You may wish to see an introductory page to this section with a map first.
Amasia is a great City, built upon an ascent in the hollow of a Mountain. It has
no prospect, but only from the South over a fair Plain. The River that runs by it
comes from Tocat , and throws it self into the Black Sea, four days journey from
Amasia. You cross it over a wooden Bridge, so narrow that not above three persons
can go a-brest. To bring fresh Water to the City, they have cut a League into
Rocks as hard as Marble, which was a prodigious Labour. On the West-side, upon
a high Mountain, stands a Fortress, where they can come by no other Water than what they preserve in Cisterns when it rains. In the middle of the Mountain is a fair Spring, and round about it are several Chambers cut out of the Rock, where the
Dervichs make their abode. There are but two Inns, and those very bad ones, but the Soil is good, and bears the best Wine and Fruits in all Natolia.
Jean-Baptiste Tavernier - Travels through Turkey to Persia (in the 1630s-1650s)
Modern ceramic panel showing the key aspects of historical Amasya
April 11th. (1836) In Amasia itself
the objects most worthy of notice are the Acropolis, the
ancient walls, and the tombs of the kings; but perhaps
the town derives its greatest interest from being the birthplace of Strabo, whose account is so clear and satisfactory
that I shall venture to introduce it here before describing
the present state of the city. "My native town is situated in a deep and large valley
through which flows the river Iris. It has been provided
in a surprising manner, by art and nature, for answering
the purpose both of a city and a fortress. For there is a
lofty and perpendicular rock which overhangs the river,
having on one side a wall erected close to the bank where
the town has been built, while on the other it runs up on
either hand to the summits of the hill. These two are connected with each other, and well fortified with towers.
Within this peribolus (or enclosure) are the royal residence
and the tombs of the kings. (..) Two bridges are
thrown over the river, the one from the town to the suburb,
the other from the suburb to the outer country, for the
mountain which overhangs the rock terminates at the point
where this bridge is placed."
William Hamilton - Researches in Asia Minor, Pontus and Armenia - 1842
Amasya is located at the foot of a steep and high hill which rises on the left bank of the Yesilirmak River (Green River, the ancient Iris). The hill was per sŤ a natural fortress and the river facilitated communication between the Black Sea coast and the central tableland
Fortress; (left) walls linking the fortress to the town; (right) upper part of the fortress
My visit to the citadel was very satisfactory, inasmuch
as I was able to recognise all the details and features so
graphically described. As there is no way of mounting the
perpendicular cliff directly from the town, it is necessary
to make a considerable circuit to the east, and to ascend by
a winding path behind, which leads to a narrow ridge
turning north and south, and connecting the Acropolis
with the mountains to the north. (..) Near the commencement of the ascent I found two inscriptions cut upon
the solid rock, but could only decipher them with difficulty,
returning on each of the following days at the hour when
the rays of the sun produced the most favourable light.
On the Acropolis itself I was surprised at finding very
few remains of ancient architecture; nothing now exists but
a portion of the walls and towers, and a subterranean passage. The greater part of the walls now standing are
Byzantine or Turkish. (..) But the object of greatest interest is the underground
passage closely resembling those subterranean flights of stairs which
I had seen in several other castles similarly situated on
rocky eminences, as Unieh, Tocat, Tourkhal, and Zilleh.
Whether intended merely for procuring water, or to serve
as secret sally-ports to the fortress, there can be no doubt of
their antiquity and Hellenic origin. Hamilton
Of the very ancient past of Amasya we know little until the town became the capital of the Kingdom of Pontus which was founded by Mithridates I in ca. 281 BC. He descended from an important Persian family and he managed to found his kingdom notwithstanding the hostility of the Diadochi, the generals of Alexander the Great who inherited his empire. Many of the the kings of Pontus were named Mithridates; in order to retain their kingdom they had to manage a difficult relationship with the Seleucid Empire; by taking advantage of dynastic quarrels in the latter they expanded their possessions and in 183 BC they conquered Sinop.
Yesilirmak; (inset) a water wheel (you may wish to see the chanting wheels of Hama)
Soon after twelve we again reached the banks of the
Iris, flowing through a fertile valley, and irrigating numerous gardens and mulberry-plantations on each side by
means of gigantic water-wheels. (..) The plain
extends several miles to the west, but is not cultivated
beyond the limit of irrigation. (..) The valley soon widened into a plain, when we came in
sight of the Castle and Acropolis of Amasia, situated on the
summit of a lofty rock on the opposite side of the river, the
banks of which were fringed with gardens, wherever its waters could be raised for the purpose of irrigation. Hamilton
July 12th. (1837) On approaching Amasiyeh, the valley narrows considerably, and is ultimately shut up by lofty precipices, that rise from 800 to 1000 feet, almost perpendicularly above the river, leaving but a small strip of land on either side, upon which the houses of this ancient city are crowded.
William Francis Ainsworth - Travels and Researches in Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, Chaldea, and Armenia - 1842
The conquest of Sinop led to the first contacts between the Kingdom of Pontus and Rome. The Rhodians and the King of Pergamum, who were allies of the Romans, became wary of the expansion of Pontus.
Bridge built on a previous one
There are four bridges over the Iris, within the limits
of the city, the first or uppermost of which, towards the
west, is modern, and of stone; the second, immediately
below the tombs, is also of stone, but very old, and apparently Roman, and has sunk considerably since its first
construction; the third is of wood, opposite the Mutzellim's
konak, where the river changes its direction and flows towards the north; the fourth is of stone, half a mile lower
down, and at the extremity of the town. Hamilton
The kings of Pontus sided with the Romans during the Third Punic War and overall relations with Rome remained good for over a century. The kings of Pontus expanded their possessions to parts of Paphlagonia, the region around Kastamonu.
Immediately below the citadel, to the south, are the
celebrated tombs of the kings; they are five in number, three to the
west and two to the east. The steep face of the rock has
been artificially smoothed to give more effect to the peculiarities of their situation. Hamilton
The first kings of Pontus built their tombs on the cliff above their residence in Amasya. The region was not yet fully Hellenized and the rock-cut tombs did not have the shape of a Greek temple as those of Kaunos and Myra.
(left) Steps leading to a tomb; (right) most western tomb
A steep path from one of the old bridges near the centre of the town leads some way up the hill, but the tombs to the west can only be approached by a narrow path cut through a small grotto, and along an open gallery scooped out of the perpendicular face of the cliff, and protected by a low parapet of rock which has been left, while a similar passage with a flight of steps leads from one to the other. The farthest of them has a small chamber hollowed out in the centre, which is completely detached from the surrounding rock by a narrow passage round it, varying in breadth from two to four feet; it is detached also at the top, and thus appears to stand in the middle of a large grotto. Here the path terminates abruptly, and the tomb itself appears never to have been completely finished. The others are built precisely upon the same plan. Hamilton
(left) Three major tombs; (right) steps behind the cell
We know nothing of the early history or foundation of
Amasia, but it must have been an important place during
the dynasty of the kings of Pontus. Hamilton
The tombs do not show evidence of decoration; the presence of dowel holes in their walls indicate that they were covered by marble or timber panels.
Tombs on the other side of the river
The custom of being buried in rock-cut tombs was not limited to the kings. Rock-cut tombs of a smaller size can be found in other parts of the town.
King Mithridates VI made an attempt to conquer the whole of Paphlagonia at the expense of the King of Bithynia who sought help from Rome. Mithridates was defeated by Silla and eventually by Pompey.
Museum of Amasya: inscriptions and relief of the Roman period
We learn from its
numerous coins, that after the conquest of Asia Minor by
the Romans, and during the whole duration of the empire, it bore the title of Metropolis of Pontus. Situated in
a fertile country and near the frontiers of Armenia, it
would be soon exposed to the ravages of the Persian and
Saracenic conquerors, and to the still more destructive incursions of the Tartar and Turkish hordes, but it is only
casually mentioned in the histories of the later Byzantine
During the Roman rule Amasya continued to be an important town; its modern museum houses many reliefs and inscriptions of that period.
Inscription celebrating Emperor Alexander Severus
Coins of the
time of Marcus Aurelius, Severus, Caracalla,
and Alexander Severus, all record it as the first city in
Emperor Alexander Severus probably visited Amasya in 232 AD, when he led the Roman armies against the Sassanids. The young emperor claimed to have gained great victories, but the result of the war was inconclusive. A couple of years later he was assassinated by his own legionaries who reproached him for having followed a policy of appeasement with the German tribes. For this reason he was regarded as a traitor and his name was erased from inscriptions.
It was a metropolis during the Byzantine
Empire, but fell at an early period into the hands of the
Turkomans, for we find in the time of John Comnenus,
the Sultan of Koniyeh dividing his possessions among
his three sons, to one of whom Amasiyeh was allotted. Ainsworth
Several Saracenic buildings, either in ruins or used as mosques, line the principal street through which we passed. (..) They are said to be the tombs of the early Sultans who conquered the country from the Byzantine Greeks; they are built in the Saracenic style, and deserve more attention than I could bestow upon them. In the same street are the ruins of an old medreeseh or college, the front wall of which is constructed of fragments of ancient cornices, friezes, architraves, etc., while three long stones, with fragments of Greek inscriptions in large letters and deeply cut, form the sides and architrave of the entrance. Hamilton
Amasya retains no major evidence of the long Byzantine rule. After the defeat suffered by the Byzantines in 1071 at Manzikert, Turkic-speaking tribes established themselves in Anatolia. Amasya became part of an emirate ruled by the Danishmends, whose possessions included Niksar, Tokat and Kayseri. The turbe (tomb) of a Danishmend governor of Amasya was built in ca. 1145; it is covered by a high pyramidal roof: tombs with this roof are known as kumbets. It was built making use of materials taken from a late Roman necropolis.
Burmali Minare Camii (mosque of the spiralling minaret): (left) the complex seen from the Kings' tombs; the image also shows the ruins of Tas Han, a caravanserai; (centre) kumbet; (right) detail of the minaret
In 1174 the Seljuk Sultans of Konya conquered Amasya. During their rule they built a large mosque which was meant to be used during the Friday prayer (Ulu Camii, great mosque). The mosque was flanked by a kumbet, while the minaret was rebuilt in the XVIIth century in Ottoman style; its spiralling design gave a new name to the mosque. You may wish to see a similar minaret at Uc Serefeli Camii at Edirne. This mosque can be seen in the image used as background for this page.
In 1243 the Mongols invaded Anatolia and they weakened the power of the Sultans of Konya who became their vassals. Amasya continued to be a prosperous town and was ruled by governors named by the Ilkhanids, a dynasty founded by the grandson of Genghis Khan. Gok (blue) Medrese was built in the second half of the XIIIth century and owes its name to the blue tiles which decorate the dome of its main hall. The use of turquoise-blue tiles or inlays can be noticed in many monuments of the Ilkhanate of Persia, e.g. the Mausoleum of Oljeitu at Soltaniyeh.
From an artistic point of view the moves from Danishmends to Seljuks and to Mongols did not mean a significant change. Reliefs based on geometric and floral patterns continued to be the prevailing artistic expression at Amasya. Torumtay Turbesi is a more complex tomb than a kumbet and it was built opposite Gok Medrese and approximately at the same time.
Ilkhan Olcaitu Darussifah
Ilkhan (king) Olcaitu Khudabanda reigned from 1304 till 1317; he is described as a virtuous ruler with an interest in science. In 1308 he founded a darussifah (hospital) in Amasya which is said to have cared for the mentally ill. Music was regarded as having a soothing effect on the patients (see another darussifah at Edirne) and maybe for this reason the Municipality of Amasya has assigned this building to the local school of music.
Ilkhan Olcaitu Darussifah: details of its portal; it is very similar to that of Gok Medrese in Sivas.