TOKAT clusters at the foot of a jagged crag, with a ruined Pontic fortress on top. Despite its undeniably dramatic setting – and richly colourful history – it lacks the appeal of Amasya or even Sivas, the two cities between which it’s stuck, and most travellers whoosh straight past, seeing only the otogar en route.
However, there are certainly enough sights to justify at least a half-day stop – especially since the city’s famed kebab is large enough to count as a sight. More conventional attractions include some excellent Ottoman buildings, a Selçuk seminary and a superb museum – more than enough to work off the kebab’s calorific intake.
Tokat first came to prominence as a staging post on the Persian trans-Anatolian royal road, running from Sardis to Persepolis. Later it fell to Alexander the Great and then to Mithridates and his successors. In 47 BC, Julius Caesar defeated Pharnaces, son of the Pontic king Mithridates VI, earlier Eupator, who had taken advantage of civil war in Rome to attempt to re-establish the Pontic kingdom as an independent state. Caesar’s victory in a five-hour battle at Zile, just outside Tokat, prompted his immortal line “Veni, vidi, vici” (I came, I saw, I conquered).
Under Byzantine rule, Tokat became a frontline city in perpetual danger of Arab attack. That state of affairs continued until the Danişmend Turks took control of the city after the battle of Manzikert in 1071. Less than one hundred years later the İlhanid Mongols arrived, then Tokat was briefly transferred to the Ottoman Empire before a second great Mongol wave under Tamerlane.
With the departure of the Mongols and return of the Ottomans, life returned to normal, and prosperity ensued. In time, though, trade patterns shifted, the east–west routes to Persia lost their importance and Tokat became the backwater it remains today.