Crazy Lakes, Seljuk Empire, and Archeology in Konya

/ By Josh

Konya is a place that I’d been wanting to get to for some time now. While I had mostly been looking forward to seeing the Mausoleum of Rumi, probably the most well-known Sufi in the West, and the old Seljuk architecture that the area is famous for, I was also excited to spend some time away from the city and see what rural Konya had to offer in its open spaces. As much as I love Istanbul, a break from the crowds and noise is always welcome!

Meke Lake Karapınar Konya
Meke Lake’s red cone rising from the mud filled crater.

While my usual travel buddy Sean was busy (something unimportant like having a baby or whatever) my good friend Nathan Baba joined me early Monday morning on the first bus to the airport. While leaving that early isn’t exactly nice (I couldn’t even get a coffee at that hour!) we managed to land in Konya and hit the road in the rental car by 9:30 AM, leaving us a full day to explore the southeast of Konya.

On the way we picked up a hitchhiker who had been working as a shepherd for 60 years and was trying to get back to his home a few provinces over. Shepherds can be notoriously hard to understand so we were grateful to have found one that we could actually chat easily with and learn all sorts of things about his life and the places he’s been.

(For more on hitchhiking and other safer ways to get around check out our “Getting Around” article).

Our first stop was in Karapınar, a fairly plain town with not a whole lot to offer tourists besides an impossible to understand accent. There was usually someone around to translate into more standard Turkish for us so we survived! While the town may not have been overly special there were a number of amazing places in the surrounding countryside! After checking into Gider Pansiyon and accidentally having a nap we hit the road again to scout out some of the surrounding area to prepare for catching the sunrise the next day.

Meke Lake Karapınar Konya
Crystals covering the lake shore.

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While the weather wasn’t great for pictures the landscape was otherworldly! We stopped in at Meke Gölü, an old volcanic crater lake with another red volcanic cone rising from its center. Years ago the inner cone was an island completely surrounded by water, but now, due to lack of rainfall, much of the lake has dried up leaving the inner cone easy to access and the ponds surrounding it bizarre colours. The views from the upper rim of the crater were breathtaking!

Meke Lake Karapınar Konya
The inner crater of Meke Lake.
Meke Lake Karapınar Konya
Strange patters in the mud just below the last remaining water of Meke Lake.

We took some time to snap some pictures, take in the view and just enjoy the sound of nothing but wind in the grass and bird song. Then we headed back to town as the weather began to threaten rain and we did not want to get stuck out in the mud in our little rented hatchback!

On the way out we came across a place that was just too good to pass up: a group of abandoned and collapsing mud brick buildings in deep-green fields. What these had been used for and who used to live here we could only guess but it was yet another surreal place!

Meke Lake Karapınar Konya
Abandoned houses under a threatening sky.

From there we went back into the town of Karapınar for dinner. Karapınar is a town that, if not for the natural beauty in the surrounding area, wouldn’t really have anything to offer by way of tourism. There’s an old Turkish Bath that’s been restored but not opened, a mosque and caravanserai complex that have also been well restored and are in regular use but don’t really offer much to the visitor unless you need to get pants made. The tailor there was a nice guy and had us in for tea. Normal Turkish tea, not apple tea! No one drinks that!

After some locally made ice cream with an 80 year old ice cream addict (ice cream EVERY night for three years running!) we turned in for our first night.

At the pansiyon owner’s insistence we stayed for breakfast and missed the 5:40 sunrise that we probably weren’t motivated enough to actually see anyways. And so, late but full, we made the short drive to visit Acıgöl, a small lake just east of Karapınar and it was even better than we had expected!

Karapınar Meke Gölü Lake Acı

Acı Göl Meke Konya
The zebre-stripped cliffs of Acı Lake.

Acıgöl means spicy/painful/bitter lake; I’m assuming bitter in this case as the water is absolutely loaded with minerals that collect on the banks of the lake to create these black and white striped cliffs. The cliffs were extremely prone to crumbling. You could see huge cracks in the ground at some points.

Karapınar Lake Acı
A shepherd, his donkey, and his flock on the inner slopes of Acı Lake.

Driving further around the lake we came across this shepherd who thankfully had a donkey with him rather than the massive Kangal dogs that they often keep. These dogs are huge, crazy aggressive, and wear collars with 6 inch spikes so a donkey was a welcome sight.

Once the weather started to clear up we drove just across the highway to Meke Gölü, this time to go down into the crater itself and enjoy the views that sunnier weather would give us.

 Meke Gölü Lake Blog
Climbing the cone. It was bigger than it looked. Can you spot our car down below?
Meke Lake Cone Crater Blog
The crater of the inner cone.
Meke Lake Cone Crater Blog
The view from the top.
Meke Lake Cone Crater Blog
Meke Lake shore.

After a few hours of wandering and just enjoying the beauty and stillness of where we were, we pried ourselves away and headed out for one of the world’s oldest archeological sites, Çatal Höyük, by what turned out to be the wrong road. Thank goodness we made that mistake though! The landscape west of Karapınar was stunning and lush; full of flowers and swollen creeks. At one point we stopped to try to get a shot of jackal in the flowers. Nathan tried a rabbit call to coax it over because he knows that sort of thing. It worked! Until a truck drove by and scared it off again.

Konya Çatalhöyük
Nathan calling a jackal from the creak bank.

Çatalhöyük is one of the oldest human settlements in the world, one of the largest of the period, and one of the richest in regard to the information archeologists have been able to glean from the ruins. It’s considered by some experts to be one of the most important digs of the past 100 years. Unfortunately I would say that reading about it is just as good as visiting it. While it’s worth visiting if you are in the area let Çatalhöyük be one reason among many for visiting Konya. The mudbrick structures require a great deal of protection from the elements and so some of the most important features such as wall paintings are covered. The city also lacked streets (entry into buildings was through the rooftops) and so there is no easy way to bring tourists in close to view the dig. A third issue is that the vast majority of the objects have been removed to other museums. (For more information about the museum and the site click here).

Konya Çatalhöyük Covered Dig
Interesting how thousands of years later mud brick buildings are still super common in this region.

If you do go, make sure to stop in and get a drink at the little garden cafe just outside the entrance. Sedrattin, the owner, has spent over thirty years around the dig and has lots to share about the place if you speak any Turkish!

Leaving Çatalhöyük we dropped into Çumra for dinner. Despite not having a lot to offer the visitor, it was in Çumra that I witnessed an exhausted Nathan reach nirvana by eating the best sütlaç either of us have ever tasted. If you’re in Çumra, Paşa Ocakbaşı is definitely a great place to get a feast! Full and ready for sleep we hit the road to Konya as the sun set.

The next morning I did a jogging tour of the city attempting to catch the beautiful Seljuk doorways that I knew were scattered about before they got full of people. As a lover of architecture I was really excited to see something very different from the Byzantine and Ottoman dome-on-a-box style in what was once the capitol of the Seljuk Empire.

Sahip Ata mosque Konya Blog
The entrance of Sahip Ata mosque; a great example of the Seljuk obsession with grand doorways.
Konya Aziziye Mosque
The beautiful Aziziye Mosque, an Ottoman-Baroque mosque rarely found outside of Istanbul.

After a bit of breakfast and a run to the airport to return our ride we started to hit the sites.

If you’re interested in a more detailed list of what there is to see in the city and for a run-down on the museums, historical buildings of Konya, prices, and other such details and tips click here!

Etli Ekmek Photo
Giving the local specialty, Etli Ekmek, a try.

While the city in general, buildings, parks and old neighborhoods were great, finally getting to the Mausoleum of Jelaluddin Rumi was awesome! (Rumi is known in Turkish as Mevlana. Rumi just means ‘of Anatolia’, which he wasn’t. Rumi was actually an Afghan refugee fleeing the Mongols who only later settled in Anatolia, now modern Turkey). The history and architecture of the complex is truly one of a kind and was definitely the highlight of the city center for me.

Tomb and Mausoleum of Mevlana Rumi
The Rumi tomb complex.
Mevlana Rumi Grave
The symbolic coffin of Rumi.

We started our final day in Konya with an early trip by public transit to the town of Sille, just to the North East of Konya itself. There were a number of things we wanted to see while there and had also heard that it was a good place to get breakfast (it’s actually pretty common for a big city to have a historical village on the outskirts popular with locals for breakfast and a bit of sightseeing. Cumalıkızık in Bursa is another example of this).

Şeytan Devils Bridge Konya

Şeytan Devils Bridge Konya
The Devils Bridge on the outskirts of Sille.

After an excellent Turkish style breakfast on the edge of the sleepy town we walked down to the town center where we talked with a man in his 90’s about the history of the place while eating raw chickpeas right off the bush. He was born only shortly after Turks first settled in the area after the Greeks had left to settle in Greece!

Konya Sille Graveyard Blog
The bridge in the distance from the dilapidated graveyard on the edge of the town.
Konya Sille Church
The interior of the recently restored church.

The rest of our afternoon in Konya before our flight back to Istanbul was spent visiting a few remaining museums, though, to be honest, by this point we were both pretty exhausted and spent a lot of time drinking tea in an attempt to stay awake.

Karatay Tiles Konya
Seljuk tilework at the Karatay Museum.

Konya was absolutely great, but one of the things to come out of this trip was realizing just how much there is that we didn’t see. It would probably take at least another week to visit all the other amazing places that are scattered around this province. I guess I’ll have to do just that!


Other than the names of the people I travel with there is a good chance that the names have been changed for the sake of people’s privacy.