“The most beautiful natural harbor on the Black Sea.”
Ah, such a glowing assessment as voiced again and again throughout Sinop’s history, commemorated by the pen of each occupier from ancient times to the present. The Amazons, the Hittites, the Greeks, the Persians, the Ottomans have all sung its mighty praises then taken advantage of the geographic importance of this northernmost point in Turkey. Their stories, as well as their societies’ remnants, form the ingredients for Sinop’s allure.Through The Myths Of Time.
Sinop is draped atop an isthmus between the Bozetepe Peninsula and the mainland, once protected by a citadel whose remains can still be seen. Towering, heavily forested mountains form a natural barrier preventing easy access from Sinop to the Anatolian Plateau that defines central Turkey. So, while its natural harbor provided the means to dominate Black Sea trade, isolation from the rest of Asia Minor by land eventually led to Sinop’s demise.
There is little agreement among scholars as to the founding of Sinop. The most likely first inhabitants were the Hittites. Giving credit to the Hittites, though, would spoil other more romantic theories. Young Greek sailors known as the Argonauts (of Jason and the Golden Fleece fame) were said to have established an outpost here while sailing the Black Sea in search of treasure and trouble. Another legend holds that the mists obscuring the rocks of the rising peninsula also hid the home of the Cyclops. But the favorite theory gives the founding of Sinop to the Amazons.
Were they really real? A great deal of mythology and precious little hard evidence exists to answer that burning question. There were, in those many centuries ago, women warriors who may have fought with a number of different armies. Whether they ever constituted an organized society is less certain. Nonetheless, this all makes for great theater, so let’s just play along.
For the record, the Amazons are credited as the first to settle Sinop, naming it after one of their queens, Sinova. The Amazons had a dual queendom—one for defense, one for domestic affairs. Several of their queens reportedly did battle with, and were killed by, Hercules. One was killed by Achilles and another was said to have borne a child to Alexander The Great. Let’s hope it was a girl because no men were permitted to live in Amazon territory. To keep the tribe going, Amazon women mated for a few days each year with men from a neighboring tribe. Female children were embraced by the community. Male children were killed or, if lucky, sent away with their fathers.
For much of its recorded history, Sinop was a pawn in the constant ebb and flow of various empires attempting to establish control over Asia Minor. Sinop’s citizens may have owed allegiance to a string of powerful armies but, due to its topographic isolation, it was never controlled by them. Instead they went about using their geographic position to establish a rich trading business, while quietly paying taxes to whichever ruler claimed them at any given moment.
The city did have one famous citizen, Diogenes “the Cynic”, who was exiled along with his father when they were caught in a counterfeiting scam. Diogenes immigrated to Athens where he became such a notable homeless person—living in a tub and carrying a lamp during the day “in search of an honest man”—he was ultimately recognized as a philosopher. His statue stands proudly in Sinop
Fast forward to more recent times, Sinop became part of the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century and had its final moment in the sun during the Crimean War when it was virtually destroyed by the Russian navy. Its neighbor to the east, Samsun, has since supplanted Sinop as the most active Black Sea port.
Ataturk And Modern Turkey
Samsun also played a significant role in the formation of modern Turkey. It was there that Mustafa Gamal Ataturk fled during the struggle for national liberation following World War I. From this base, Ataturk rallied the Turkish population to his cause, declared independence from the European powers trying to exert their influence in the post-Ottoman vacuum, and wrote the constitution that defines Turkey today.
As a secular Muslim state, Turkey once again plays a central role befitting its location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. (Sinop’s Aladdin Mosque from 1268 does bear witness to the nation’s main religion.) A powerful and active member of NATO on one hand, not yet a member of the European Union on the other, Turkey is beholden to neither east nor west. As such, it takes a quiet but influential diplomatic lead where other governments cannot publicly go. With one of the world’s largest standing armies, with resources that give it long-term economic viability, and as one of a handful of countries able to feed itself (as evidenced in Gerze’s bustling produce market), Turkey is poised to recapture some of the former glory of empires past.
Karyn L. Planett