The Black Roses of Halfeti

I have often seen photographs and marvelled at their beauty, only to discover that it was cultivated or born in a darkened room by someone hunkered over their computer and a master in Photoshop!  So imagine my delight when I discovered that the fabled “Black Rose” was real AND that it can only be found in my favourite place in the world, Turkey.

The black rose is actually more commonly known, although I am not sure by whom, as the “Halfeti” Rose, named after the small farming village where it grows, on the East banks of the river Euphrates in South East Turkey.

The Halfeti rose initially blooms a dark shade of crimson red, darkening to its breathtakingly beautiful black hue over the course of the summer months.

Now, aside from its obvious natural beauty, what makes this rose extra special, is that there is nowhere else in the world that it can be grown.

Why? Well to discover that, we need to take a step back into the past…

In the early 1990s, and as part of an initiative by the Turkish Government called the South-Eastern Anatolian Project, several dams were built in the South East of Turkey.  This was intended to bolster social stability and economic growth the in region, which is mostly rural.  The village of Halfeti was one of the areas impacted and, as part of this project, the residents where relocated 10km away and the village itself was submerged under water.

Naturally, the villagers took their rose plants with them and planted them in their new home.  But, whilst the roses grew, they would only bloom in shades of crimson red. 

It was later discovered that the soil in the village of Halfeti really was quite special and that it was the uniqueness of the soil, or more specifically its PH levels, that caused the roses to bloom in the black hue for which it was famous.

In order to preserve the rose, so beautiful and so rare, greenhouses where built close to where the village of Halfeti was submerged, and the roses started to thrive once more.

The settlement itself dates back to the 9th Century BC, when the Assyrian King Shalmaneser III established a settlement there named Shitamrat.

The old town of Halfeti is slowly beginning to attract tourists to the area, for the dramatic views over the submerged town and the richly green countryside. You can hire a boat and sail around the partially submerged houses, trees, and mosque minarets, which can be seen both above and below the waterline.  Visitors can also take a ferry to visit the ruins of the nearby fortress of Rumkale (Qal’at ar-Rum), which means “Roman Castle”. Halfeti was also designated a “slow city of Turkey” by the Cittaslow International in 2013, the first cittaslow in South-Eastern Anatolia.

Steeped in history and with views hard to find anywhere else in Turkey, it is mostly definitely on my bucket list.  And maybe, just maybe, if I am lucky enough to visit the area for myself, I might find that elusive black rose while I’m there.

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