Tranquil Turkey hills hide ancient salty secret

22nd Nov 2013

Visitors on city breaks to the Turkish metropolis of Cankiri should not take the seemingly unremarkable surrounding countryside with a pinch of salt.

That's because it is full of the stuff.

Just 1,300ft (396m) under the hilly ground is an amazing salt mine which was originally dug by primitive humans called the Hitties about 5,000 years ago.

The ancient mine is still functioning today, annually producing over 500 tonnes of salt, which is used in cooking and for a variety of souvenirs.

A 1971-79 survey found there were still over 1billion tonnes of ore left in the mine.

Extraction is nowadays performed using modern machines and underground blasting.

While visitors on group tours in the region commonly bask in temperatures hitting 92 Fahrenheit (33C), the mercury never rises far above 59 degrees (15C) inside the old caves.

The Hitties were an ancient people who constructed an empire in the Middle East.

This spanned most of what is now central Turkey, northern Syria and Iraq and thrived between 1,400 and 1,200BC.

They were renowned for their dexterity in building and making chariots and wrote in a hieroglyphic-type language named cuneiform.

The Hitties were finally destroyed after many expensive wars, especially a crushing loss to the army of Ramses II, pharaoh of the Egyptians.

Rivalry for succession of the throne also exhausted their resources.

Nowadays, the mine boasts 16 staff and includes a tiny canteen, a mosque, repair room, workshop and first aid quarters.

All of the ore extracted from the mine, which measures in at around 90% purity, is delivered by diggers to adjacent railway tracks where it is ferried to a factory for processing.

There is so much salt concentrated in the earth surrounding the mine that it appears around the edge of a nearby lake after being dissolved into the water.

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