'Hidden treasure' in Turkey’s Aegean town getting ready for tourists
Located in the western province of Manisa’s Soma district, the Darkale village is famous for its traditional Turkish house architecture lying in the laps of nature. Often described as a “hidden treasure” as it is reached by passing through a valley, the village awaits visitors to amuse them with its history and excursion activities that include hiking, cycling, and rock climbing after the end of the pandemic.
Located in a deep valley three kilometers from Soma, and also known as “Tarhala,” the Darkale village has around 800 houses. Leaning against the rocky mountains, the village attracts attention with its beautiful natural scenes.
The village dates back to the Kingdom of Pergamon and was once an important settlement during the Byzantine and Ottoman periods. It fascinates visitors with its structures like the ones in Safranbolu and Beypazarı houses.
Another feature of the village is the water fountain under the historical Kırkoluk Mosque. People living in the surrounding neighborhoods fill soft drinking water in their jugs and take it to their homes.
The village is believed to have had a population of 1,000 people in the first years of the Turkish Republic but due to the emigration that started in the 1980s, it is now home to just around 60 people.
In order to draw attention to the region and keep it alive with tourism, a group of volunteers initiated the “Darkale Renewal and Protection Project” with the support of the Manisa Governorship, Soma District Governorship, Soma Municipality, Soma Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The efforts of the volunteers have started to show positive outcomes. Many weddings have taken place in the region where numerous people, including a Japanese couple, took their vows in the nostalgic ambiance of Darkale.
Darkale has been declared as an urban site by the Culture and Tourism Ministry, and efforts are being carried out to make it a center of tourist attraction after the pandemic with new projects.
Although the neighborhood is quite popular among cycling, rock climbing, and photography enthusiasts as well as hiking groups on weekends thanks to its original architecture and nature, it seems to have returned to its former loneliness again in this period due to COVID-19.
Mustafa Küçükkayapalı, the head of the Darkale Nature Conservation and Protection Association, told the state-run Anadolu Agency that he started working for the association about one and a half years ago.
Küçükkayapalı stated that they are carrying out works for the region to give the value it deserves.
“We have initiated works, but we had to postpone all our plans due to the coronavirus. But we have not given up. We want to promote this beautiful town with a history of more than 2,000 years with the support of the authorities,” he said.
“We want to invite famous names and some tour companies to attract local and foreign tourists. This is a very special place which once served as weapon storage of Kuvayimilliye [Turkish revolutionaries],” he said, adding that a historical bath was also unearthed during the works.
Visitors can also taste famous local products of the region, he said, noting that there are also canyon projects with the potential to increase tourism.
Mustafa Güven, 75, who has been the mukhtar of Darkale for 20 years, said that during this period, they rebuilt the roads so that the visitors could travel comfortably and that vehicles could enter everywhere.
Noting that transportation was only possible with animals in the past and therefore there was a big transportation problem, Güven said: “Some 500 people lived here 20 years ago. Currently, there are only 50-60 people left. Young people have left the county. Actually, it is time to live here now. Roads have been made, there is no problem. As a result, this has now turned into a tourist village.”
“Both local and foreign visitors would come on the weekends before the pandemic. Also, the Japanese people came and held a wedding here. They rode horses. They also contributed to the promotion of the village,” he added.