I staggered into Konya at 6.30am after an all-night 14-hour bus ride from Mardin. It sounds worse than it was. Turkish buses are first rate. There was plenty of leg room and I was lucky that the seat next to me wasn’t occupied. The bus companies are highly competitive; they try to outdo each other with amenities. There was wifi, chargers, snacks, drinks and frequent rest stops. At some point in the middle of the night we even stopped for a hot meal.
Nevertheless I was exhausted by the time I checked in to the Seljuk Hotel. The spacious, comfy room was a perfect place to gather my forces and plan my my trip to Catal hoyuk. I did manage to swing by the tourist office who recommended a taxi driver they work with. The other alternative would have been a train to Cumra and then a taxi which didn’t sound like fun.
The following day I set off to explore Konya’s main attraction, the Mevlana Museum.
Although now a museum, the place also holds the tomb of Mevlâna Jelaleddin Rumî, founder of the Mevlevi order of dervishes, commonly called the Whirling Dervishes. Rumi is a saint with a message of peace and love that he preached and taught in Konya. It was throbbing with visitors who come from around the world to pay hommage to his tomb.
Also fascinating was the row of dervish cells that depicts their lives and teachings with artifacts and displays.
Next to it is the Selimiye Mosque
In order to prepare for Catal Hoyuk, a visit to the Archaeological Museum was mandatory. It was way out of the center at the end of the dustiest and ugliest road I’ve seen in Turkey or maybe anywhere. The museum itself was in a dusty, unimpressive building but the exhibits made it highly worthwhile. The staff seemed surprised to see someone show up and didn’t bother with an entrance fee.
The first hall had some startlingly good Roman sarcophagi, including one depicting the labors of Hercules.
There were also perfume bottles terra cotta jars, obsidian tools and other objects from the Hittite, Assyrian and Byzantine empires. Most interesting to me were the objects excavated from Catal hoyuk including this figurine of an lady (goddess? wise elder?)
And then this skeleton of a child with wrist and ankle bracelets, also found at Catal Hoyuk
There was also a wall fragment with a painted motif.
I finished up the day in the beautifully maintained park surrounding the Alaadin Cami mosque.
And took a peek inside the 13th-century mosque.
A stroll through the neighborhood north of the park revealed a modern city with fashionable stores on busy shopping streets. Unlike the neighborhood around the Mevlana Museum where I was staying, here fewer women wore head coverings. It was a younger, more relaxed vibe. One of the things the hijab does is eliminate class distinctions or at least blur them. From the rows and rows of gold shops and good infrastructure, it was apparent that Konya was a prosperous city but you’d never know it from the covered-up women. Maybe they wore Chanel under the black robes or maybe not. There were no outward signs of wealth.
Catal Hoyuk is one of the world’s oldest towns, dating from around 7500 to 6400BC. At its height the population may have reached 10000 although probably fewer inhabited it at any one time. It was a notably egalitarian society. At least 1100 years with no walls, no wars, no kings and no slaves! (We did it before, maybe we can do it again?).
At last the big day arrived. Mr. Ahmed picked me up at 12.30 and then we fetched the other passenger, Mark, a British-born adherent of Sufi Islam who came to Konya as a religious-themed holiday from his work as a chemistry teacher in Qatar.
It took about an hour to get there as we drove through dry but cultivated fields of wheat and barley. Like Gobleki tepe, Catal Hoyuk appears as a mound. In fact there are two mounds: the western and eastern. Here’s what it once looked like:
Here’s what it looks like now:
To deepen understanding of the site, archaeologists supervised construction of a small simulated village.
There were no doors or windows. People entered their abode via ladders from the roofs. It’s thought that village life mainly took place on the roofs. The oven is clearly visible here as well as the wall paintings that are now on exhibit in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara. The platforms were for sleeping and probably covered with mats.
Under the floors were the bones of ancestors whose flesh had probably been picked clean by vultures. I tried to imagine what it would be like to live over the skeletal remains of my parents. Weird. It’s not clear how high the roofs were because when people needed more space they knocked down the walls and built over the former space.
Between the living quarters were spaces for grain storage.
This was a pre-agricultural society. People harvested wild wheat and barley which supplemented their diet of fruit, fish, wild vegetables and game. It must have been nutritious because they were not short, reaching 1m65 to 1m70.
They had everything they needed in this Garden of Eden. Although dry now, there was once a river teeming with fish, fruit trees, nuts, berries, aurochs (wild cattle), sheep, goats, birds, foxes and other goodies.
The people were trading with other settlements throughout Mesopotamia and as far as the red sea. Obsidian was particularly prized as it was used for making tools, mirrors and jewelry. Adornment was a big things. They just loved bracelets and necklaces and may have even painted their bodies. With all the food just hand-grab away, I suppose they had a lot of time to pursue beauty and pleasure. We could learn.
After extensively combing the old and new visitor centers we finally left for a nearby site that was even older!
Boncuklu Hoyuk is still being excavated. It’s thought that the folks from this settlement moved to Catal Hoyuk for some reason. Here’s what their houses may have looked like
And then as an added bonus, Mr Ahmed told us that we could catch the Whirling Dervish ceremony in the evening. I was delighted as I thought it was only done on Saturdays.
It was incredibly beautiful and hypnotic.