On August 15th 1978 I was in Konya in central Turkey. The main intention of this visit was to see the Neolithic site of Catal Huyuk. The previous winter I had taken an extramural course in Neolithic archaeology and was keen to see if anything was visible in this place which once had been the biggest and one of the earliest urban centres in the world.
I took a bus to Cumra and from there a taxi to Catal Huyuk itself. There proved to be not a lot to see. The guardian told me that the excavations had been flooded a year or so earlier and the site was little visited. I notice that excavations started again in the nineties and the site seems well visited now. On the way back through Cumra I wrote this in my notebook:
Been to see Catal Huyuk which proved to be more of a hassle than I'd have liked. I didn't get much of a chance to sit there and cast my mind back eight thousand years, because the taxi boys were hassling me to get moving all the time. All the same I did see it, albeit a little annoyed, and it's just the fact that it's there that's so extraordinary, you can see the walls, bricks, the hearths and the setting, and imagine even just a little that there were people living there, building their fields amongst the trees, learning to herd their animals, hunting, trading in obsidian, making copper. In some sense Catal Huyuk is where it all started.
Today it's a hot, dusty plain where they grow melons and sunflowers, and it needs irrigation. Harriers and falcons and shrikes and magpies. Houses with a stone layer, mud brick above, sometimes painted white.
In Konya I stayed in a hotel conveniently near the bazaar. I wandered round a lot and was made to feel welcome. The other tourists were all older and in groups, staying in the modern hotels or maybe in camping-cars. I wrote a letter of condolence in English at the request of the man in the tourist information office. In the bazaars there was the smell of Asia, a veritable traffic jam of horse-carts, street after street of bazaars, a cheese and olive bazaar, fruit, grains, clothes and so on. There were beggars in the streets, the deformed and the crippled. I enjoyed the food in the bazaar, good and cheap and very Turkish. I discovered it was Ramadan and in the evening rush at 7.45 I had to compete or get the left-overs. You could see all the men hanging about beforehand looking at their watches. I visited the Karakoy shrine and museum, admiring the Seljuk tiles and the blue patterns around the dome.
But I quickly felt the need to move on. I took the bus to Aksaray across the near desert. We passed a very few desert villages made of mud baked in classic desert style, little patches of wheat where the salt was not too bad, sandpipers and plovers on the salt margins. There was a gypsy (or nomad) encampment with little green carts painted red and buffaloes as the main animal. I changed to a dolmus at Aksaray and soon after passed a great caravanserai. This great sweep of open country was a world away from the green hills of the Mediterranean. The air was clear and high and the vistas huge. I got a thrill of excitement to be moving east.
|Catal Huyuk, 2005, Picture by Stipich Bela, CC|
|Restoration, 2005: Picture by Stipich Bela, CC|
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