AMASRA brazenly flaunts its charms to new arrivals. Approached from any direction, the town suddenly appears below you, swarming up onto a rocky headland sheltering two bays. Amasra’s historical pedigree and colourful atmosphere make it worth at least an overnight stop. During the day it is a quiet place, full of shady corners to sit and contemplate; by night it’s much livelier and the old walls are lit up attractively, though it doesn’t lose its small-town charm.
Originally called Sesamus – mentioned in Homer’s Iliad – it was colonized by Miletus in the sixth century BC. The name Amasra derived from Queen Amastris, a lady of the court of Alexander the Great, who, after the death of her husband, acted as regent for her young son, only to be repaid with murder at his hands. The city then passed rapidly through the grip of a succession of rulers, until avid letter-writer Pliny the Younger was appointed Rome’s special commissioner of the region in 110 AD. From the ninth century, after a barbarian attack, the town declined in importance, though the Byzantines maintained a garrison here. The Genoese took over when Byzantine strength began to decline, and held the city until the Ottomans assumed control in 1460.
The modern town occupies a headland; a narrow stone bridge links the main town to the island of Boztepe further out. The headland shelters the west-facing Küçük Liman (Little Harbour) on one side and the east-facing Büyük Liman (Big Harbour) on the other. Both the main town and island are scattered with stretches of ancient fortifications from two Byzantine/Genoese castles near the tip of the peninsula. One of these is situated in the modern town above Büyük Liman, and a short walk in this area, above the Otel Timur, reveals old cobbled streets straddled by Byzantine gateways. The other castle is reached by following Küçük Liman Caddesi across the bridge to Boztepe, where a ruined watchtower on a piece of land jutting out into the harbour is still visible. Boztepe’s heavy-duty walls, pierced by several gates, are still largely intact. The inner citadel is studded with towers and the Genoese coat of arms; of the two Byzantine churches that you can hunt down in the maze of alleys on Boztepe, the larger was converted to a mosque after the Ottoman conquest, while the ruined smaller one was in use until 1923.
Amasra also boasts a good museum, located at the western inland extremity of Küçük Liman. It contains locally unearthed archeological finds, including a beautiful selection of Roman sculptures discovered in Bartin. Pride of place is given to the torso of an emperor, with Romulus and Remus carved on his tunic, discovered in the citadel area in 1995.
Küçük Liman across the isthmus, near the watchtower, is the most likely spot for a quick swim (if the jellyfish aren’t too numerous). Elsewhere, the water is seriously polluted, particularly at the deceptively attractive town beach fronting the eastern fishing port, and it’s best to regard Amasra as a base for forays to better beaches further east.Read More