Historically known as “Amissos”, Samsun is the largest city on the Black Sea coast with a population of 1.158.400. It is a major commercial port, an industrial and agricultural city. Samsun is situated between two river deltas jutting out into the Back Sea, north of Turkey. In the west of the city lies the “Kızılırmak” (the Red River), one of the longest rivers of Anatolia and in the east lies the “Yeşilırmak” (the Green River), a river that passes some remarkable towns on its way to the sea. In the past, people were always attracted by the combination of fertile ground and shallow waters for a harbour, due to this Samsun has a long history and its myths go back even longer.
According to the ancient myths, the delta in the east of Samsun was the land of the Amazons. The geographer Strabon (64 BC-21 AD) describes the Amazons as a people of female warriors. In order to shoot easily with bow and arrow they had one of their breast removed. The word “Amazon” is derived from the ancient Greek and means ’without breasts’. The Amazons used men from neighbouring peoples to reproduce themselves and male children were sent to neighbouring peoples. The myths situate the period of the Amazons about 1200 BC.
Fiction or non-fiction, the fact is that the Amazons’ myth spread again under the conquerors in South America. Along the world’s biggest river a people of female warriors should live. The female warriors were never found, but the river was named the “Amazon”.
What we know for sure is that Greek colonists settled in the 6th century BC and established a flourishing trade with the people of the interior of Asia Minor.
In the 3rd century BC, Samsun came under the rule of the expanding Kingdom of Pontus. Initially, the Kingdom of Pontus had been a part of the empire of Alexander the Great that broke up soon after his death in the 4th century BC. At its zenith, the Kingdom of Pontus controlled the north as well as parts of central Anatolia and merchant towns on the northern Black Sea shores.
The Romans took over in 47 BC and were replaced by the Byzantines. The town was captured by the Seljuks (around 1200 AD), taken over by the Ilhanid Mongols and later became part of a Turkish principality. Samsun was incorporated in the network of Genoese trading posts and was taken by the Ottomans in the first part of the 15th century. Before leaving, the Genoese burnt the town to the ground.
Under the Ottoman rule, the land around the town later mainly produced tobacco. The town was connected to the railway system in the second half of the 19th century and the tobacco trade flourished. Its port had fallen prey to a slow decay and despite the tobacco, Samsun became a rather dormant place.
Whatever their size, ports remain important gates for importing or exporting new ideas and renovations. Here, on 19 May 1919, a man stepped ashore. This was Mustafa Kemal ATATÜRK, the founder of the Modern Turkish Republic and its first president. In Samsun, Atatürk organised the defence of the country in the Turkish “War of Independence” against the invasion of the winners of the World War I.
The dormant town of the early 20th century became an important trade centre with a large modern port. The only thing that hasn’t changed is the hospitality of Samsun’s inhabitants and the growing of the aromatic Turkish tobacco in the deltas. Few things remind the visitor of the rich past of this town.
The town is pleasant and its centre, Cumhuriyet Meydani (Square of the Republic), is near the port. North of Cumhuriyet Meydani (at Atatürk Bulvari) is the Tourist Information Office. A little west from the tourist information office you’ll find the Statue of Atatürk’s Landing (the Austrian sculptor Heinz Kriphel worked three years on it (1928-1931). Further west along Atatürk Bulvari, you’ll pass the Buyuk Samsun Hotel and thereafter, you’ll see the Kultur Sarayi (Palace of Culture), a building shaped as a ski jump. Cultural events, such as concerts, musicals, plays and other performances take place here. East of the tourist office you’ll find The Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography and next to that, The Atatürk Museum. The Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography displays fine ancient artefacts found in the Samsun area. The Atatürk Museum comprises photographs and some personal belongings of Atatürk (open from 8:30 till 12:00 and from 14:00 till 17:00).
Following from Cumhuriyet Meydani the road north to the port and turning right brings you to The Foreigners Market (Yabancılar Pazari). All kinds of goods are sold here at a friendly price.
East of Cumhuriyet Meydani you might have a glass of tea, coffee or something cold in the pleasant park. In the evening, it won’t take long before you have a fine conversation with the friendly locals.
It’s also possible to have a ride in a two horse drawn carriage (Fayton). Mostly, there will be some of those waiting at Cumhuriyet Meydani or in the shade opposite Atatürk Bulvari. The Black Sea people love their horses and take a pride in and depend on them. The horses are well groomed and tenderly cared for; farmer’s carriages are often painted with local motives.
South from Cumhuriyet Meydani you can follow the 19 Mayis Bulvari. It will take you right to the Gazi Museum. It houses Atatürk’s bedroom, his study and conference room as well as some personal belongings. Nearby is the Grand Mosque, Samsun’s oldest building, a mosque built by the Ilhanid Mongols in the 13th Century.