Konya, the Citadel of Islam
Originally known as Iconium, Konya lies on central Anatolian plateau and is one of the largest cities in the country with a population of over 1.4 million. Its reputation as one of the more traditional religious centres of the country, lead to its nickname as the Citadel of Islam. It has also been called the ‘city of whirling dervishes’ because of its heritage of some incredible Seljuk architecture. It is also the subject of a popular suggestive folk song called "Konyalım."
There are numerous domestic flights from Istanbul as well as several international flights from European cities to Konya Airport located 18 km from the city centre. There are also rail links with the rest of the country and good bus connections to Istanbul, which is a 10 hour bus ride, Ankara a 4 hour ride and Izmir 9 hours. There are plenty of local dolmuses, which connect with neighbouring towns and a frequent public bus and tram service throughout the city.
A Dip Back in Time
Archaeologists have traced back the city’s early civilization to the late Copper Age around 3000 BC. In 1,500 BC, the Hittites ruled here and in 1,200 BC the Indo-European Sea People flourished in the region. Many other ancient cultures left their mark here from the Phrygians to the Persians. Alexander the Great also conquered the town as did the Greeks and Romans. Under Claudius’ rule it was Claudioconium, and when the emperor Hadrianus took over it became known as Colonia Aelia Hadriana. It also received its fair share of religious ministers with St Paul and Barnabas having preached here in 47 – 48 AD. During Byzantine rule in the 7th to 9th centuries it was destroyed by the invading Arabs. In 1071, after the battle of Manzikert, the town fell under the rule of the Seljuk Turks who named it the capital of the Anatolian Seljuk Sultanate. In 1134, the city was named Konya. It prospered for over a century but by 1220 it became a refuge for people fleeing from the advancing Mongol Empire until it was captured by the Mongols in 1243. Many battles followed and finally in 1420 it became part of the great Ottoman Empire.
Konya was once one of the leading cities for the export of Turkish carpets during the Renaissance. The carpets were sent to Europe and were expensive, ornately patterned and used to display the wealth and taste of their owners. There are many interesting places to visit in this fascinating town; the Mevlana Museum and Mausoleum of Rumi, who once resided here is a prominent landmark. Rumi, the leading Persian Muslim philosopher is buried here and the museum displays pieces from his life and time including hand written manuscripts of the Koran. The parts of the city around the museum show old Konya at its best with its narrow streets and old houses. There are also several Seljuks mosques from the 12th and 13th century Turks with the most significant being the İplikçi Camii, which was restored around 50 years ago and displays some authentic Seljuk architecture. Another site worth seeing is the Ince Minare Museum, which translates as the 'thin minaret' museum. The museum is home to the ruins of a 13th century school constructed by the Seljuks and various exhibits from the Seljuk and Ottoman Empires. Check out the artificial hill built by the Seljuk’s and called Alaaddin Hill; you can’t miss it as it is situated in the centre of the city and is now a park. The Alaaddin Mosque is also nearby as is the remains of an old palace made partly from earth. If after a day of sight seeing you would like to relax and take in some of the city’s greenery, head for Meram on the outskirts where there is a beautiful park and several more historic buildings to see.
Out of Town
Hire a car and take a trip to the Çatalhöyük, a prehistoric archaeological site, which is one of the earliest and best preserved human settlements in Anatolia. Tuz Gölü, the Salt Lake an hour away on the road to Ankara is the second largest lake in the country, yet it is only 2m deep. During the summer the depth decreases dramatically when the lake evaporates leaving behind a flat, white salt desert. Tuz Gölü is also on the migratory path for many bird species and provides a great hang out for keen ornithologists during spring and autumn.
The local cuisine in Konya revolves around wheat/bread and mutton, which are actually the most important agricultural products of this region. One famous local dish is Etliekmek, an elongated meat or cheese pizza, which can sometimes reach 1 m in length! Recommended restaurants include Gülbahçesi Restaurant at the back of the Mevlana Museum, which provides Anatolian cuisine, the Adanali Köfteci Osman close to the railway station, which does an excellent Adana kebab and the Asya Restaurant, renowned for its tasty traditional cuisine. There are plenty of places to stay to suit all budgets; the Hotel Ulusan at the back of the central post office provides a reliable low cost option, whilst the Hotel Balikcilar opposite the Mevlana Museum offers a great location in which to get around all of the key sites. If five star luxury is your bag then check in to the Konya Dedeman Hotel or the newly opened Konya Sheraton.
Pictures of Konya city courtesy of Verity Cridland