The Breath Of Anatolia

If, someday, you find yourself on the way to Karaman, mesmerized by the tranquil vision of the steppes stretching for miles, you could forgive yourself for thinking that placidity is all this land has to offer. But if you peer carefully, you may be surprised at what there is to discover.

The foot of  Mt. Karadağ, overlooking Karaman, the plains still bear the scars of battle. This is where, centuries ago, the Karamanid braves fought off the Mongol horde. All that remains now is a vast expanse of dust and smoke.

Listen closely, and you may hear the victory cries of Shikari’s so-called “heroes of time” before defeat by Turkmens, or Genghis Khan’s grandson Gasan’s lament: “If not for these Karmaan Turks, our Mongol horses could reach the sunset!” See that small hill in the distance? That small hill is called Pınarbaşı. Circa 9000 BC, it was home to one of the most important hunter-gatherer societies of the prehistoric era.

How about those footprints? You’ll find that they belong to St. Paul, who set out from Antioch with Barnabas for Derbe – an ancient town near Ekinözü village in Karaman – where they established one of the earliest Christian churches.

St. Paul’s influence remains in the myriad churches, monasteries, chapels, graves, and homes strewn across Karadağ’s Değle peak, known as “the Thousand and One Churches”. Sir W. M. Ramsay, who excavated the area, once exclaimed “what an art has emerged from the heart of Anatolia, an art which owes nothing to the Greek tradition!”.

Karaman’s earliest known name is Laranda, or Larende during the Seljuks’ reign. The Karamanids and their leader Nuri Sufe first reached the area between 1227 and 1228 and formed their state as the Seljuk era drew to a close. Considering themselves the natural successors of the Seljuks, they engaged in a prolonged struggle to this end against the Ottomans, finally succumbing during the reign of Fatih.

Whenever the topic of Karaman comes up,  someone is bound to quote an old Turkish proverb, smiling sweetly – Karaman’ın koyunu, sonra çıkar oyunu ( “with a sheep from Karaman, you’ll learn its trick later”, referring to a deceitful person or situation). Once upon a time, a Karamanid commander is tasked with the capture of a strongly guarded enemy fortress. Possessing only a meager army himself, he hatches a scheme to deceive the enemy. At nightfall, he orders his men to fasten torches to each of the sheep from their flock, creating an appearance of a much larger army to an observer at a distance. The enemy commander falls for the trick and surrenders the fortress without much of a fuss. Once ejected from the premises, he gets a closer look at the army and realizes his folly.

In addition to exceptional historic and cultural richness, Karaman is endowed with striking nature. Bound to the north by the inner Anatolian steppe and to the south by the Taurus Mountains,  Karaman combines the diversity of two geographies. Like a well-kept secret, the steppe reveals its charm on the journey from Ayrancı to Ereğli. Lake Akgöl, a designated nature reserve since 1995, is home to over two hundred bird species — a veritable avian paradise. And here’s a tip for the fishermen out there: carp weighing in at over a hundred kilograms have been found in Lake Akgöl.

Ramble along the trails of the Taurus Mountains,  and you’ll be escorted by stands of oak, Turkish Pine, juniper, European Black Pine, fir, and cedar. It’s worth seeking out the Nunu Valley, past the village of Çatak in Bucakkışla. Gazing at the turquoise luster of the Göksu River below. You might not even notice the wild goats cavorting around you.

Karaman has many sights deserving historical mention. Your first stop should be the castle, which provides a graceful overview. The ancient Hatuniye Madrassa nearby is a must-see. Commissioned by Nefise Melek Hatun, daughter of Karamanid Alaadin Bey, the madrassa gate is a true masterpiece of stonework. Osman Hamdi Bey used this location in “The Tortoise Trainer”,  his most well-known painting.

Aktekke (Mader-i Mevlana) Mosque is a very special place. In 1222, after leaving the Central Asian city of Balkh in Khorasan, Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi and his father Sultan-ül Ulema Bahaddin Veled arrived in Karaman and stayed for seven years, during which Rumi fathered a child, lost his mother Numine Hatun (1224),  and his brother, Muhammed Alaadin (1225). Karamanid Alaadin Bey commissioned a mosque for their graves, known as Aktekke (Mader-i Mevlana) Mosque, also used for many years as a spiritual retreat for members of the Mevlevi order.

When speaking of Karaman, Karamanid Mehmet Bey deserves mention with his faith in science, culture and humanity. Endowed by a rich cultural past, this eminent Anatolian city looks to the future with hope.

Cormorant, grebe, bittern, ducks, geese, heron species, glossy ibis, spoonbill, swan, mallard, flamingo, marsh harrier, Egyptian vulture, short-toed eagle, stone curlew,  avocet, marsh swallow, hawk, and owl.