two-toned furniture. Singles $15, doubles $25.
- Sultan Otel (221 29 86), also on Eski Belediye Sok. Similar rooms to Madımak at slightly better prices, with TV and rooftop bar. Singles $12, doubles $24.A number of decent, cheap restaurants are off Atatürk Bul. near the PTT (Aliaga- cami Sok.). Liquor stores are rare. There is one opposite Otel Madımak and another (Kalkan) on Hikmet Isin Cad. Both close at midnight. If you’re bar-bound, Akalan, on Iski Belediye Cad., is a loud, dark, friendly rock-and-roll cave, but only admits couples. (Beer $1. Open until midnight.)
- Niyazibey İskender, 4 Eski Belediye Sok. (221 34 94), next door to the Madımak Otel, stands above the rest. Interior complete with flowers, wooden columns, and glass chandeliers. Open since 1860, Niyazibey is renowned for its İskender kebap ($3) and local specialties such as papyon kebap (beef stuffed with cheese and mushrooms, $2).
- Büyük Merkez Lokantası, 13 Atatürk Bul. (223 64 34). This floor restaurant is popular among locals. Swiftly serves up kebaps ($1.70), börek ($.90), and a wide variety of local dishes, including light lahmacuns ($.50). Open daily 5am-midnight.
SIGHTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Fortunately for tourists, most Selçuk architecture in Sivas is crammed around the central square. For historical background, see The Great Selçuk Sultanate.
This small mosque was built in 1580 during the reign of Sultan Murat III. Its well-preserved frescoes and chandelier of drooping glass teardrops earn it a reputation as the most beautiful Ottoman mosque in Sivas. (Head along İnönü Bul away from the city center to the first building on the left.)
A few steps east across the path from the Kale Camii is the Bürüciye Medrese, founded in 1271. To the left of the entrance is the tiled türbe of the Iranian founder. The tomb’s heartfelt inscription reads, “This is the tomb of the humble, homeless servant Muzaffer. May God forgive his sins.” Particularly striking is the incredible detail of the interlocking patterns around the doorway.
Follow the cobblestone path farther away from Hükümet Meydanı. On the right is the 13th-century Çifte Minareli Medrese. Two red-brick minarets with flecks of remaining blue tile flank the extensive relief of the gateway. Directly opposite is the Sifaiye Medrese, built in 1217 under Selçuk Sultan Keykavus I as a hospital, medical school, and asylum. It was converted into a medrese in 1768. The courtyard with four (vaulted recesses) now functions as a kind of motley bazaar-cum-tea-garden. Above the large at the end of the courtyard opposite the entrance are two reliefs: on the left, a man surrounded by solar rays, and on the right, a woman with braided hair. Don’t miss Sultan Keykavus’s enameled türbe in the southern wall of the courtyard (to the right when you enter).
Separate from this complex is the Ulu Cami, the oldest mosque in Sivas, built in 1196. The interior is a forest of columns (50 in all, arranged in 11 rows). The redbrick minaret was added in the 13th century. (From the Sifaiye Medrese, return to İnönü Bui., continue walking away from the city center, and after the park ends take the 2nd left onto the wide Cemal Gürsel Cad. The Ulu Camii is 500m ahead.) Follow the yellow signs to the Gök Medrese, or Blue Seminary, which was built for the Selçuk vizier Sahip Ata Fahred– din Ali in 1271. You may be permitted to climb the unnerving wooden staircase to the top of one of the minarets. From either the Gök Medrese or the Ulu Cami, it’s just a short walk up to the citadel. Only the walls remain, but, inside are a number of tea gardens with views past the city’s boundaries to the mountainous steppe beyond. (Open daily 7:30am-noon and 1:30-6:30pm. $.90; students $.60.)
ATATÜRK CONGRESS AND ETHNOGRAPHIC MUSEUM
This museum commemorates the historic council that took place here in 1919. After skipping town in foreign dominated Istanbul, Atatürk landed in Samsun and proceeded to Amasya and Sivas, organizing meetings with leaders from across Turkey in preparation for the War of Independence and the foundation of the Republic (see The Cult of Mustafa Kemal). The ethnographic items have English labels, but the extensive descriptions of the Sivas Congress are only in Turkish. (In the city center, across İnönü Bul. from the Selçuk buildings. Open Tu-Su 8am-noon and 1:30-5:30pm. $1.25, students free.)
PAYTRIP FROM SİVAS: BALIKLI KAPLICA
Take a bus from Sivas’s old bus station to Kangal ($1); from the town center (with a large mosque and an Atatürk statue) take a dolmuş the rest of the way (9am-5pm, less frequent after 3pm; $.60). Dolmuş drivers raise their prices after 5pm. On quieter days, skilled negotiation can yield a $5 round trip by taxi which includes an hour in the baths. 469 11 51. Normal pools $.75; tedavi $10 per day. Pools open daily 7am-noon and 2-7pm.
For a surreal adventure into the realm of bizarre sanatoriums, take a trip out to Balıklı Kaplıca, which at first glance is just another Turkish hot spring. All, but look closer! The bubbling, selenium-rich waters are the world’s only habitat for several species of friendly, flesh-eating fish. These fish (designated by the management as drillers, suckers, and dressers), along with the healing properties of the water, have made the spring one of the foremost treatment centers for psoriasis, a non – transmittable skin disease. Patients frustrated with the ineffectiveness of conventional medicine flock here to consume gallons of water and submit to the care of the “doctor fish.” It’s worth a dip, even for those who don’t suffer from psoriasis.
The spring offers two types of pools: “normal” pools for tourists and other casual visitors ($.75 per day paid upon entry to the park), and tedavi (treatment) pools for those with skin ailments ($10 per day). An usher wards tourists away from the treatment pools, so only intentional exfoliation or a morbid interest in it will ensure a dip here. While the tickle of tiny bites may feel a bit peculiar at first, you’ll soon get used to the fish as they mysteriously hone in on patches of dry, dead skin. (Pools open daily 7am-noon, 2-7pm). The stream passing through the center of the complex is free and fully stocked, providing a less-daunting encounter than the full immersion, although you may encounter the odd “doctor snake,” said to combat St. Anthony’s fire, another skin ailment. These snakes are small, harmless and, in fact, rarely encountered.
It’s not worth staying overnight in Balikli Kaplica, but there are a few options if you’re in a pinch: the overpriced Unsallar Hotel (457 30 36;; singles $30; doubles $50); the Baraka , or “Shed” (singles $15; doubles $20); and the nearby campground ($5 per cent). There’s food at the site’s market 0 and decent restaurant, run by Unsallar. (Tavuk ızgara $2; biber dolmasi $1.50.)
The Otel Madımak is not just another entry in Sivas’s pantheon of cheap places to stay. On July 2, 1993, a group of Turkish Alevi intellectuals gathered here for a symposium to honor a 16th-century Ottoman poet, hanged for writing against repression. Among the group was the late Aziz Nesin, Turkish translator of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. Nesin’s arrival sparked riots in Sivas. Angry mobs chanting religious slogans broke through police gunfire, set fire to the hotel, and surrounded the blaze to prevent rescue squads from entering or controlling the situation. The hotel burned to the ground, killing thirty-seven, though Nesin himself managed to escape by ladder. Though there is no memorial of what happened, the stepped-up police presence every July 2 reveals just how clearly the event lingers in the city’s memory.