In the darkness and I could see that we were driving through forested mountains, but after turning north towards the Black Sea coast from the town of Duzce, I could no longer work out where we were from the map. All I could see was that we were somewhere between Sakarya and Zonguldak and still in the province of Duzce. I gave up trying to follow our route, and finally, we arrived at Balikci Barinagi in Akcakoca, where we were given a warm welcome at our hotel. When we woke up in the morning, the newly risen sun was on our faces. It outside could be heard the chugging of fishing boats and the voices of fishermen wishing each other good catches with calls of ‘Rasgele.’ We were not used to waking up so early. Still, after breathing the clean, oxygen-filled sea air all night, we felt unusually refreshed and energetic. The hotel was called Diapolis, after the ancient name of Akcakoca. In 297-296 BC, the king of Pisidia invaded this region and called the city here Diapolis, meaning ‘bright city of light.’
The present Turkish name of this small seaside town is a Turkish warrior who was a close friend of the Ottoman leader Ertugrul Gazi in the second half of the 13th century. Ertugrul Gazi’s son Osman Bey became the founder of the independent Ottoman state in 1299. He chose his father’s old friend Akcakoca Bey to supervise his son Orhan’s education and appointed him governor of this region. Today there are statues of three early Ottoman heroes in the town, Konuralp, Osman Gazi, and Akcakoca Bey.
A century earlier, during the Fourth Crusade of 1202-4, the Genoese had captured and colonized several trading posts along the Black Sea coast, including Akcakoca. The Genoese Castle here is the most important reminder of that period. The people of Akcakoca are acutely aware of their town’s long history and seem almost to relive it, as we saw when we visited the castle. Alaeddin Bey, who is in charge of the castle, objects strongly to his official title of ‘director’: ‘How can you have a director of a castle? I am the castle commander.’
The castle overlooks Castle Beach (Kale Plaji), one of the many superb sand beaches around Akcakoca. Castle Beach is remarkable, however. In 1997 it won for the Turkish Environmental Educational Foundation the International Blue Flag Award given to outstanding beaches and marinas in Europe. It outstripped the other contesters by complying with 26 of the criteria, demonstrating that Akcakoca has good reason to boast of its clean sea and environment.
The more we saw Akcakoca, the more delighted, particularly by its traditional architecture and local handcrafts. The stone and wood buildings with their tiled roofs were well preserved and formed a fascinating contrast with the post-modern mosque in their midst. Merkez Mosque, of which construction is still underway, is an unusual example of a contemporary mosque building similar to a mosque in Pakistan. Hazelnut groves and green hills surround Akcakoca.
Every year in the third week of July, the International Tourism and Hazelnut Festival is held here, celebrating the local economy’s two mainstays.
Besides seaside visitors, particularly at weekends, Akcakoca offers seminars and conferences, and many people come here to hunt water sports and sailing. The clean air, sand beaches, waterfalls, FakilliCave, and surrounding forests are all major attractions. In the cliffs along the shore are numerous other caves once home to seals, although sadly, none remain today. The rocky parts of the shore reminded me of my childhood when we loved exploring such places.
We left Akcakoca feeling rested after our enjoyable stay in this peaceful, friendly place, which already felt like an old friend.