A unique place to visit, Yusufeli

A unique place to visit, Yusufeli

Wilco van Herpen
A unique place to visit, Yusufeli

Photos by Wilco van Herpen

If you want to visit a unique and special place in Turkey I strongly recommend going to Yusufeli in the Black Sea province of Artvin. Yusufeli, 55 kilometers from Artvin, is a place worth spending at least a week in since there are many things to see and do. You will definitely not be bored there.

Now some bad news: You have to be fast. In May 2018 a dam being constructed at the moment will be ready. When completed, Yusufeli Dam will be Turkey’s highest and world’s third-highest dam. The water that will fill the valleys of Yusufeli will destroy numerous old beautiful villages and historical places. You might think, Ohhh, I still have five years to go there, but slowly people will abandon their houses and villages will be empty. To see village life as it is you have to go now.

Beauty of the landscape

I visited Yusufeli, Barhal and Dörtkilise (four churches), and the beauty of the landscape impressed me.

Of course I knew that the Black Sea region was beautiful, but going there during springtime gives you a different look at the Black Sea area. Thousands of different bulbs and plants open up and all the trees blossom. Unfortunately we Dutch know this all too well. Last year two Dutch men were arrested trying to smuggle thousands of bulbs out of the country. This is forbidden by law and I agree: Endemic seeds, bulbs and plants should be protected. But the tragic comedy about it is that within a couple of years all those endemic plants will die because they are going to be flooded. I hope the government or some nongovernmental organizations do some serious research about it and make a kind of seed bank so at least in this way those plants will not disappear! (Maybe they are doing something like that already, but I do not know.) The Dutch guys were doing it (collecting many bulbs) but did not succeed.

HDN During my trip to Yusufeli I visited two places: Barhal and Dörtkilise; small places that impressed me a lot. Valleys, the mountains, little rivers finding their natural path to the sea and… It is green, very green. I think about the time when I was filming in the area of Şavşat and had to go to Artvin one day.

While on the road I saw the destructive results of preparations for one of the dams near Artvin. The mountains were completely bare; I could not see one single tree. There were roads for the trucks that worked on the dam project everywhere. The same will happen in Yusufeli. Even if they come up with a beautiful recreational project after finishing the dam it will never bring back what has been destroyed.

Finally I arrive at Dörtkilise and park my car in Tekkale village. A brisk half-an-hour walk later I see the cathedral. The Dörtkilise monastery was built at the beginning of the 10th century and used to be one of the four churches in that region. Unfortunately nowadays just one remains. The church and some other buildings belonging to it were constructed under King Bagrat, who unified warring kingdoms of Georgia. It reflects the typical Middle Age monastery pattern of the region. Therefore this place became like a sacred place for many Georgians who still visit this and other churches in the region. Before walking around in the church, it is nice to walk around it and look from a distance at the beautiful church.

HDN Abandoned church

Slowly I walked toward the church and what looked like a nice authentic, not-damaged place slowly changed into an abandoned and decayed church. Once upon a time priests filled the inner church with their voices chanting hymns. What I hear now is the sound of the wind blowing through the holes in the church’s walls and roof. On the walls I can see the vague contours of some frescos.

I feel sorry that soon this church will be under water and therefore I am happy that I paid a visit to Tekkale and Dörtkilise. You too have a chance to see this beautiful church in Tekkale but you have to be fast; if nobody manages to stop the building of this dam soon this church will disappear under water.