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NİKSAR

Capital of Melik Ahmed Gazi                          Population: 33,000

Belediye

Old name: Neocaesarea

Market day: 

Less than an hour's drive north of Tokat, Niksar was, from 1077 to 1117, the capital of the Danışmends, a Selçuk offshoot led by Melik (King) Gümüştekin Ahmed Gazi, who had served under Kılıçarslan and received this area as a personal fiefdom in return. 

The town sits in a valley and climbs the slopes on either side. It's dominated by the remains of a huge castle although one should probably take with a pinch of salt claims that it is the country's second largest.

Several early mosques can be found in the lower part of town where there are also many Ottoman houses that are being rapidly restored by what looks like a pretty go-ahead local authority. 

Must-sees: Ulu Cami, Kale Kapısı, Kale, Melik Gazi Türbesi, Belediye building, Çöreği Büyük Cami

Time on your hands: Kırkkızlar Kümbeti, Taşmektep, Clocktower

About town

If you arrive by minibus you'll be dropped near the river which is crossed by a pair of pretty stone-arched bridges, one called the Yılanlı Köprüsü (Snake Bridge) because of the carving on its keystone. Two restored Ottoman teahouses overlook the river, as do some equally attractive modern ones. There's also a large metal waterwheel although it's no longer turning.

deerStart climbing up towards the Kale (Castle) and your path should take you past the Çöreğı Büyük Cami which dates back to the 14th century period of İlhan occupation. It has a wonderful Selçuk-style portal - note the unusual carving of a sitting deer immediately above the missing inscription plate. The interior has been disappointingly restored to look like the inside of a sauna cabin. 

Right beside the mosque is one of Niksar's many fine çeşmes (fountains). The Lülecizade Çeşmesi was only erected in 1921 but its top was made out of a sarcophagus taken from old Neocaesarea - look for the images of a shepherd and his sheep in one corner, and a man milking a cow in the other.Ftain

If you keep walking you will start to see stretches of the low wall of the castle. The Büyük Hamamı was built right against it but nothing now remains.

Around the Kale Kapısı (Castle Gate) several towers survive to quite a height and incorporate bits of old Roman masonry, including a sarcophagus lid. As at Fener in İstanbul houses are built right up against the walls. 

Immediately across the road from the Kale Kapısı is the Ulu Cami, the main mosque, that dates back to 1145 when it was built for the Danışmend Çepnizade Hasan Bey in typically Selçuk low-slung style with one tall minaret.

KapisiFrom here you can follow the steep path up to the Kale which is now a large park/tea garden scattered with pieces of masonry from all periods of Niksar's history. Remains of a hamam survive but the Danışmend-era Yağıbasan Medrese dating back to 1157 has been restored to serve as a restaurant with balconies overlooking fine views of Niksar's red-tiled roofs. A replica kümbet (tomb) has been built to serve as a mescid (chapel). 

From the Ulu Cami you can instead climb the equally steep hill to the graveyard where Melik Ahmed (AKA Danişmend Gazi, d. 1104) was buried in a simple tomb with colourful calligraphy on the walls. Also buried in the graveyard are members of the Tacettinoğulları family who founded a beylik around Niksar in the 14th century. Look out, too, for the attractive 12th-century Kolag Kümbeti built to house the remains of Süleyman Şah's son Aslan Kutalmış.

Once you're finished witht he graveyard walk back downhill into the town centre and look for the magnificent building at the top of a flight of marble steps that houses the local Belediye. In front of it the Belediye Çeşmesi is another of the town's fine fountains reusing old Roman stonework. Beside it the pretty little stone porticoed Taşmektep (Stone Primary School) has been restored to house a library.

Scattered about town are many fine Ottoman houses that are slowly being restored. One of the finest is the Taş Bina Konağı (Stone Mansion) which retains some original ceilings and painted wooden cupboard doors. It is slated to become a museum or a hotel.Tasbina

Finally, you might want to walk uphill behind the modern clocktower to find the Kırkkızlar Kümbeti (40 Maidens' Tomb) about which pretty stories are woven. In comparison with lavishly decorated kümbets in Niğde and Kayseri, however, it's a fairly prosaic structure.

Sleeping

For a better choice of hotels you can visit Niksar on a day trip from Tokat or Amasya.

Nuri Park Hotel. Tel: 0356-528 3030

Transport info

There are hourly minibuses to Niksar (54km) from Tokat's town-centre underground minibus terminal. The journey takes about an hour through attractive arable countryside. 

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