The why is not so hard to imagine -- it would hardly be an exaggeration to say that from this lofty stronghold it would have been possible for even the most lackadaisical of guards to spot an enemy as they saddled up to ride out from Samsun. The mystery lies in the how. How did they heave the stones up there? How did they manage to wrap the walls around the rocks? And how, above all, did they manage to achieve all this in the days before heavy-lifting machinery was invented?
Today only the most foolhardy of souls actually climbs right to the top of Ünye Kalesi; the view is quite breathtaking enough from its lower reaches without risking one's neck on the treacherous path. In any case, there's not a great deal to see inside the fortifications since only pieces of wall survive. Nor is a great deal known about the site. An impressive-looking rock-cut tomb overlooking the parking lot probably dates back to the period (291–63 B.C.) when the Pontic kings ruled the area from their capital in Amasya, but the stretch of wall that has been restored to serve as an entrance looks as if it would have been built some time in the Middle Ages.
From Ünye Kalesi it's possible to gaze back across five kilometers of rolling hills carpeted with hazelnut bushes to Ünye itself, a small town which sits on the Black Sea coast midway between Samsun and Ordu. This is a town which is dominated by the ghost of a lost treasure. Standing in the main square you will see a length of wall which it would be easy to assume was at least as old as the castle. Instead it turns out to have been part of the outer wall of the garden that used to surround the extraordinary palace of Süleyman Paşa, an early 19th-century provincial governor who lived in a home of almost Mughal-esque magnificence right on what was then the seafront. Like so many partially wooden Black Sea buildings, the palace fell victim to a fire at the end of the 19th century. It lives on in a drawing made in 1847 by a visiting Westerner; guests at the Sebile Hanım Konağı hotel now standing on the site of the garden can inspect a copy of it in the lobby.
Nothing could hope to match the splendor of that lost palace, although some fine Ottoman mansions do still live on around the Sebile Hanım Konağı and most impressively in Kadılar Yokuşu, a steep cobbled street that rises up behind the Eski Hamamı (Old Turkish Bath). It was here that the judges (kadıs) of 19th-century Ünye used to live in some style in spacious wood-and-stone houses with ostentatiously decorated gateways and gardens adorned with palm trees and other luxuriant greenery. Today their houses are either empty or occupied by people whose circumstances are a world away from those of the original owners. The same is also true a few streets away where a more conventional Ottoman-style wooden house is currently being rebuilt to serve as a museum.
The heart of modern Ünye is Cumhuriyet Meydanı (Republic Square) with its predictable statue of Atatürk and rather less predictable fountains that spurt from the ground in an ever-changing variety of patterns, much to the delight of local children. In one corner of the square a plane tree believed to date back some 500 years provides a focal point for local gatherings. Facing it across the square is the Eski Hamam, the only one of the town's three bathhouses that is still open for business (the remains of the others lurk like battered spaceships amid the apartment blocks). From the outside it may not be especially impressive but inside a labyrinth of bathing areas provides a great place to unwind, with a wash and massage costing a fraction of the inflated prices charged by İstanbul's better-known bathhouses.
For the time being Ünye has few other specific sights, although a few old stone buildings still survive in the back streets, especially around pretty little Dönerçeşme Meydanı (Revolving Fountain Square); one of them houses the friendly Sofra restaurant, which serves excellent food, including a very tasty chocolate soufflé if you don't mind waiting while it rises. In the back streets, too, you may eventually stumble upon the bruised remains of a 19th-century Greek Orthodox church. It's currently used for wedding celebrations, but may eventually become a cultural center.
Across the road from the main square, a tea garden lurks in a small park filled with soaring pine trees. The park is named after the medieval poet-saint Yunus Emre, whose tomb is signposted off the road leading to the castle. This is something of a mystery, given that another tomb of Yunus Emre can be seen in the village named after him near Sivrihisar in Central Anatolia, but it turns out that Turkey has nine different places laying claim to the saint's remains. The tomb near Sivrihisar is considerably more beautiful than the one near Ünye, so only die-hard fans of the poet need worry about sidetracking to see it.
West of Yunus Emre Park lie Ünye's inviting bays and beaches. The finest stretch of sand is at Uzunkum (Long Beach), still within the town boundaries and backed by a lineup of small hotels and pensions -- it's said to be the longest stretch of sand along the Black Sea. As you make your way out there, you might want to divert down to the water just past the Çamlık pine grove to inspect a rocky promontory on which there was once a church dedicated to St. Nicholas. Pay no heed at all to local stories claiming that the saint was at one time a local mariner, though.
Without your own wheels to visit Ünye Kalesi, you can still grab a bird's eye take on Ünye from Çakırtepe, a hill at the back of town with a wonderful restaurant lined up to scoop the view back out to sea. With your own wheels, you might want to make one last quick excursion along the road leading to the local cement factory, then on to a small roadside fountain where a right turn leads to a dead end in front of a large orange-painted house. From here a path winds up through an apple orchard to an arched niche in the rock face known as the Tozkoparan Mezarı (tomb). Once again, hard information about the tomb is sadly lacking, although if the one beneath the castle dates back to Pontic times, there must surely be a fair chance that this one does, too.
Finally, a word of warning for light sleepers. For the time being, the Black Sea highway still ploughs its noisy way through Ünye, which means that many of the hotels suffer from traffic noise. A bypass is in the process of being built and should eventually restore some peace to the town. In the meantime, your best bet is probably to head for the newly restored Sebile Hanım Konağı, where some of the rooms (and the restaurant) still contain amazing carved stone fireplaces. Here at last you will have not only the chance to experience the modern hotelier's take on Ottoman life but also some hope of a decent night's sleep.
WHERE TO STAY
Sebile Hanım Konağı. Tel.: 0 (452) 323 74 74
Hotel Grand Kuşçalı. Tel.: 0 (452) 324 52 00
HOW TO GET THERE
There are frequent minibuses to Ünye from Samsun and Ordu. It's easy to rent a taxi to take you to Ünye Kalesi and the Tozkoparan Mezarı in the same trip.