On the Konya Plain

The ancient city of Konya, which sits at the southern end of the vast Central Anatolian plateau, has a rich history: visited by St Paul; the former capital of the Seljuk Turks; and home, in the 13th century, to the most famous Sufi poet, known simply as Rumi. In the old centre, a mosque has been converted to a green-domed mausoleum, the Mevlânâ Museum, for him and his followers in the most spectacular way. The sarcophagi are each covered with an inscribed brocade and topped by an enormous turban. The walls are intricate motifs, and patterns against brilliant, metallic backgrounds. In an adjoining space there are ancient books and texts with astonishing calligraphy on display.

The mausoleum is much visited; a constant stream of people moving silently past in socked feet adorned with plastic bags on the smooth, wooden floor. People stand and stare in silent reverence, some pray or meditate and many take photographs. Any dropped litter is swiftly picked up a number of ever watchful guards. Two small areas for men and women to pray are also provided within the space.

The mausoleum interior with the sarcophagus of Rumi

The museum beyond includes a communal kitchen and little lodges where apprentices to the order, established after Rumi’s death, stayed and learnt the rites, practicing calligraphy, meditation, dance and art; they became known colloquially as whirling dervishes.

The city is dry and dusty and the still, cold air heavily polluted by the burning of lignite. Beyond, the flat landscape is intensive arable agriculture with small villages surrounded by dusty steppe, great stacks of straw and conical heaps of drying dung that are used as winter fuel. Ubiquitous irrigation pipes pull water from the receding water table and the fields of winter wheat, maize and sugar beet stretch to the horizon. Flocks of larks and sparrows are common but once extensive wetlands have been drained and much of the wildlife pushed to the margins. Only small patches of waterlogged land remain where wintering great white egret, grey heron, lapwing and snipe are found. Long-legged buzzard, huge and with a wonderful white blaze of a tail, is the most common raptor; common buzzard, marsh and hen harriers are occasional. The remnant steppes are still present in places but are heavily overgrazed by sheep flocks.  The flocks are protected from wolves and jackals by huge dogs, Kangals, that sport a metal-spiked collar and ears that have been cropped soon after birth.

Kangal, the sheepdog of Central Anatolia

The plain is dotted with extinct volcanoes; near Karapinar there is a cinder cone within a larger volcano surrounded by a crater lake, which today is more a moat of watery, white salt. Wintering twite feed in heavily grazed grassland. The nearby crater of Karadağ is older and larger, perhaps a mile wide and entirely carpeted by a smooth steppe grazed by horses and sheep. A fieldfare feeds around a small farmstead and a shore lark sings from a low tussock.

On the foothills of Karadağ mountain, the narrow road climbs though a scrub oak forest, which is copper-coloured in the bright sun. The ground flora is dominated by spiny tussocks that look like a creeping horde of carapaced animals. A short-eared owl sits on a rock amongst the sparse forest and little owls sit on many of the snow poles that line the road.

The old Byzantine Christian settlement above the village of Üçkuyu is one part of Binbir Kilise (‘a thousand and one churches’) or Değle; today a crumbling ruin of square-cut stones and elegant arches in the hills that lead to Karadağ mountain. In its heyday, between the 3rd and 8th century, there were once five churches, six chapels, a palace and a monastery in this settlement alone; now, just one or two elderly couples cling to life in a handful of small, stone houses. Many such isolated, rural villages are now emptying as the young generation move to the towns and cities. The most active inhabitants are a pair of noisy rock nuthatches. A goshawk sneaks low to sit silently in a solitary tree but no eagles or vultures soar the skies.

An occupied house amongst the ancient ruins of Binbir Kilise

Down the road from Çumra some 40km from Konya, Çatalhöyük is a neolithic excavation site that dates from around 7500 BC to 5700 BC; the site appears at a distance as a simple, long, low hill on the wide plain. This is one of the oldest recorded human settlements in the world; the archaeology suggests a dense settlement of small houses built adjacent each other with entrances on the roof and no streets. The artefacts tell of a peaceful time. The settlement was well connected across the region and surrounded by rich wetlands full of fish and other wild resources. Today, under the a bright winter sun, a guard sits in a chair at the gate; there is an informative museum and newly constructed replicas of two mud houses. A handful of visitors arrive and walk up the featureless mound. The neat diggings, supported by stacks of white plastic sandbags, are sheltered from the elements under two, huge, incongruous sheds.

Two leopards; this is a copy that hangs in the museum, the original is some 6,500 years old






3 Comments Add yours

  1. Tanya says:

    Dear Steve
    Thank you so much for the interesting blogs. Love reading about your travels. You make one feel like they are there too, enjoying the scenery and places of interest.
    Kind regards
    Tanya and Phil Smythe

    1. Steve Parr says:

      Many thanks!

  2. eykao says:

    I lived in Konya for a few years but never got to travel around that much to these smaller towns/villages. Thanks for the pictures and the history lesson!

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