There was time to do some exploration of the surrounds of Konya and one recommendation was Sille. It took me a while to find the right bus; none of the many locals at the bus stop spoke English, and the Lonely Planet had sent me astray…
But eventually, for 50 cents, I was on the right bus heading towards a small village, about 25 km outside of Konya. It’s known as one of the oldest and most famous ceramic villages in the area.
After 1/2 hour, the bus arrived in the center of Sille, but only a handful of people departed. Well, if there are that many people continuing on, there must be something else worth their while. I was curious and stayed on the bus. I could always come back with the next bus. About 5 km outside of Sille, the bus turned around at the final stop. A big gate led to a huge parking lot filled with literally hundreds of cars. What was going on?
This was a public picnic park, built on a natural slope. I don’t know how else to describe it, but it was hugely popular. Entire families 2-3 generations had brought blankets or settled in small pavilions that were strewn by the dozens in a wooded area. There were playgrounds, snack kiosks, and at the bottom, a huge reservoir; perhaps a quarry that had filled with water? This was the place where Konya’s families went for a Sunday afternoon. Free shuttle buses connected one end of the park with the other, and all areas with the parking lots. You could rent a ride in a speed boat around the lake, and of course, you could pray when it was time — a small mosque in the middle of the park could not be missed.
I found this entirely fascinating, but after I had cased the joint, it pulled me back to Sille, the old village. The village was hopping and at least as popular as the picnic park! I guess, whoever was not at the park had ended up here, and all of Konya seemed to have ended up in Sille…
A river crossed this small village from one end to the other, and on both sides of the riverbank, restaurants with shading umbrellas were lined up, and people were sitting, eating and drinking tea or coffee. There was a beautifully restored old stone mansion converted museum, chronicling the history and significance of Sille as a carpet center, a ceramic center, and now also one of the largest candle-producing centers of Turkey.
But it was Sunday… the workshops were closed, and even the old hamam , now bazaar, was not open for business. Not much of the various trades could be seen except in some of the small stores that were open for the tourists on restaurant lane.
Several beautiful mosques were inviting visitors to enter. And at least one wedding party could be seen all over town taking advantage of wonderful picture opportunities. At every corner in the center, there was another restaurant or pension.
Most of the houses of the village were climbing up a slope on one side of the river. The other side, also a slope, was punctured by dozens of ancient cave dwellings. And if it had not been so hot again, I might have gone spelunking…
But I was more drawn to the restaurants, the ice cream vendors, and the main historical attraction of the town: The former Greek Orthodox Church of the Archangel Michael supposedly founded by St. Helena, the mother of Constantine, which had been beautifully restored, perhaps even a bit more than needed… Sille was a Christian Greek town that stood under the special protection of Rumi himself and so survived many conflicts over time until it too, fell victim of the infamous population exchange of 1924 and all the Greeks had to leave.
After visiting the center, I sought out some of the back alleys of the village, away from the river hubbub. Vine-covered terraces, old stone buildings, wood piles, cats — in short, village life; picturesque and peaceful.
After a lovely dinner on a terrace overlooking Greek Orthodox Church, I caught the bus again back to Konya.
This was a relaxing Sunday, well spent with the locals.