Our last bus took us ten hours east into the heart of Anatolia, past snow-capped mountains, orchards, fields, and dry hills. At 8am in the morning we arrived at the city of Konya, an old Seljuk City where the poet Rumi (Melvana) spent many years writing poetry (much loved by Turks and Hippies alike). I write this from our very comfortable guest house, having just returned from a six hour walk around the city where we saw every mosque and museum in the 2km-long section of old Konya.
Many of the historical buildings in the city are of the original Seljuk-style, built before the Turks moved west and were influenced by Byzantine/Greek architecture. These structures, ranging from 700-900 years old, are more angular, with a Central Asia flavor. We have seen minarets in Seljuk, Persian, and Oriental style, and mosque gates intricately carved with symbols and caligraphy not seen in western Turkey.
Konya has a reputation as one of the most religiously conservative cities in Turkey. I would guess that every female over 35 covers their hair with a scarf, and a majority of the younger women are similarly veiled. Many men sport skullcap hats and wispy beards. Off the beaten track of the tourist route, the town sees few foreigners. But the people are some of the friendlist we have met so far. A frail elderly men hobbled up to me outside one of the mosques and asked, “Deutsch?” I replied “America,” and we shook hands as he said “welcome…good…” Kids on the street smile at us and ask “Where are you from?” (apparently the only English they know). And we entered half a dozen mosques and even some museums free of charge, often at the behest of locals with no ulterior motives. This might be a conservative city, but there is not a hint of xenophobia or crude money-grubbing. (We also visited the town’s sole church, a French Catholic building in the center of town. The two dozen other visitors were Muslim Turks curious about the history of the church and Christianity.)
Such Islamic religiosity combined with such hospitality is comforting. Today, Robert D. Kaplan’s writings on Turkey in Ends of the Earth and Eastward to Tatary seem very distant.
UPDATE: In the evening, the three of us headed out to see the mosques in all their iluminated glory, the markets closing up shop, and the Halal butchers selling every part of a cow and sheep carcas imaginable. Following that, we decided to try and find a bar. Alas, Konya’s conservative reputation is true to the word of the Koran. We scoured the downtown area in vain for a decent bar, and only at the end of town did we find a very, very upscale place that had a Miller sign outside. Against our better judgment we sat down for a beer — which was revolting, with sediment at the bottom of each glass — and yet we were fleeced for more than $5 a drink!
But to quote traveling companion Dr. Wallace: “We knew we were going to get screwed… but I needed that!”