Samsun is situated between two river deltas jutting out into the Back Sea, north of Turkey. West of the town the Kizilirmark (the Red River), one of the longest rivers of Anatolia, produced its fertile delta, East of the town the Yesilirmak (the Green River), a river that passes some remarkable towns on its way to the sea, did the same.
People always were attracted by the combination of fertile ground and shallow waters for a harbor, due to this Samsun has a long history and its myths go back even longer. According to ancient myths the delta east of Samsun was the land of the Amazons. The geographer Strabo (64 BC-23 AD) describes the Amazons as a people of female warriors. In order to shoot easily with bow and arrow they had one of their breast removed. Amazon is derived from the old Greek and means ‘without breasts’. The Amazons used men from neighboring peoples to reproduce themselves and male children were sent to neighboring peoples. The myths situate the period of the Amazons about 1200 BC.
Fiction or non fiction, fact is that the Amazons‘ myth spread again under the conquerors in South America. Along world’s biggest river a people of female warriors should live. The female warriors were never found but the river was named the Amazon.
What we know for sure is that Greek colonists settled in the 6th century BC and established a flourishing trade with the people of the interior of Asia Minor.
In the 3rd century BC Samsun came under the rule of the expanding Kingdom of Pontus. Initially the Kingdom of Pontus had been a part of the empire of Alexander the Great that broke up soon after his death in the 4th century BC. At its zenith the Kingdom of Pontus controlled the north as well as parts of central Anatolia and merchant towns on the northern Black Sea shores.
The Romans took over in 47 BC and were replaced by the Byzantines. The town was captured by the Seljuks (around 1200 AD), taken over by the Ilhanid Mongols and later became part of a Turkish principality. Samsun was incorporated in the network of Genoese trading posts and was taken by the Ottomans in the first part of the 15th century. Before leaving, the Genoese burnt the town to the ground.
Under Ottoman rule the land around the town later mainly produced tobacco. The town was connected to the railway system in the second half of the 19th century and the tobacco trade flourished. Its port had fallen prey to a slow decay and despite the tobacco Samsun became a rather dormant place.
Whatever their size, ports remain important gates for in or exporting new ideas and renovations. Here, on 19 May 1919, a man stepped ashore who would create a Turkish state, change a society and even alter a language; this great man was Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
As a result of choosing the losing side in the First World War the Ottoman Empire was in shambles. The victorious Entente powers virtually occupied Istanbul. The Entente didn’t only intended to divide the Empire but had a division of Anatolia in mind as well. The Greeks had visions of a new Hellenic Empire, the French had the Hatay and Syria and desired a part of South-Eastern Anatolia, to the Italians a southern part of Anatolia (Mediterranean region) was promised. The British already had Arabia, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.
On 15 May 1919 Greeks forces occupied Smyrna (Izmir). The admiral of the British warships, at anchor offshore, had to order the Greek commander to restore order. A few days later the Italians landed in Antalya, taking a piece from their promised part of Anatolia.
The interior of Anatolia however was beyond any control (apart from some Entente, mostly British, detachments and officers) and was in the hands of the remnants of the Ottoman Forces and gangs of Greek or Turkish brigands.
To put an end to this situation the major Entente power involved (Britain) asked the weak Ottoman government to restore law and order in those parts. “If the Ottomans wouldn’t do it, they would” was the threat.
Since the southern rim of Anatolia was more or less under control by British warships and by competing Greek and Italian troops, the restoration of law and order had to be carried out from the north of Anatolia.
Clever manipulating and the help of friends and sympathizers at the right places, gave him the chance to become Inspector General of virtually all of the Ottoman forces in Anatolia. He and his carefully selected staff left Istanbul aboard an old steamer for Samsun on the evening of 16 May 1919.
The Inspector General who stepped ashore on 19 May 1919 set up his quarters in the Mintika Palace Hotel. He made the people of Samsun aware of the Greek and Italian landings, staged mass meetings (however he stayed in the background) and made, thanks to the excellent telegraph network, fast connections with the army units in Anatolia. He started to form links between various nationalists groups. He sent telegrams of protest to foreign embassies and the War Ministry about British reinforcements in the area and about British aid to Greek brigand gangs.
In Istanbul the British became alarmed when they learned that the victor of Gallipoli had been send as Inspector General and his behavior didn’t make it any better. They urged a recall of the Inspector General. Thanks to friends and sympathizers in government circles a ‘compromise’ was worked out; the power of the Inspector General was curbed, on paper.
However, British and French control officers and the sea with British warships were uncomfortable and close by to keep on acting freely. After a week in Samsun Mustafa Kemal and his staff moved to Havza, about 85 kilometers inland. He did this with the pretext that he was ill and needed the hot springs of Havza to recover.
Today many visitors will find themselves in Samsun mostly for reasons of business or for Atatürk starting there the War of Independence. The dormant town of the times of Atatürk became an important trade centre and has a large modern port. The only thing that didn’t change is the hospitality of Samsun’s inhabitants and the growing of the aromatic Turkish tobacco in the deltas. Few things remind the visitor of the rich past of this town.
The town is pleasant and its centre, Cumhuriyet Meydani (Square of the Republic), is near the port. North of Cumhuriyet Meydani (at Atatürk Bulvari) is the Tourist Information Office. A bit west from the tourist information office you’ll find the Statue of Atatürk’s Landing. Further West along Atatürk Bulvari, you’ll pass the Buyuk Samsun Hotel and thereafter you’ll see the Kultur Sarayi (Palace of Culture), a building shaped as a ski jump. Events as concerts and other performances take place here.
East of the tourist office you’ll find the Archaeological and Atatürk Museum. The archaeological part of the museum displays fine ancient artifacts found in the Samsun area. The Atatürk section comprises photographs of his life and some personal belongings (Open from 8:30 till 12:00 and from 14:00 till 17:00).
Following from Cumhuriyet Meydani the road north to the port and turning right brings you to The Russian Market (Rus Pazari). All kinds of goods are sold here at a friendly price.
East of Cumhuriyet Meydani you might have a glass of tea, coffee or something cold in the pleasant Park. In the evening it won’t take long before you have a fine conversation with the friendly locals.
In the eastern side of the park stands an equestrian Statue of Atatürk, it’s big and a bit overdone. The Austrian sculptor Heinz Kriphel worked three years on it (1928-1931).
It’s also possible to have a ride in a two horse drawn carriage (Fayton), mostly there will be some of those waiting at Cumhuriyet Meydani or in the shade opposite Atatürk Bulvari. The Black Sea people love their horses and take a pride in and depend on them. The horses are well groomed and tenderly cared for, farmer’s carriages are often painted with local motives.
South from Cumhuriyet Meydani you can follow the 19 Mayis Bulvari. It will take you right away to the Atatürk (Gazi) Museum. It houses Atatürk’s bedroom, his study and conference room as well some personal belongings.
On the way to Amasya the road climbs slowly but steadily and passes over the Karadag Gecidi (Karadag Pass) at an altitude of 940 meters. The landscape is green and little streams flow beneath the road.
Havza is a little charming town and is still well known for its hot springs (56 degrees centigrade). In Havza Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, just before he started The War of Independence, learned that the area was harassed by Greek gangs of Pontus state. A mass meeting was staged and the citizens adopted a policy of resistance. The Sultan’s government in Istanbul sent, under heavy pressure of the Entente powers, to the Inspector General Mustafa Kemal in Havza, an order to return to the capital (Istanbul). Mustafa Kemal disobeyed this and all succeeding orders. Since British troops were not far off and had heard what was going on in Havza, Mustafa Kemal decided to move about 50 kilometers further to Amasya. In Havza the goal of putting up resistance was reached.
Climate in Samsun in August/September is about 28 centigrade in the day, around 24 at night, rather humid.
There is one flight a day to and from Istanbul (1 hr and 25 minutes), and one flight a week to and from Ankara (50 minutes). For up to date information and flight schedule please contact Mr. Burak Sansal. From the airport it’s about 3 kilometers to the town’s centre.
There is at least a bus a day to all major destinations; Amasya (two hours), Giresun (four hours) and Sinop (three hours). The bus station is about 2 kilometers east of Cumhuriyet Meydani, in town bus ticket offices can be found south-east of Cumhuriyet Meydani.
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