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The Culture Routes Society of Turkey supports efforts to develop and promote long-distance trekking trails to help visitors discover the scenery and history of the country.

aoorw From the Spring 2013 American Trails Magazine

 

Trails to Turkish history and culture

By Aaron Cederberg


photo of ancient stone acqueduct

A Roman aqueduct leading to Antioch in Pisidia

Armed only with faint images from Google Earth and a general knowledge of Roman hydraulic engineering principles, we head off across the Turkish countryside and into a densely forested ravine in search of a long-forgotten Roman aqueduct.

After consulting a local farmer, slipping down a series of muddied goat trails lining the embankment, and wading knee deep through a stream, we have arrived at our destination: the weathered stretch of limestone emerges from the thick brush and arcs across the sky some thirty feet above us. We scramble up the opposite side, bushwhack our way to the top of the bridge and to what will soon be the newest section of the Saint Paul Trail.

This scene is typical of how long distance hiking trails come together in Turkey. The country is dense with both history and natural beauty, and much of it remains undiscovered or under-appreciated. The task of bringing these treasures back to the world’s consciousness is often left to enthusiasts, writers, or individual tour operators who have found a love of this region and its people.

Photo of trail across stone slabs

A Roman aqueduct leading to Antioch in Pisidia

 

However, tourism in the country is often concentrated around the cities, and efforts to preserve the unique wealth of historic, cultural, and natural beauty elsewhere are often challenged by the whims of a fast-developing economy where growth is often haphazard and unregulated. For instance, it is not uncommon for an old Roman trade route to be paved over by a more modern iteration, and there have been occasions where entire mountainsides are removed in order to mine marble—all without any concern for the remains of early Christian monasteries that are housed in their caves.

A SOCIETY FOR PRESERVATION

In response to this trend, there is a growing movement of trail enthusiasts and tourism professionals who are discovering the need to take matters into their own hands. They see long distance trekking trails as an invaluable tool to bring attention to these historical and natural treasures, to promote local economies, and to facilitate cultural dialogue and understanding between the Turkish countryside and the outside world.

The Culture Routes Society of Turkey was formed in July of 2012 in order to address these concerns through advocacy and support to anyone involved in promoting long-distance trekking trails in the country. The society places particular emphasis on sustainable growth and on involving communities that are local to the trail in the development and support of the tourism there. Trail membership is open to any trekking, biking, or equestrian route that shares its aims.

 

FOLLOWING IN SAINT PAUL’S FOOTSTEPS

Photo of lake with stone house

Lake Eğirdir in the Turkish Lakes Region

The Saint Paul Trail is actually one of the 19 member trails of the Culture Routes Society. First opened to the public in 2008, the Saint Paul Trail offers hikers an opportunity to experience the Turkish backcountry from a unique and rare perspective. The trail is a constantly evolving 500-kilometer way-marked footpath that loosely follows the route Saint Paul took on his first missionary journey through Asia Minor. The hike begins at the outskirts of the coastal resort city of Antalya, and weaves northward through the mountains and countryside while following a variety of old trade routes, forest tracks, and Roman roads through a series of rural Turkish towns and historical sites.

There are many ways to enjoy the trail and while some choose to hike it in its entirety with camping gear, the route is also designed to be accessible to those who are looking for a more structured experience. The trail is divided into discrete day hikes between villages that can generally provide both accommodation and food. The accommodation is a mixture of pensions, boutique hotels, and village home-stays with local families. There are also many local guides available for hire.

The route also brings the hiker to an incredible variety of natural beauty and many opportunities to interact with a world and culture that is far removed from the trappings of the emerging market economy of urban Turkey. Varying from the rugged peaks and canyons of the Taurus mountains to the gentle rolling hills and fertile farmland of the Turkish Lakes Region, the trail covers a lot of distance in remote locations that the tourism industry in the area typically overlooks.

The variety is staggering. Hikers will enjoy everything from fields of wildflowers and slowly winding rivers in the valleys to intricate mazes of y” on a mountain side. There are many miles of peaceful pine forests, as well as steep canyon walls that overlook the spring-fed rapids that are hundreds of feet below.

Photo of dirt track through rocky landscape

A Roman aqueduct leading to Antioch in Pisidia

 

THE TRUE ATTRACTION

Against this backdrop, there are the local people. Hiking any stretch of these trails will bring you close to their hospitality and there will be many invitations to join for tea, if not for a meal. You will share the trail with the foot-traffic of shepherds tending their flock and the pack mules that still bring supplies between towns. It is an opportunity to see rural Turkish life play out before your eyes, and at times participate. These often remote villages are spectacular specimens of a lifestyle that is simple, peaceful, and welcoming, and the members of the Culture Routes Society strive to make this experience available to everyone.

 

For more information:

Aaron Cederberg is a freelance writer and photographer who is working with the Culture Routes Society to create interactive guidebooks for smartphones that will help make the trails more accessible to everyone. Contact Aaron at shveddy@gmail.com. Learn more about the Culture Routes Society at www.cultureroutesinturkey.com.

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