Safranbolu is a town boasting a glorious collection of old Ottoman houses, with a rich collection of pieces of art which represents traditional Turkish life and culture.
Its rich history and success in preserving it earned the town an inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The best known for its old Turkish houses, the town is attracting more attention especially as these 19th century homes are gradually disappearing from other areas of Turkey. Visitors enjoying walking along the old narrow cobbled streets, and seeing some of the traditional crafts and trades that are still practised today.
It is also known as the Capital City of Preservation, acknowledging its ability to hold onto not only pieces of art, but also the atmosphere.
Brief History of Safranbolu
Previously known as Paphlagonia, Safranbolu took its name from saffron and has hosted many different civilisations in its history including Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks and Ottomans. It was conquered by the Turks in 1196.
The town reached its economic and cultural peak during the Ottoman Empire, partly because its position as an important stop on the Istanbul to Sinop trade route in the 17th century improved the commerce and wealth of the region.
During this period it had close relations with Istanbul and Kastamonu, and state officials from the Ottoman Palace had important pieces of art in Safranbolu.
The wealthy inhabitants of the town built large houses made from wood and stucco, many of which still survive. During the 19th century nearly 25% of the population were Ottoman Greeks, who left after World War I.
Attractions in Safranbolu
The town is best know because of its old Turkish houses and has numerous pieces of art, of which over a thousand are under protection.
There are two distinct areas: Carsi in the south is the old area of town, and location of most of the winter houses, whereas Baglar has the summerhouses. Between them is Kirankoy, famous for the Greek houses that display more top quality masonry, and home to the Greek population until the early 20th century.
The area of most interest to the visitor is in Carsi, seen from the castle in the north, also known as Eski Safranbolu. Hidirlik Hill to the south is the location of two monuments, and was used as an open-air venue for rituals in previous centuries.
Some of the area’s most interesting historical locations are the castle and surroundings, which was the initial settlement area; the Old Government Building; a 200-year old clock tower still in working order; and the jailhouse, now disused.
Within the city there are 25 mosques with historical importance, the most famous of which are Koprulu Mehmet Pasa, and Sultan III. These were constructed by Selim’s Grand Vizier, Izzet Mehmet Pasa.
The newly restored Cinci Hani, the most famous building in the old part of town, is a caravanserai dating back to 1645. Next to that is Cinci Hamami, still working today with separate baths for men and women, with a marble interior and strong light coming in from the domed roof. Both were constructed by Cinci Hoca, from Safranbolu.
The business and commerce of the town are kept as close to the traditional means as possible, and goods are made and sold in the bazaars like Yemeniciler Arastasi. Iron, copper and tin are crafted in traditional means, and the Packsaddle Maker’s Bazaar has preserved the craft in the city.
Excursions around Safranbolu
Safranbolu has impressive areas of natural beauty in addition to its historical and architectural interest. Areas of dense forest, canyons and valleys all offer other activities such as trekking, mountaineering and cycling, as well as the more gentle activity of picnics.
Places of interest outside the town include Ancekaya Aqueduct and canyon, the houses of Yoruk Village, Bulak and Hizar Caverns, Hacilarobasi, Ucboluk and its surrounding rock tombs, Duzce Canyon, Saricicek Plateau and Uluyayla.
How to Get to Safranbolu
Safranbolu by Road
Safranbolu is accessible by bus, although most go from Karabuk 10km south and there is a regular dolmus service that shuttles between the two. From here there are regular services to Ankara (4 hours) and Istanbul (5 hours). Kirankoy is the modern part of Safronbolu and most buses will stop here.
Karabuk Bus Station Tel: (90 370) 412 89 93
Safranbolu by Rail
The nearest station is Karabuk, with a daily train from Ankara to Zonguldak, which stops there.
Safranbolu by Air
The nearest air connection is 240km south at Ankara’s Esenboga Airport, with flights to all parts of Turkey.
Esenboğa Airport Tel: (+90 312) 398 00 00.
What to eat in Safranbolu
There are many places to eat in town, most of which them serve traditional Turkish and Ottoman food, and the most atmospheric are restaurants inside the restored houses. Some of these also have live traditional music, and those around the Carsi area are livelier especially during summer evenings. Almost as famous as the Ottoman houses are the sweets, with many shops selling locally made yaprak helvasi, which is layers of helva with walnuts.
What to buy in Safranbolu
Traditional handicrafts are still widely produced in Safranbolu, especially copper and yemeni, a special type of shoe, which can be bought in the Bakircilar bazaar. Souvenirs are widely available in the Carsi district and Arasta, including goods made in the nearby town of Kastamonu like textiles, wood, leather and ceramics.