Saving Çorum’s Best for Last
/ By Josh
While I’d been to Çorum a few times before this, there was still a lot left on my to-do list for the province. When I visited last September, I intentionally left some of the biggest sights for a later trip hoping to take my time rather than rush to see everything in a short amount of time. In fact, it was on this last trip that I finally got to explore Çorum’s main claim to fame, but you’ll have to keep reading to see what that is.
Last time I was in Çorum it was hot, the sky was blue, and everything was a dry yellow. This time it was just above freezing, the sky was grey, and everything a lush green. Apparently, April is Çorum’s rainy month. So while I was hoping for a mix of sun and clouds with the occasional shower, I got four days of near constant drizzle from a dull grey sky.
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That being said, I don’t want to complain too much. I had wanted to go to Kars this month to visit the absolutely stunning ruins of Ani and the scattered monasteries tucked into the deep ravines and canyons of that beautiful region. However, while I was in Çorum, Kars got four feet of snow and roads, airports and the lot were closed outright! So the drizzle really isn’t so bad.
The rain had been around for a while by the time we landed in Samsun, where the normally beautiful views of the tall seaside hills were hidden in thick fog. It continued most of the way to our first destination which was Shapinuwa, near the little farming town of Ortaköy.
Shapinuwa was a massive Bronze age city of the Hittites covering around nine square kilometres with a long wall that surrounded royal residences, temples, store houses, and hundreds upon hundreds of other buildings. While it’s been a trove of information for historians and archaeologists, there is very little left for visitors to see beyond scattered foundations and some ancient silos made up of rows and rows of giant clay pots.
Back in the town of Ortaköy we grabbed food, got to know some of the locals, got a tour of the town, hung out in the kıraathane (Turkey’s most exclusive of establishments which I’ll explain later) and even got invited to stay the night. While Ortaköy is technically a regional centre, it’s really the size of a village where barns and tractors seem to outnumber homes and cars. While weather kept us from doing a whole lot of sightseeing, we got to spend hours with our newly made friends chatting about local life, politics, local economy, religion, wild conspiracies, and basically anything else you could imagine.
The Çorum dialect has a couple peculiarities; firstly the accent can be quite challenging, and the second is that they swear A LOT! Everyone from young kids to old men were swearing all the time no matter who the audience. In fact, there’s a thing on youtube where movies have been dubbed into the Çorum dialect. Basically, all they do is dub the audio with extra mumbling and add copious amounts of swearing to the dialogue! While I’ve learned all the swearing, toothless old village men were still pretty hard to follow for the most part.
We woke the next morning to the beauty of village sounds: drizzling rain, farm animals, and only the very occasional motor. A welcome break from the highway that I hear all day from my living room.
A pretty standard way of building houses in Turkish villages is to build a new home on the same property as the much older, usually wood and mudbrick house. The old home gets put to use as storage, a barn, or, is sometimes just abandoned. In this case we were staying in a fixed-up room in an abandoned portion of the house. A rather strange feeling place to stay but a great experience with some great hosts!
After breakfast with our new friends (served village style on the floor) we decided we’d check out İncesu Canyon and simply hope that the weather would clear. It didn’t, but the canyon was beautiful, with nothing but the sound of the wind in the cliffs, the gentle gurgle of water, and the drone of hundreds of frogs.
After İncesu Canyon it was on down small country lanes through Çorum’s sprawling farmland and on to the regions most impressive sight of all; Hattusha!
Three thousand three hundred years ago, Hattusha was the capital city of the Hittite Empire, one of the three great empires of the bronze age and, in keeping with the incredible importance of the place, the city was absolutely massive! The city wall was 8kms long with hundreds of towers built along its length. At its peak it was home to around 50,000 people with massive temples, palaces, citadels, ponds, granaries, and libraries covering the hills, valleys, and clifftops. There’s a long winding road that runs through the interior of the city, but even then it takes quite a bit of walking to see all of it.
If you haven’t noticed already, I love history, and the mysterious nature of the Bronze Age kingdoms, especially that of the Hittites, tempts me to write rather long-windedly about these amazing places and the little we know about the peoples that lived there. But I know that most people (especially my wife) aren’t going to be very interested in Hittite proto-arches, Teshub’s relation to Zeus, or bronze age drilling techniques so I’m going to cut the history lesson short here. (If you’re interested in more on Hattusha we have a guide coming out in the near future.)
That evening in the ancient city, temperatures dropped to around two degrees above freezing with windchill which I was NOT dressed for at all and absolutely froze as I attempted to fight the rain blowing into my camera lens. But just as we were leaving the clouds broke apart just enough to allow for some more interesting shots as the sun set and the museum closed for the night.
That night we had a hard time tracking down a place to stay and a place to eat. While the town of Boğazkale (the modern town where Hattusha is) is definitely bigger than Ortaköy, it has suffered from the drop in tourism to Turkey over the last few years. Most of the place seemed abandoned, as though the hotels, restaurants, and shops waiting for the return of the tour busses. With most of the young people leaving for education and work opportunities in the bigger cities the average age was rather high and the only thing open after 8pm was the local kıraathane.
For those that don’t known what a kıraathane is (and there’s no reason you should know what it is), it’s an ugly looking, smoke filled, tea house packed with old men playing cards or dominos. These men are almost never well off, usually dressed in working mans clothes (which in turkey still means a full suite but of rough and often brown cloth), and they’re not exactly used to foreigners visiting. As we looked in longingly at the poorly decorated room with the woodstove, and hot cups of tea from the bitterly cold night, I explained to my friend that it’s really hard to get into one of those places unless you get invited in. And just as I was explaining this, a guy we had met earlier in the day spotted us and invited us in! Thinking we now had our introduction to this exclusive community, I tried to get in again the next day. I went in by myself, and as I sat down an unsettling hush fell over the room and a dozen pairs of wrinkled eyes turned towards me. Pushing through the tangible awkwardness I waved for a cup of tea, drank it, and left.
After another swing at getting some photos in Hattusha the next morning we headed for the tomb of Gerdekkaya, somewhere out in the Çorum county side not too far from Alacahöyük. According to what I could find online, it was somewhere near the village of Küçükcamili, which turned out to be less of a village and more just some old man’s house, barn, and shed. When we stopped to ask the man, he said that there was no tomb, just a house carved in the rock (which is exactly what the tomb is, we confirmed this by showing him a picture), and that the roads would be way too muddy for our little car. Then he started talking like some creepy old man at the beginning of a horror movie: “if you know what’s good for you, you’ll just pack up your stuff, turn around, and head home before anything bad happens.”
So we did.
And instead of Gerdekkaya we ended up stopping at the much more accessible waterfall at Budakören village. A waterfall that’s probably only worth visiting after a great deal of rain when the creeks swell full and rush off the high cliffs just outside the village.
From that point on the weather only got worse (despite what Google had assured me), and so for our remaining day on the road we went to the city of Çorum where we visited the local museum, the sadly crumbling remains of Çorum Castle, and visited my old friend the leblebi seller.
The first time I stopped in Çorum a number of years ago I met Durak and ended up chatting with him for around an hour. The next time I passed through Çorum I stopped by to see him again and load up of some more of the city’s famous snack. Later we learned that his cousin was married to our upstairs neighbor back in Istanbul! Perhaps the biggest hardship to come from all the rain was that we ended up hanging out in shops drinking way too much tea and constant tea drinking always leads to frantic searching for bathrooms!
While it wasn’t exactly the trip we had expected, Çorum was as beautiful as ever and the people incredibly welcoming. Maybe the bad weather made them feel sorry for us and quicker to invite us in?