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DARENDE

Shrine of Somuncu (Loaf-making) Baba                     Population: 10,000

Darende1Old name: Tiryandafil

Market day: Monday

At Darende, 110km west of Malatya, the picturesque shrine of Somuncu Baba sits at the mouth of the dramatic Tohma Gorge. It's a great place to stop off en route from Kayseri to Malatya or vice versa but if you do plan to do that my advice would be to put up for the night here to allow time to explore the other sites nearby. You can visit on a day trip from Malatya but it involves rather a lot of travelling time.

In some ways modern development has not been kind to Darende which seems to be burdened with more than its fair share of monolith concrete-block architecture. Don't be put off since there's a great deal in the back streets to make up for unfortunate first impressions.

Around town

Near the road leading to the shrine a minaret will alert you to an Ulu Cami of almost fearsome austerity - a vast empty shed of a Selçuk building with just a reasonably attractive wooden mimber to distract a worshipper.darende2

But most people will want to head straight for the area, 2km from the centre of town, that houses the shrine to Somuncu Baba ("Loaf-Making Father").

Somuncu Baba was the nickname of Seyyid Hamid-i Veli (1331-1412), a Sufi who retreated to Darende to lead a life of contemplation. The mosque built on the site of his tomb has an extremely picturesque single detached minaret which juts up between the soaring rocks of the gorge and a sacred fish pond vaguely reminiscent of Şanlıurfa

The building housing the tomb itself is now hidden from view by later additions. When you get inside you'll find the holy man buried in an unexpectedly small casket that can only be viewed from a distance. The men's part of the adjoining mosque has a beautiful wooden ceiling and contains replicas of the many Ottoman documents associated with the shrine on the walls. 

An enormous modern mosque complex has now been built at Darende. Despite the marble pavement on which it stands internally it's almost as austere as the Ulu Cami, its most impressive feature being its glorious layered wooden ceiling. An excellent museum nestles beneath it.

As recently as 2000, it was possible for travel writer Sevan Nişanyan to write: “A footpath … leads part way into the gorge. At its end a Chamber of Solitude (Çilehane) stands in utter isolation from the rest of the world.”

The Çilehane is still there, but today a path winds alongside the river, bypassing a series of waterwheels to reach a picnic area equipped with serious outdoor cooking facilities and pretty wooden kiosks hanging over the water. The door of the Çilehane was firmly locked against any intending hermits on my most recent visit (2013).

tohma1There's even an outdoor swimming pool in another part of the gorge, formally called the Tohma Kanyonu. Beyond it a boardwalk now runs for one km. It offers a very pleasant, undemanding walk beside the fast-flowing water and well worth undertaking.

If you exit the Tohma Kanyon at the end furthest from the shrine and turn right you will quickly come to the old Yusuf Paşa Bedesteni. This had been restored to act as a small shopping centre although it was closed on my most recent visit (2013). Across the road is the equally locked Hasan Paşa Hamamı.

If instead you exit the canyon and turn left you can follow signs to the Hasan Gazi Türbesi, a tomb-cum-war memorial perched on a viewpoint offering spactacular unspoilt views of the bare rocks behind Darende on one side and a panorama of TOKİ tower blocks on the other. 

Getting here will take you through one of the areas of Darende which still retains much of its traditional kerpiç (adobe) architecture. There's some more of it in a much worse state of repair across the road from the Tiryandafil Otel. You'll find it behind the newly restored more traditional Ottoman houses on either side of an elegant stone-arched gateway. darende5

Finally, if you fall for the adobe houses it's worth knowing that there are many more of them east of the centre heading out of Darende. Built on walled terraces above the road some of them look almost like Moroccan kasbahs. Here, too, is the beautiful Paksoy Konağı, an Ottoman mansion of more familiar design.

Activities

Darende is one of the places where you can arrange to go rafting with Tohma Rafting (tel: 0422-615 3513, www.tohmarafting.com).

Eating

The approach to the gorge behind the Somuncu Baba shrine is dominated by the Haşbahçe Restaurant which offers lovely little stilted pergolas in a flower garden. It’s a great place to stop for a meal.

So too is the Balık Sofrası restaurant inside the gorge where you can eat right beside the river. Prices at both places are reasonable, reflecting a clientele which is largely made up of ordinary Turks. 

Sleeping

Tiryandafil Otel

Transport info

Buses from Malatya to Kayseri pass through Darende.

Minibuses to Darende leave from Malatya's shabby town-centre Köy Garajı. Demand exceeds supply so you might want to try and book ahead (Malatya tel: 0422-323 0054; Darende tel: 0422-615 1437). At all costs avoid getting stuck with the backless seat beside the driver - uncomfortable and extremely dangerous. 

The dolmuş driver may be prepared to drop you right at the Somuncu Baba shrine. If not, there are also dolmuşes from the town centre to the shrine. 

Day trip destinations

Aslantaş

Balaban

Elbistan

Günpınar Şelalesi (waterfall)

Gürür

Malatya

Ozan

Yenice Tumulus

paksoyPaksoy Konağı now abandoned to its fate 

darende4Kasbah-like adobe architecture on outskirts of Darende 

 

 

 

 

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