Even though the richness of cultural traces left by history make Birgi unique, our goal here is to check out the chestnuts and reach Kiraz by way of winding mountains.
Article: İbrahim Fidanoğlu
Birgi is a settlement on the outskirts of Bozdağ Mountain that has a profound history. The unique physical conditions of Bozdağ and the richness of cultural traces left by history, make Birgi unique. However, our goal today is to uncover the hidden world behind Birgi, check out the buried chestnuts in this beautiful geography and then reach Kiraz by way of winding mountains.
The first surprise that awaited us in Birgi, which we reached early in the morning, were breads made from whole wheat grain. This simple bakery along the tree lined road that leads to the square in front of Aydınoğlu Mehmet Bey Mosque, was a special place for us. The bakery was just above the region filled with shops and restaurants. We spoke to the owner of the bakery for a while. The fact the we loved the bread made him very happy. He spoke about distributing his products to the central boroughs of Izmir. After having some bread, we bought a couple to take home.
Climbing Yılanlı Castle
After leaving the bakery, we turned to the road that would lead us to Yılanlı Castle. Life has already begun in one of the century old cafes in Birgi. We left behind a fallen aqueduct and the mausoleum of İmam Birgivi and started climbing towards the castle. We were in awe of the panorama as we continued our climb.
The land of chestnut
After we passed the hill from Hacıhasan village, we started seeing chestnut trees and chestnut burials covered with shrubbery on the bank of the road. We were finally in the land of chestnut. On a bend right under Kemerköy, villagers were already digging and placing the chestnuts into large sacks. Chestnuts, which are left in the sacks for about 2-3 weeks are then cleaned and separated. Workers, who mostly consisted of women, were busy with stacking the sacks while the men loaded them onto trucks.
The region stands out as the place where the tastiest chestnuts grow. Chestnuts called kara aşı and sarı aşı are the most popular types in this region. There is another type called Balyambolu or Beydağ. But kara aşı chestnuts, which have a solid structure and an amazing taste, are very popular with candied chestnut producers and foreign importers.
Time to head to the mountains
We left the chestnut digging behind and made it to the square of Kemerköy, stopping for some tea in one of the cafes. The cafe was almost deserted because everyone was after chestnuts. The journey of chestnut, which includes picking from the tree, burial, classifying and packing, was is very hard for producers. In addition, dependence on a vendor and not making enough money despite the labor, was the hardest part of the job. We spoke to villagers while drinking tea by the fire.
It was now time to head to the mountains; we stocked up on chestnuts and left Kemerköy.
We passed by windings roads nearly all the way to Kiraz along deep valleys and the first village we reached was Yılanlı.
Yılanlı village was built on the outskirts of a very steep village which also includes a Persian era defensive castle. You can see other Persian defensive structures in the region. The castle located atop Keldağ, the castle on Fesattepe near Tire and the castle above Hisarlık village also in Tire are some of the these structures. Balabanlı and Preşrefli castles, which have sacrificial areas dedicated to the Main Goddess Meter, were probably used by Persians to control strategic passages. Naturally, these same spots were probably used by the Byzantines in the 12-13th centuries to spy on Turkish armies.
According to archeologist Şükrü Tül, the castle, which dates back to the Hellenistic era, was used until 12-13th century. Its location was chosen not by the central government but the locals. That is why it is not mentioned in official records. It could have been used to hide sheep during Turkish attacks. With this characteristic, it is one of the control areas just like other castles such as Balabanlı, Fata (Gökçen today) and Preşrefli castles.(1)
The sturdy bastions of Yılanlı Castle
About two years ago we had come to the region and climbed all the way up to the castle. It was a difficult climb since there are no clear pathways to the top. When we finally made it to the top we saw that the castle was built on a spot that could control the Ephesus-Philadelphia intersection and that it could be considered a great observation point.
Today, you can clearly see Küçük Menderes Plain and Beydağ Dam from the castle. Access to the castle today is via a door in the south. Two bastions in the south of the castle control the entrance. The walls were made with slate tone and bricks. The defensive structure consists of the inner and outer castle. The two bastions and the ramparts that connect them are in good condition. However, we cannot say the same for the southern and northern walls.
From Yılanlı to Dokuzlar
Yılanlı village and others, located on the northern side of a descending valley, have all been built along the northern slopes of this valley all the way to Çatak Dam near Kiraz. While we descended from Yılanlı to Dokuzlar, the amazing panorama created by chestnuts and walnut trees along the road was worth seeing. Besides the sound of falling leaves and the occasional fountain, nature had swallowed all other sounds. This silence, which was sometimes broken by the chirping of a bird or the passing of a truck, would continue in a little while.
When we reached Dokuzlar village, we were greeted by the brown color of hills. It looked as though chestnut trees ruled the hills. Our journey into the heart of chestnut land continued with winding roads to Kadın Stream. We could see the Çatak Dam Lake below. We were till 800-900 meters above sea level and our descent ended at Kadın Stream.
A lot of water had gathered behind the reservoir at Öküzdere Valley. Constructions continued in the area because the dam area still looked like a construction site. We chartered course to the upper parts of Kadın Stream which flowed towards Küçük Menderes.
Kadın Stream, which was known as Kaystros in the antique age, is known as the original of Küçük Menderes River, a river that flows to the Aegean Sea after passing lands dedicated to Artemis. This stream was also known as Kelbos or Kilbos in the first age.(2) Today, Kadın Stream which winds towards the south after passing through Kiraz, merges with Halliller Creek in the south of Kiraz, forms the Küçük Menderes River and flows towards Beydağ Dam.
We walked towards the inner parts of the valley along the stream. A neighborhood of the Çatak village was at the feet of the valley. Dams above the stream reminded us of Eğridere Valley in Tire. There was a lot of water in the stream even though it was November. We thought that this could be dangerous for villages and agricultural lands near the stream in the spring. However, the saddening thing was that this water that came from Bozdağ disappeared at Küçük Menderes Plain and turned into a dirty creek because of wastewater coming from settlements near Tire.
We saw a trout farm on the bank of the stream. It seemed that this was the place to be in the summer, dining on tables laid outside. Since it was the middle of the week, there was no one around. The pools that housed the fish, the kitchen and the other structure was on the other side of the stream. We looked around for a while and headed for Yeşildere village.
The houses of the village, which looked very cute surrounded by green agricultural lands, were scattered in harmony with the width of the area. While we continued along the stream towards Kiraz, we saw a small castle above a hill. We had to go there. We followed the village roads from Saçlı village and reached Hisarköy, a village that had gotten its name from the castle. The village was located 2 kilometers to the north of Kiraz.
The castle, known as Hisar Castle, was located on the northwest-southeast axis of a 350 meter high hill. Access to the castle is via a door in the southwest of the asphalt road that leads to another hill. The castle, which boasts a neighborhood with 19th century houses, has four sturdy bastions. The walls of the castle and the walls of the houses have completely merged. There is also a mosque inside the castle..
According to sources, the castle is the original building place of an antique settlement called Koloe. During the Roman period, Koloe and Palaiapolis in Beydağ united under one management and minted the Kilbianoi coins.(3) The castle has a 5000 year old history and its bastions and ramparts in the southwest still stand strong. Walls in the northeast however don't look good and have merged with the walls of 19th century houses located in the castle. The castle, which was made with rubble stones and bricks, looks like a Medieval castle. This suggests that the castle is from the Byzantine period and was renovated during the Aydınoğulları and Ottoman periods.
The tow storey large house inside the castle, gives its visitors clues about life in the 19th century. With this regard, we can say that Hisarköy is a village from the 19th century. It is nearly impossible to get close to the ramparts in the northwest because this section is now used as a pen for sheep and it is guarded by dogs.
This is the end of our journey. We will return to Izmir after having a late lunch at the social club of Kiraz Municipality. But this pastoral journey to the south of Bozdağ will open up doors to new travels in this geography.
- HYPAIPA, an antique age city along the Artemis Road, Archeologist Şükrü TÜL; Ödemiş Municipality Yıldız City Archive and Museum Publishing:10, Edition: Mart-2014; page:142
- For Kadın Stream. http://www.kultur.gov.tr/TR,72730/kiraz.html
- For the history of Kiraz. http://www.kultur.gov.tr/TR,72730/kiraz.html
- Photographs by Aydın Aydemir and İbrahim Fidanoğlu