Bradt Travel Guides Ltd and The Globe Pequot Press Inc, February 2011, Paperback 400 pp., £16.66. ISBN-13: 978 I 84162 339 9
What is so striking about Eastern Turkey is the familiarity of the place names. Biblical stories; history lessons; even Arabic poetry if you have read it, resonate with these names. The sad thing is that one never knew more than the name and little of the place itself. This guide will rapidly fill those gaps. After all the basic practical information has been covered in the two opening chapters, including the useful tips which can only be provided by a writer who really knows the subject, the guide is divided into 10 geographic sub-sections. Of these Cappadocia, with its amazing conical churches and dwellings, and Konya with its heritage of whirling dervish spectacle deriving from the Sufi practices of the followers of Jalal ad-Din Rumi, are included in many modern itineraries. Russell and I have visited both places and have many friends who have done the same. But I have never met anyone who has visited the UNESCO-designated Grand Mosque and hospital at Divriği, though readers of Cornucopia magazine will have seen the 26 page spread of beautiful photos and description of Divriği in issue 43 (2010).
Each of the 10 regional chapters has its own mini Practical Information section on when to visit; getting there and away; hotels; restaurants; shopping and internet cafés (occasionally) and museums/sights. In countries covered by travel guides such as the Bradt series the political situation can intervene suddenly to make travel, even for the adventurous, inadvisable. This has doubtless already happened to the North Africa and Syria Bradt editions (the latter also written by Diana Darke and reviewed in Astene Bulletin 34, Winter 2007) and there will certainly be some additional nervousness about South Eastern Turkey with the recent influx of refugees from Syria. But this should not deter travellers from visiting the Black Sea coast, or the central plateau and even Mount Ararat. For all these this Bradt Guide will be indispensable.
I drove through Eastern Turkey in 1965 with my father and sister en route to Iran. As Diana Darke indicates in her introduction to this Bradt guide, it is typical of this part of Turkey that we did not think to stop and visit the many wonders en route, even though we stayed in Ankara, Sivas and Erzurum. Two years later I took the train to Erzurum with two school friends and then the bus to Tabriz, and back a few weeks later via the same route. From that experience, albeit limited, I would agree with Darke’s assessment that travel in Eastern Turkey is generally safe and the people friendly and solicitous.
I found the print of this guide rather small and faint but the relatively compact size makes the book a suitable weight for back-packers. There are two sections of good glossy colour photographs, but no other illustrations and though the town plans are clear, the regional maps tend to show only roads and not rivers and railways, so the book needs to be accompanied by a good map. For ASTENE readers the bibliography and website references will be of interest and also the separate index to the highlighted text sections, which are nuggets of detail and anecdote, plus the more personal observations of the author. The author’s knowledge of the history of the area, some based on 20th century archaeological activity, is extensive but she also covers dispassionately the political developments which have shaped modern Turkey. There are good descriptions of the various categories of architecture the traveller will encounter, civil (hammams, caravanserais), military (forts and citadels) and religious (mosques and churches). It is not surprising that it has taken the author 30 years to compile such a compendium of serendipitous information.
Eastern Turkey will not appeal to sunbathing, clubbing and beach devotees. But in issue 42 (2009) Cornucopia had a lavishly illustrated 50 page series of articles on Kars and Kaçkars (near Georgia) highlighting the appeal of the area for nature lovers and climbers, as indeed does the author of this book. Perhaps Eastern Turkey’s hour has come, particularly with the rest of the Eastern Mediterranean world in such turmoil. So Diana Darke’s book is very timely and will serve well those travellers who want to combine grandiose scenery with ancient and modern history and cultural insight.