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Exploring Trabzon: Tracing my Pontic Roots and Heritage.

The journey began with a simple desire—to reconnect with my Pontic roots and explore the city of Trabzon, a place steeped in history and cultural richness. In this photographic odyssey, I invite you to join me on a narrative journey through the enchanting city, the culinary delights of Hamsiköy, a night spent with a Pontic family in Iskenderli, and the vibrant celebration of the Dormition of the Virgin at the mountaintop festival in Izmiş.

Exploring Trabzon: Tracing my Pontic Roots and Heritage, by photographer George Tatakis
At an ethnographic museum in Trabzon.

Exploring Trabzon: Tracing my Pontic Roots and Heritage.

Trabzon, nestled on the northeastern coast of Turkey, holds a special place in the heart of those with Pontic ancestry, like myself. As I embarked on this journey, the goal was not just to explore a city but to trace the threads of my heritage woven into the fabric of Pontos, thus Trabzon's history.

Exploring Trabzon: Tracing my Pontic Roots and Heritage, by photographer George Tatakis
View of Trabzon.

The Enchanting City of Trabzon

Historical landmarks

The Hagia Sophia of Trabzon stands as a silent witness to centuries of Pontic history. Its walls echo stories of conquests, cultural exchanges, and the resilience of the Pontic people. Trabzon Castle, perched on a hill, offers panoramic views of the city and the Black Sea, providing a visceral connection to the past.

The Trabzon Museum, a repository of Pontic heritage, houses artefacts that narrate the tale of a people deeply rooted in tradition. Wandering through the narrow streets of the old town, one can't help but be captivated by the architectural gems that speak of a bygone era.

Exploring Trabzon: Tracing my Pontic Roots and Heritage, by photographer George Tatakis
Old houses around Trabzon.

Unveiling Trabzon's Charm

Enchanting Lake Uzungöl

Trabzon's enchanting beauty finds its pinnacle at Lake Uzungöl. Surrounded by emerald forests, the lake mirrors the tranquillity of the Pontic way of life. A stroll along its shores is a poetic dance between nature and history.

Kalyan: A Hidden Gem

Venturing beyond the mainstream, Kalyan emerges as a hidden gem. This quaint village narrates tales of a bygone era, its cobbled streets echoing with whispers of the Pontic legacy. Kalyan invites every traveller to become a storyteller.

Exploring Trabzon: Tracing my Pontic Roots and Heritage, by photographer George Tatakis
Mosque and Lake Uzungöl.

Hamsiköy: Savoring the Tastiest Rice Pudding

Culinary delights

Hamsiköy, a quaint village near Trabzon, is renowned for its delectable rice pudding (Ryzogalo). The irresistible blend of creamy rice, tasty milk, subtle sweetness, and a hint of local flavours, such as rose water and the famous Pontic ground hazelnuts (in Pontic: Leftokarea') creates a culinary masterpiece. It's not just a dessert; it's a sensory journey.

In Hamsiköy, I found myself immersed in a culinary adventure. Conversations with locals revealed the secrets behind the perfect rice pudding recipe, each family adding a unique touch. The shared joy of savouring this delicacy created a bond that transcended language.

Exploring Trabzon: Tracing my Pontic Roots and Heritage, by photographer George Tatakis
The tastiest rice pudding I've ever had.

The monastery of Panagia Sumela (Sumela Manastir)

On the way, we couldn't miss stopping at the monastery of the Virgin Sumela. The most important religious site for the Pontic Greeks. The Icon of the Virgin from that monastery is kept in Greece, at the monastery of Sumela near Kozani, Macedonia. This is a very important religious artifact for Greeks and when a litany takes place, the Icon is treated with the honours of the head of state.

Exploring Trabzon: Tracing my Pontic Roots and Heritage, by photographer George Tatakis
Sumela Monastery, etched on a cliff

Iskenderli: A Night in the Mountains with a Pontic Family

Journey to the mountain village

The road to Iskenderli is a scenic masterpiece, winding through lush landscapes and revealing glimpses of Pontic life. On the way, I stopped at a village in-between, the name of which escapes my mind at the moment. I noticed there was a dance set up in a school's yard. The dancing looked very familiar to me as it was Pontic, the 'Tik' which we Pontics still dance today in Greece. I lingered for a couple of hours to enjoy the frivolity and join the dance.

Exploring Trabzon: Tracing my Pontic Roots and Heritage, by photographer George Tatakis
Dancing in a school yard.

Immersed in Pontic Hospitality

Arriving at the mountain village, I was welcomed with open arms, the air filled with the warmth of Pontic hospitality. A night with a Pontic family in Iskenderli was a profound experience. The house we stayed at was their summer home, at the 'Parchar' (Par · chàr = Parà tò choríon = next to the village). This is an ancient Pontic tradition, where people would live in the mountains near their village during the summer months to avoid the heat.

Exploring Trabzon: Tracing my Pontic Roots and Heritage, by photographer George Tatakis
The view from the house I was hosted in Iskenderli

The evening unfolded with traditional Pontic dishes, shared stories, and laughter that echoed through the mountains. It was more than a stay—it was a cultural exchange, a connection to my roots.

Exploring Trabzon: Tracing my Pontic Roots and Heritage, by photographer George Tatakis
Having tea inside the house

Meeting the family

Communicating with the family was a bit tricky, as their English were as good as my Turkish, that is, non-existent. However, they were speaking Pontic Greek fluently, 'Rumja' (coming from the Byzantine Empire, Romeika = from Rome = Greek) as they call them, thus we managed to communicate on the basics.

I also met the grandmother of the family who was an adorable woman in her 90s. She kept speaking to me in Turkish, and it took a lot of convincing before she realized I was also Pontic and switched the language. At her age, she still felt that this was a 'forbidden' language and was somewhat reluctant to use it with a stranger.

A funny story was that she told me she wanted to go to Rome, apart from Athens, to find her (Greek) roots. She probably believed that the Roman Empire was still a thing!

Exploring Trabzon: Tracing my Pontic Roots and Heritage, by photographer George Tatakis
'I want to visit my roots: Athens, Rome...'

The Morning Chores

On the next morning, the family invited me to experience the daily routines of life in the village. Waking at dawn we went along to tend to the animals that the family kept, their crops and boil the milk we took from the cows.

Exploring Trabzon: Tracing my Pontic Roots and Heritage, by photographer George Tatakis
Milking the cow at dawn

Celebrating the Dormition of the Virgin at Izmiş

The Pontic Festival

Atop Mount Izmiş, the air buzzes with excitement during the festival celebrating the Dormition of the Virgin. Traditional music, dance, and rituals create a vibrant tapestry of Pontic culture. The festival at 1300m is not just an event; it's a manifestation of community spirit. When I visited, we were standing above the clouds, which made for an eerie experience!

This traditional event still takes place, although it is a Christian Orthodox celebration. The tradition has been kept alive for centuries.

Touching Moment --

On the way to the festival, the driver asked me where my ancestors came from. I told him that my grandpa came from 'Kerasounta' (now Giresun). He then said: "You should come back and live here again, I have an extra house to give you to stay in".

Exploring Trabzon: Tracing my Pontic Roots and Heritage, by photographer George Tatakis
Instruments at the festival on Izmiş

My Participation in the Festival

Participating in the festival allowed me to capture the essence of Pontic celebrations through my lens. The joyous faces, the familiar attire, and the rhythm of traditional dances painted a vivid picture of a community proud of its heritage. The mountaintop became a stage for cultural preservation.

I have never seen such a large number of participants in a single circular dance before in my life. I was also amazed to see an old tradition of a man standing in the middle with a stick, ensuring that the dance was kept circular. This tradition is not kept nowadays in Greece.

Exploring Trabzon: Tracing my Pontic Roots and Heritage, by photographer George Tatakis
Keeping the dance circular

Food at the festival

Different carts were set around the space of the festival, serving traditional dishes, including the famous cooked meat, 'Kavourmas'. Long tables are also set around the area of the festival where you can take your plate and enjoy your meal.

Exploring Trabzon: Tracing my Pontic Roots and Heritage, by photographer George Tatakis
Serving the traditional 'Kavourmas'

Reflecting on the Photographic Odyssey

Pontic Roots Rediscovered

As I reflect on this journey, I realize that tracing one's roots is not just a historical exploration; it's a journey within oneself. The Pontic roots rediscovered in Trabzon have become a vital part of my identity, influencing how I perceive the world and my place in it.

Exploring Trabzon: Tracing my Pontic Roots and Heritage, by photographer George Tatakis
Kids running at Izmiş hill.

Conclusion

In concluding this exploration of Trabzon and my Pontic heritage, the echoes of history and the vibrancy of culture linger. I encourage fellow seekers to embark on similar journeys, for in tracing our roots, we discover not only where we come from but also who we are.

Love

xx

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