22 September 2023
Today is “a long scenic drive”. In tour terms, this means prepare for over 300 miles in a van. There can be varying degrees of discomfort. Usually there are stops ever 2 hours. Thankfully, there is always a Magnum ice cream bar involved.
We sadly leave the Aegean Sea, but happy to leave the heat and humidity, and turn north-eastwards toward the heartland of Anatolia- the Central Anatolian Plateau. Stretching inland from the Aegean to central Turkey, the plateau occupies the area between two mountain ranges. Not only does the topography dramatically change, but so does the weather. The plateau is semi-arid highlands receiving less than 12” a rain in most years. Elevations range from 2,300 to 6,600 ft. It will come as a welcome change.
Our road curves over and around the Taurus Mountains. We leave a Mediterranean landscape and enter forests of pine interspersed with cliffs of granite. Our driver speeds on weather up the mountain or downhill to the plateau. The topography becomes more arid and sparse in trees as we climb over the pass reaching over 6000′. We eventually enter a valley of gently rolling hills and expansive fields of crops.
The long, long day is broken up not only with Magnum bars. We also visit some very interesting sites alo g our journey.
Aspendos at Side
My first stop is in the harbor community of Side. Here we visit Aspendos, a Roman amphitheater. Constructed around 155 BCE, the theater is one of the best preserved of ancient times. This is a fortunate circumstance for the locals as Alexander the Great marched his troops into Aspendos in 333 BCE. When Alex agreed, for a price, to not garrison soldiers in their city, the locals made a huge mistake! They reneged on the deal. Citizens went to the Acropolis and prepared for battle. Unfortunately for the locals, when Alex returned he demanded an even larger settlement to prevent him from razing the entire town.
The theater is over 315’ in diameter and had seating for at least 7,000 spectators. Additionally, during the 13th century, the Seljuk Turks/early Persions used the area as a caravanserai (roadside inn and stables). Currently, concerts and ballets are staged in this marvelous atmosphere. Aida is playing soon. There are many other Roman sites and a museum of interest located in Side. Its harbor and small village atmosphere are charming. Unfortunately for us, we have no time to explore more.
Who were the Seljuk Turks
The Seljuk Turks, or Turkomans, originated as a branch of the Oghuz Turks who in the 8th century lived on the periphery of the Muslim world, north of the Caspian and Aral seas in the region of the Kazakh steppes of today’s Turkmenistan in Central Asia. The Oghuz were Sunni Muslem but came under the influence of the Persians. They established the Seljuk Empire (1037–1194) and the Sultanate of Rum (1074–1308), which at their peak of empire stretched fromIran to all of central Anatolia. The empire eventually became the prime targets of the Crusades.
During the 10th century, Oghuz had come into close contact with Muslim cities. When Seljuk and his clan had a falling out with the chieftain of the Oghuz, he split his clan off from the bulk of the Oghuz Turks. Seljuk later converted to Islam and by the 11th century migrated into Persia. Over time, they adopted the Persian culture and language and played an important role in the development of the Turko-Persian tradition, which features “Persian culture patronized by Turkic rulers.
Before the Third Crusade around 1190, the Seljuk Sultanate encompassed all of central Anatolia reaching almost to Constantinople in the north and the coastal regions of the Aegean. Their culture, art, literature and architecture reflect this Persian influence throughout this region of Anatolia.
Konya’s Melvâna Museum
We are off to Konya some 150 miles to the east. Our destination is the Melvâna Museum. Constructed in 1274 as a lodge for the Melvâna Order of whirling dervish, it now houses a museum and the mausoleum of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi (Melvâna), a Persian Sufi mystic who died in 1273.
The museum is part of a large complex containing a mosque, hand-carved sarcophagi of Melvâna, tombs, the museum, courtyards and halls where the dervishes performed. The large turquoise dome, embroidered brocade, and exquisite marble details are excellent. The museum is one of the most visited in all of Turkey.
The mosque is small but significant to Turkey, as are the beautiful illuminated Korans and priceless prayer rugs. Rami and other important dervishes are buried in the mosque; Rami is interred under the magnificent turquoise dome. A cherished box is believed to contain hairs from the Holy Beard of Muhammad.
The large caravanserai, once a popular stop for traders moving between China and the West along tne “Silk Road.” The rest stop is located about 30 miles from Aksaray and is one of the most impressive caravanserai in Anatolia. It also is the largest and best preserved Seljuk caravanserai in all of Turkey.
The Sultanhani Caravanserai was built in 1229 by a Seljuk sultan when Aksaray was an important stopover along the Silk Road. Partially destroyed in a fire, the building was restored and enlarged in 1278. The monumental caravanserai then became one of the best examples of Anatolian Seljuk architecture. Once the Ottomans arrived, the caravanserai lost its importance and eventually abandoned.
Sultanhani has areas for summer and winter travelers and their animals. The richly carved monumental entrance gate is of marble and leads to a wide courtyard surrounded by storage rooms, stalls, and rooms where animals and people were accommodated. There is a small a mosque in the middle of the courtyard. The covered courtyard was for the winter and during the winter both merchants and their animals could stay indoors.
This caravanserai is truly impressive. Today, instead of traders and camels, the interior is used to display some beautiful carpet. Outside, under the porticos, dinner tables host a more modern set of travelers.
Many hours later, after a long day across Anatolia, we finally reach our destination. The scenery outside my window held the promise of fantastical Cappadocia. Unfortunately, it is long past sunset; it is pitch dark beyond my window. We arrive exhausted, ready for dinner, a drink and sleep. And I wear my bright yellow Cappadocia socks and must admit the drive was worth it.