Lying amid green hills, the northeastern city of Artvin is the heart of the Black Sea region. Bewitching visitors with its evergreen plateaus, mountains bedecked with snow and its historical legacy, the city embraces countless scenic beauties.
Offering numerous ancient sites for sightseers, Artvin is situated on the Çoruh River near the Georgian border. The city looks impressive, standing high on a rock above the river, a five-kilometer climb along a road that winds back and forth up the steep cliff face. Once ceded to Russia together with the neighboring region of Kars at the conclusion of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, Artvin was returned to Turkey by a treaty between Turkey and Soviet Russia signed at Brest-Litovsk in 1918.
Famous for its scenic beauties and natural environment as well as its historical legacy, the city of Artvin is a local market for agricultural and animal products. In addition to ethnic Turks, the province includes communities of Laz, Kurds and Hamsheni Armenians, under the umbrella of fraternal affection. You may be skeptical about the veracity of the fraternity and sympathy for the ethnic groups residing in the city, but the monasteries, churches and mosques existing for centuries throughout the city bespeak the amicability of the residents.
Vulnerable to several invasions throughout history, the city of Artvin has been home to various civilizations: the Hurri and the Urartus, the Scythians from across the Caucasus, the Byzantines, the Seljuk Turks and the Ottomans. With the collapse of the Seljuks, fighting for control between various Turkish clans continued till the Persians conquered the area. Eventually the Ottomans defeated the Greek state of Pontus on the Black Sea coast, and the city was securely in Ottoman hands till the Russo-Turkish War. This to-and-fro movement between Turkey and Russia continued till Artvin was returned to Turkey at Brest-Litovsk.
An attractive area of steep valleys carved by the Çoruh River and surrounded by natural forests with several national parkls, the city is home to high mountains (up to 3,900 meters) covered with snow, historical artifacts of wood and stone, evergreen plateaus and steep canyons. You feel that the weather in Artvin is very wet, and the forests are dressed in almost every shade of green imaginable. This greenery runs from the top all the way down the Black Sea coast. The rain turns to snow as you climb higher, and the peaks are very cold in winter.
“Artvin is a city without alternative in alternative tourism,” says the catalogue prepared by Artvin Provincial Directorate of Tourism and Culture, particularly in reference to the increasing importance of the city in pleasure trip travel. The city hosts monasteries, churches, a castle, mosques, bridges and mansions, preserving the traces of history in the city. These edifices stand erect in our day to present the richness of Artvin to tourists pouring into the city from all over the world.
The city of Artvin is full of surprises; one of the most fascinating and least well-known areas is that stretching from the Yalnizçam Mountains to the Georgian border via the towns of Ardanuç and Şavşat and Lake Karagöl. Heading inland along the Çoruh Valley, one comes across a deserted road. This road, which clings to the hills along one side of the valley, leads us to the town of Artvin. Here, Artvin (Livane) Castle comes into sight first, like an eagle’s eerie on the high crags. The famous Artvin Castle is estimated to have been built in the 10th century with the objective of protecting the city from invasions the residents suffered from throughout history. Situated in the Köprübaşı district and containing a water tank along with a chapel inside, the castle was restored in the 16th century under the reign of the Ottomans.
Traveling south into the Berta Valley, through whose depths the Çoruh River flows, one sees the 64-meter-long Berta stone bridge standing on the Ardanuç-Şavşat country road, built by the Ottomans and surviving in good condition up to present. Some 3.5 kilometers above the bridge (or 2.5 kilometers from Köprübaşı), one may see the hand-painted signs reading “Dolishane Church” up on the rock face. The dome of the 10th-century church of Dolishane (Hamamlı) peeks above the lush vegetation of this oasis village and was built by the Bagratid King Sumbath 1. The church was turned into a mosque at the end of the 17th century and served as such for some time. The interior side of the church is now being used as an agricultural tool shed, but the exterior is more rewarding.
Following the course of the Çoruh River to the northeast and turning off along the road beside the Bulanık River towards Ardanuç, one comes across Ferhatlı Castle perched on a steep hillside as if carved from living rock. This stretch of road beside the Köprüler River, in the shade of the towering rocky sides of the gorge, brings travelers to Ardanuç.
Mentioning the Çoruh River, one cannot ignore its rafting activities. One of Turkey’s natural but humble beauties, the river draws the world’s rafting buffs’ attention to the tourism potential in the Black Sea Region. The Çoruh is one of the fastest flowing rivers in the world, originating in the Mescit Mountains and flowing 446 kilometers before reaching the Black Sea in Georgia. The small towns located along the river as a whole represent the synthesis of the cultures of the eastern Anatolia and Black Sea regions. Frequented by local and foreign sportsmen streaming into the city on various occasions, the river has a worldwide reputation among canoeing, rafting and trekking enthusiasts. Exploring the unspoiled nature guided by the river is the greatest pleasure that one experiences with rafting. The natural habitat of the Çoruh River remains undisturbed. The area surrounding the river is rich in wildlife, including gray bear, mountain goat, wild boar, wolf, jackal, fox, badger, marten, water sable, rabbit, partridge, wild rooster, woodcock, wild duck, stock dove, golden oriole, siskin, fieldfare, pigeon and wood pigeon. As the Çoruh River passes 150 kilometers through the province of Artvin, it cuts through steep and impregnable mountains on its way towards the Black Sea.
Artvin allures the visitors with another epitome of the rare beauties in the world: butterfly observation. Nearly 60 percent of all butterflies in Turkey are found in Artvin and the city is among the provinces with the greatest butterfly diversity in the world, with 210 species. During the summer months, one can see huge numbers of butterflies in almost every village, pastureland, garden and orchard, in all districts within the province. Yaylalar Village in the Yusufeli district is one of the prime butterfly areas in Turkey, not only because of the diversity and density of its butterflies, but also because it is home to a number of rare species that are endangered in Europe.
Surrounded by meadows of wild flowers and butterflies, rushing streams and quaint chalets, Artvin folk are still determined to perpetuate the “plateau culture” in the city. Karagöl-Sahara Natural Park, 17 km from Şavşat on the way to Ardahan, has the widely known Sahara Plateau. The plateau itself is covered with beautiful mineral and fresh springs. Kocabey Kışlağı Village is situated on the plateau, where one can see traditional wooden houses with their friendly residents. Here the local women’s organization has established a training center for weaving in an attempt to keep the indigenous carpet and kilim traditions alive. Another important plateau and popular summer residence in the region is Bilbilan, whose people are also exceptionally welcoming and helpful.
Like all cities along the beautiful Black Sea coast, Artvin possesses picturesque vistas of nature. Wide forests, typical of this region, blanket the area, and the landscape of mountains and lakes and plateaus and rivers, together with the traditional settings of pretty wooden houses offers a pleasant atmosphere to visitors. Yet this rare beauty is obliged to withstand a fearsome environmental threat. The surrounding hills are scarred by the preparatory work for a large dam. From some spots the hills look as if all vegetation had been scraped off and the engineers had reshaped hills beyond recognition.
We strongly recommend you visit this enchanting Black Sea province. Who knows, maybe the interest the visitors show in the city may help rescue the nature of this rare and precious city.