Tokat

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And the inhabitants live in luxury, and all their property is planted with vines; and there is a multitude of women who make gain from their persons, most of whom are dedicated to the goddess. There, on account of the multitude of prostitutes, outsiders resort in great numbers and keep holiday.Situated in a valley surrounded by rocky hills, the modern city of Tokat is quieter and more conservative than its history would suggest. Step away from the noisy bustle of Gaziosmanpaşa Bul. to find an old city of crumbling Ottoman houses and winding cobblestone streets, where tourists draw crowds of curious children. Tokat’s handful of first-rate sights make for a brief but enjoyable stay, especially when combined with the spectacular caves at nearby Ballıca.

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Ancient Tokat, or Comana Pontica as Strabo knew it, was the notorious site of a debauched cult dedicated to the Anatolian mother goddess known appropriately as Ma. Annual orgies were held in honor of the goddess, presided over by priests, temple courtesans, and a throng of wild flagellants.

Near Tokat in 47 BC, Julius Caesar delivered a crushing defeat to Phamaces II, the King of Pontus, who had dared attack the Roman provinces of Armenia, Cappadocia, and Galatia. Caesar’s and Pharnaces’ troops clashed between Tokat, and Zile, resulting in the victory that inspired Caesar’s famous “Veni! Vidi! Vici!” Low-key and unpretentious, modern-day Tokat combines a traditional, unhurried calm with modem streets lined with budget hotels and high-quality museums.

TRANSPORTATION                            

  • Flights: The small airport is about 30min. outside town. Tickets to Ankara can be purchased at the THY office, 206/4 Gaziosmanpaşa Bul., 2nd fl. (214 72 54; fax 212 41 69), opposite the Kent Bank. Open M-Sa 8:30am-12:30pm and 1:30-4pm; in summer closes 7pm. Flights Tu at 2:20pm; $58, 25% student discount.) Schedules can be erratic, so phone the THY office in advance.
  • Buses: Metro, Tokat İtimat and Topçam have offices at Cumhuriyet Alanı and at the otogar, near the north end of Gaziosmanpaşa Bul., about 2km from Cumhuriyet Alanı. To: Adana (9hr.; 4 per day 1:30-8pm; $16, students $14.50); Afyon (10hr.; 9pm; $19, students $17.50); Alanya {13hr.; 2pm; $22.50, students $21); Amasya (1hr., 10 per day 7:30am-9:30pm, $3); Ankara (6hr.; 7 per day 7am-12:30am; $13, students $11); Antalya (12hr.; 2 per day at 2pm; $21, students $19); Aydın (11hr.; 3pm; $19, students $17.50); Denizli (12hr.; 3pm; $21, students $19); Diyarbakır (10hr.; 4 per day 9-11pm; $19, students $17.50); Erzincan (4hr., midnight, $9.50); Erzurum (8hr., midnight, $14.50); İstanbul (12hr.; 10 per day 9:30am-9:30pm; $19, students $17.50); İzmir (14hr.; 4pm; $22.50, students $21); Kayseri (5hr.; 4 per day 1:30-8pm; $9.50, students $8); Malatya (6hr.; 11pm; $14.50, students $13); Marmaris (16hr.; 3pm; $24, students $22.50); Mersin (12hr.; 8pm; $16, students $14.50); Samsun (4hr;10 per day 7:30am-10pm; $8, students $7); Sivas (1hr., 10 per day 7:30am-6pm, $3); Trabzon (12hr.; 4 per day 3-10pm; $16, students $14.50). Different companies run on different schedules, so check them all if the times are not convenient.
  • Local Transportation: Dolmuş ($.30) and buses ($.25) run along Gaziosmanpaşa Bul.

ORIENTATION AND PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Mountains and jagged promontories surround the town on three sides, crowned at one point by a kale (fortress). The main street, Gaziosmanpaşa Bul., runs north- south, passing through Cumhuriyet Alanı, a large plaza that is the town’s center. To get to town from the otogar, take one of the free servis shuttles offered by the bus companies. Otherwise, turn left from the bus company offices, walk 400m to a roundabout, and take another left onto Gaziosmanpaşa Bul.

  • Tourist Office: A tourist information kiosk is on Gaziosmanpaşa Bul., next to the Gök Medrese. Open M-F 9am-12:30pm and 1:30-6pm; Sa-Su 9am-1:30pm and 2-6:30pm.
  • Banks: A handful of banks with ATMs line Gaziosmanpaşa Bul. Akbank (214 15 95) cashes traveler’s checks at no commission and accepts Cirrus/MC/Pius/V. Open M-F 9am-12:30pm and 1:30-5:30pm.TC Ziraat Bank (214 32 50) also cashes traveler’s checks. Open M-F 8:30am-noon and 1:30-6pm.
  • Hamam: Tarihi Ali Paşa Hamamı
  • Hospital: Devlet Hastanesi (214 54 00). Ardola Sok., south of the main square on the road to Sivas.
  • Pharmacies: along Gaziosmanpaşa Bul., among them the Eczane at No. 79 (214 10 73). Open M-Sa 8am-7pm, with rotating service on Su.
  • Internet Access: 75 Yıl Internet Merkezi (212 52 98), behind the Meridyen shopping center, in the car park area. Walk south from Cumhuriyet Alanı and take the 2nd left after passing the Latifoglu Konağı. $1.25 per hr. Open daily 9am-midnight.
  • PTT: In Cumhuriyet Alanı. Poste restante daily 8:30am-6pm. 24hr. phones.

ACCOMMODATIONS    

  • Hotel Çağrı, 92 Gaziosmanpaşa Bul. (212 10 28), outside Cumhuriyet Alanı, near the bank. Inexpensive, clean, and large but cozy rooms with TV, neatly made beds, and faux-mahogany furniture. 13 rooms, 8 with bath. Singles with bath $9.50; doubles $12, with bath $14.50; triples $17.50, with bath $21. 15% student discount.
  • Hotel Taç, 1 Vakıf İşhanı (214 13 31; fax 212 03 14), across Gaziosmanpaşa Bul. from the Taş Han. 35 spacious pink and white rooms, most with TV. Nice views of the Taş Han and fortress. Breakfast $1.25. Singles $7, with bath $12; doubles $8, with bath $14; triples $22.50, with bath $29.
  • Otel Plevne, 83 Gaziosmanpaşa Bul. (214 22 07), just off Cumhuriyet Alanı. 18 large, clean, comfortable rooms with peeling wallpaper; most have TVs and baths. Laundry service. Breakfast included. Singles $6, with bath $8; doubles $16, with bath $22.50; triples $24, with bath $32. Student discounts available.
  • Hotel Yeni Çınar, 2 Gaziosmanpaşa Bul. (214 00 66 or 213 19 29; fax 213 19 27), near the Türkiye İş Bankası. The highest-quality hotel in the center of Tokat, with brand new, fully equipped rooms with TV, minibar, and bath. Attached is an excellent restaurant (Tokat kebap $3). Breakfast $1.25. Singles $18; doubles $30; triples $40. Student discounts available. Though famous for its wines, Tokat is no culinary capital. The two local specialties are Tokat kebap (skewered lamb, potatoes, and eggplant; $4), and çökelekli (pita bread filled with crumbled cheese and lamb or potatoes; $.80). Inexpensive restaurants line Gaziosmanpaşa Bul. and its neighboring streets. Vegetarians tired of çökelek can try nohut (stewed chickpeas) at many of the restaurants, but beware the uninvited chunks of lamb that sometimes turn up.
  • Meridyen Cafe, 49 Gaziosmanpaşa Bul. (214 18 00), on the top floor of the Meridyen shopping center. Enjoy an excellent meal and the best view in Tokat from the outdoor terrace tables at this evening student hangout. İskender kebap $3; ayran $.40. Open daily 10am-10pm; kitchen closes at 9pm.
  • Bulvar Restaurant, 111 Gaziosmanpaşa Bul., opposite the Otel Taç. Serves the best Tokat kebap in town ($3.50), washed down with a bottle of local water ($.25), said to cure kidney, gall, and intestinal miseries. Open daily 6am-midnight.
  • Gaziantep Sultan Restaurant (212 81 81). Just off Cumhuriyet Meydanı, in the Ulaşioğlu İş Merkezi, spread out over two floors. Spacious and friendly. Go for the house specialty, sultan kebap ($3). Open dally 6am-11pm.

SIGHTS

GÖK MEDRESE (BLUE SEMINARY)

The most visited sight in Tokat, the medrese now selves as the town’s museum. It owes its name to the brilliant tiles that once decorated the entire exterior but are now only visible in the central courtyard. The enamel on these tiles was designed by a formula so distinct that modern day technology has never been able to reproduce it. The medrese was built in the 1270s by the Mu’in al-Din Süleyman (a.k.a. “Butterfly”), a Rasputin-like adviser to the Selçuk Sultan Kiliç Arslan IV. Mu’in al-Din fluttered craftily around Arslan until, no longer able to bear his lust for power, he had the sultan strangled at a banquet in 1264 and appointed himself regent to the underage successor. Butterfly’s remains are reportedly in the Gök Medrese’s collection of sarcophagi.

The museum focuses on artifacts unearthed at the Hanözü, Sebastopolis, and Maşat Höyük archaeological digs between Tokat and Zile. In the calligraphy gallery, note the 7!4m-long Ottoman diploma required of all tradesmen, listing the owner’s every credential from family background to school performance to completed pieces. Other intriguing items on display include local mgs and kilims, an exhibit on the making of yazma (cloth decorated with block prints), and a wax model of the martyr Christina, whose waxy serenity is offset by the faithfully reproduced bloody gash across her throat. This room also has some excellent portraits and Byzantine art. The medrese houses the Kırkkızlar Türbesi (40 Girls’ Mausoleum) which has 20 coffins painted the color of cotton candy. (Across from the fortress on Gaziosmanpaşa Bul. Open Tu-Su 8:30am-noon and l-4:30pm. $1.50, students free.)

OTTOMAN HOUSES

The splendid Latifoğlu Konaği, a richly decorated 19th century Ottoman family mansion, is one of Turkey’s finest examples of Ottoman architecture. The sign is easier to see when coming from the north, but the large white house is unmistakable. Enter through the garden. (On Gaziosmanpaşa Bul., a few blocks south of Cumhuriyet Alanı, 214 36 84. Open Tu-Su 8:30am-noon and 1-5pm; in winter 8:30am-noon and l-4:30pm. $1.50, students free.) The hilly, stone-paved Sulu Sokak to the west of the Ali Paşa Camii brims with less well-maintained Ottoman homes. (Walk toward Cumhuriyet Alanı from the Taş Han and take a right just before Ali Paşa Camii.)

TARİHİ ALI PAŞA HAMAMI

You can’t avoid the 425-year-old hamam in Cumhuriyet Alanı. Intentionally or not, its roof sings a glorious architectural ode to the human breast. The roof is made of two giant side-by-side domes, while the smaller domes are studded with nipped glass bulbs. Across the street, Ali Paşa, the hamam’s founder, is buried in the garden of the black-domed mosque bearing his name. (Women 6am-5pm; men 5pm-11pm. Bath $2.25; kese $1.25; massage $1.25.)

TAŞ HAN

 This kervansaray, next door to the Gök Medrese, was built in the 17th century for Armenian merchants. Once a major stop on the Silk Route, the Taş Han, at the time of publication, was being converted into a hotel.

OTHER SIGHTS

At the summit of the hill, in his home at 26 Sofyon Mali , 4 Duran Atilgan operates a zurna shop. These incredibly loud, strident, oboe-like wood winds are used in Turkish folk music. Altilgan, a self-taught virtuoso, performs on request. Zurnas go for $30-100. (His house is a bit hard to find; ask passersby for “Duran Amca” or simply the “zurnacı.” Walk up Sulu Sok. and after the parade of shops you will see stairs on your left. Take these to the top and ask for “Duran Atılgan.” 212 04 37.) North of the shop, the old fortress presides over the city. Not much remains, but it has a nice view, and if you climb up during the call to prayer, the town’s muezzins create a peculiar acoustic effect. (Head north from Cumhuriyet Alanı; past the museum, you’ll see a yellow sign marked “kale.” The trip is either a 30min. walk or a $1.50 taxi ride.)

DAYTRIPS FROM TOKAT             

İS BALLICA MAĞARASI (CAVES)

Buses leave daily for Ballıca from their office at 225 Niksar Yolu Kavşağı, opposite the Yavşaroğlu Düğün Salonu (1hr., Sa-Su 1am, $2.50). Tur 2000 may be willing to arrange group trips on weekdays. Alternatively, hire a taxi to Ballıca and back ($25). Another option is to catch a public bus to Pazar from Tokat’s Cumhuriyet Alanı (1hr, $2) and take a taxi to the caves ($5) from in front of the PTT.261 42 36. Open daily 8am-8:30pm. $.75.

A new paved road 25km from Tokat winds up White Mountain (Akday) 1916m to the entrance of the Ballıca Mağrası. Stalactites and stalagmites of awe-inspiring size have been forming on the marble and limestone walls of these giant caves since the Pleistocene Era, at a rate of every 400 years. Evidence suggest that some of the caves had human inhabitants in the Hittite period. Ballıca is made up of eight vast chambers that are unseasonably cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Descending hundreds of stairs into a horizon less landscape of jagged and bulbous green rock, punctuated only by the dripping of water and the chattering of bats, visitors have ample opportunity to indulge in Journey to the Center of the Earth fantasies. Although there are no English explanations inside the caves, the paths are very well marked, and it is impossible to get lost. A friendly, English- speaking guide (or Rehber) can lead you around for $.75 per person. A thorough tour of the caves takes 1-3hr. The caves are a popular stop of elderly asthmatics who believe the air within will help their breathing. A cafe just outside the entrance offers lovely views of the surrounding.

Travelers who go through Pazar might want to stop at an old kervansaray and the Belediye İşhanı Sosyal Dayanışma Vakfı, a blanket and kilim school. The school is in the back of the building across from the Belediye Hotel on Pazar’s main road; turn toward the PTT and the entrance will be on the left. The weavers don’t speak English, but will display their wares, serve you free çay, and let you try your hand at kilim weaving. (Kilim school -261 20 01. Open M-f 8:30am-12:30pm and 1:30-5pm.)

KAT

Dolmuş run every hr. from the minibus station, just behind the Gaziosmanpaşa Lisesi (school), off Gaziosmanpaşa Bul. (45min., daily 7am-5:30pm, $.75). Taxi from Tokat $25. Park entry $.50; access to the waters $1.25; to drink and bathe in a private room $7.50.Budget travelers with ailments of the body, heart, or mind should check out the healing spring in Kat. The local tradition is to make a wish in the glade beside the spring, tie a handkerchief to a branch, and drink the spring’s water. The area’s greatest attractions, however, are the fresh kiraz (cherries) sold by farmers at absurdly cheap prices ($.25 per kg). While there’s no real reason to sleep here, there is a clean, 8-room hotel . (Singles $8,75; doubles $17.50.)

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