Text & Photos: Giang Le

The Turkish town of Safranbolu offers stunning views and unique Ottoman architecture

When approaching the Old Town of Safranbolu visitors notice its red-tiled roofs and winding alleys. The best-preserved Ottoman town in Turkey, Safranbolu became a trading hub in the 13th century and was an important stop for spice merchants.

Home to some 30,000 residents, Safranbolu lies in Karabuk province near the Black Sea. Located 120km north of the Turkish capital, Ankara, Safranbolu has long been famous for its saffron. In fact, the town’s name is derived from this colorful spice. To this day, fields of saffron crocuses may still be found in Davutobasi, 22km east of Safranbolu.

Spanning just 1,000sqkm, the Old Town boasts 1,008 constructions registered in the Preservation list, including museums, mosques, tower clocks and residences. Through thick and thin, these historic sites have been kept largely intact. Thanks to the town’s well-preserved architecture, Safranbolu received World Cultural Heritage status from UNESCO in 1994.

Tourists love to stroll through the town’s small and meandering pebbled lanes that date back to the 13th century and shop for handicrafts. Cukur Market is always bustling. Quaint tea houses, boutiques and cafes abound.

While it’s fun to explore, some of the finest moments here may be found sitting still. Because of its undulating hilly terrain, Safranbolu offers plenty of views of tiled roofs, crooked chimneys and billowing smoke. Many cafes offer rooftop terraces. Visitors will see layers and layers of roofs, all set at different angles and ranging in color from red terracotta to dark brown, dappled with mossy green. Against clear blue skies, the town’s old roofs form a beautiful picture. It’s very peaceful to sit sipping Turkish tea and watching the smoke dancing past.

Off yonder is the roof of a mosque with its dome and twin minarets pointing into the sky. Round domed glass roofs rise above public bathhouses. Worn wooden roofs turn dark with time. Grapevines grow over a little streetside restaurant. Twisting lanes vanish beneath dense, undulating roofs.

Climb onto a rooftop terrace, watch life go by and enjoy the ancient charm of this poetic Turkish town.