Thoughts reverent and irreverent from the road in Turkey


by in bloggingaboutturkey
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Some years ago in a dusty antique shop in Beyşehir I was shown a black-and-white postcard of a strange, lumpy-looking block of stone standing in a pond. “It’s Eflatunpınar,” I was told which did not, at that time, mean anything to me. I think the word Hittite was also bandied about but it was all pretty pointless anyway because even had I known what I was looking at or how it was to be reached, at that time Beyşehir had so little in the way of even halfway decent accommodation that my only concern was to get there to see the magnificent Eşrefoğlu Camu by the lake and then get back again to Konya in the same day. 

Now, though, I’m older and kind of wiser and Eflatunpınar came quite high on my hit list of sights to see in Turkey that had somehow managed to pass me by. So it was a great relief to pull into town and see the new Ali Bilir Hotel looming on the skyline. Somewhere comfy if not exactly beautiful to stay for as long as it would take to get there. 

The hotel receptionist did his best to find a suitable taxi driver and it was hardly his fault that the individual who showed up had clearly got out off bed on the wrong side. Off we set in a stony silence that didn’t augur well for the venture. 

Eflatunpınar lies to the east of Lake Beyşehir but a little way inland. Turning off the main road, we were soon driving past wavering green fields of wheat, the roadsides thick with wildflowers that included some truly show-stopping poppies.

It was an easy drive and soon we were pulling up in front of the strange and lumpy-looking block of stone in its pond. The trouble was that in the interim the authorities had decided to prettify the site for tourists. In had come little humpbacked bridges of wood, solid slabs of tree trunk sliced to serve as seats as well as a number of wastepaper bins. Unfortunately it had been some time since anyone had thought to empty these so that the ground was strewn with litter. For some reason prettification had also necessitated the incarceration of the site behind a wholly unnecessary barbed-wire fence.

At once I found myself back in Yesemek, near Gaziantep, the site of an abandoned Hittite quarry that should have been wonderfully wild and romantic but somehow wasn't because it had been engulfed by the same mania for tidying up and prettifying. There, too, paths had been laid and little rivulets of water set to flow down between the unfinished sculptures. It was pretty, sure enough, but nowhere near as awe-inspring as the part of the site outside the perimeter fence where the statues had been left in the wonderful solitude in which they had been found. 

It’s a dilemma and one with no obvious answer. How is it possible to justify spending state money on the conservation of historic artifacts unless some sort of use, preferably money-spinning, can be found for them? And how, in a nominally democratic world, can anyone justify discouraging people from visiting the reminders of their past? Yet with greater access come the problems that no one seems to want to talk about in Turkey: namely, litter and graffiti.

I didn’t stay all that long at Eflatunpınar. I found the rubbish depressing, and soon a busload of Germans was descending with cameras in hand. Then came a village woman who spread a yellow plastic sheet on the ground, tipped a winter’s worth of knitted socks onto it, and commenced the wheedling sales spiel that always starts with “madame” delivered in a slightly French accent. Beside the site an old waterwheel stood rotting beside what the driver said had been a restaurant but was now apparently abandoned. I rushed away to look at that. 

“There’s too much rubbish here,” I said snippily when I returned.

He shrugged. “No caretaker.”

“Yes, but people could take their rubbish home with them. There’s no need just to throw it on the ground.”

“True,” he said but I didn’t get the impression that he was actually listening to me. 

By the side of the road we paused so that I could photograph one of the local wells that reminded me of the shadufs I’d had to draw in geography lessons in junior school in England. I’d never seen wells like this anywhere else. “What’s the Turkish word for this?” I asked him, thinking that he’d finally cheered up. 

“Well,” he said blankly.

I gave up. We returned to the hotel and I ticked Eflatunpınar firmly off my to-do list. eflatunpinar2


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