Overland through Turkey
We left coastal Turkey behind this morning and headed inland towards Cappadocia. Our travels took us over the Taurus Mountains and then down into the Konya Valley, which sits right in the centre of Turkey. Over the mountains the terrain became quite dry, though no less dramatic.
It was a long travel day, with the first leg of the journey from Antalya to Konya taking 5 hours and the second leg, from Konya to Urgup in the Cappadocia region, lasting a little over 4 hours. That’s a long time on a bus! We chose to drive across the country rather than fly, however, because we wanted to see a bit more of the countryside. And we were well rewarded: the scenery was pretty spectacular, with rugged, rocky mountains giving way to vast, expansive plains, which gradually turned into the dry, barren landscape characteristic of Cappadocia.
We broke our journey in Konya, once the capital of the Turkish empire and today the country’s fifth largest city. We had lunch at a great little restaurant that specialised in shish (i.e. grilled meat on skewer). We LOVE Turkish shish and happily dined on tender grilled lamb and salad, enjoying the amazing mountain views.
After lunch we went to see the Mevlevi Museum and the mausoleum of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi-Rumi, founder of the Mevlevi Order. More commonly known as Whirling Dervishes, the Sufi Dervishes of the Mevlevi Order are famous for their sema, or spinning meditative trance. We weren’t allowed to take photos within the museum or mausoleum, but it was really interesting learning a bit more about this ancient Islamic sect.
The Mevlevi Order, was founded by Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi-Rumi in Konya in 1273. The precepts of the order, whilst Islamic at their core, espouse peace, simple living, tolerance, equality between the genders and meditation. These would have been quite revolutionary in the 13th century no doubt! The Mevlevi Order became a well-established order within the Ottoman Empire and today the Mevlevi sema ceremony is universally recognised as a unique aspect of Turkish culture.
We learnt today that the sema is a form of meditation whereby the dervishes fall into a trance and become atuned to God. They twirl with right hand up-raised and left hand pointing down to channel the energy from God to the Earth and humanity. The spinning in repetitive circles is a symbolic imitation of planets in the Solar System orbiting the sun, or atoms spinning on their axes. It’s such a wonderful, mystial philosophy that we couldn’t help but be touched.
From Konya we got back on the bus and continued on towards Cappadocia. This part of the journey took us along part of the Silk Road, the ancient overland trading route that extended between Far East Asia and Europe. Along the way we stopped for a quick “tea & wee break”, as we’ve come to know them, next to a 12th century caravanserai. Part fort, part inn, part hotel and part camel stable, these large, fortified structures were built by the Turks to protect and shelter the travelling traders and their caravans from marauders like Ali Baba and his 40 thieves. To esnure a safe night’s sleep for all within, the caravanserais were built as fortified structures with high stone walls, no windows and only one entrance.
Whether a caravan of 400 camels or a party of only a few donkeys, all travellers needed a safe place to spend the night. Because of this, caravanserais were built every 30km (1 day’s journey by camel) along the trade routes. The buildings were open to any traveller, and comprised of lodging for people, stables for the animals, fresh water, baths, markets, kitchens, blacksmiths and an infirmary. Services of a caravanserai were free, paid for by foundations and wealthy patrons. We can only imagine how welcome these stops would have been for traders travelling the long, dusty Silk Road route!
And now we’re here in our hotel in the small town of Urgup, at the heart of the Cappadocia region and just a short hop away from the magical geological formations of the Goreme Valley. We’re very excited about having the next couple of days to explore Cappadocia as this was one of the natural wonders that drew us to Turkey. Tune in tomorrow for a virtual tour of Cappadocia!