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Ch. 19: The Plains of Karamania


The Plains of Karamania--Afternoon Heat--A Well--Volcanic Phenomena--Kara-bounar--A Grand Ruined Khan--Moonlight Picture--A Landscape of the Plains-Mirages--A Short Interview--The Village of Ismil---Third Day on the Plains--Approach to Konia.


"A weary waste, expanding to the skies." ~Oliver Goldsmith.


Konia, Capital of Karamania, Friday, June 25, 1854.


Franšois awoke us at the break of day, at Eregli, as we had a journey of twelve hours before us. Passing through the town, we traversed a narrow belt of garden and orchard land, and entered the great plain of Karamania. Our road led at first northward towards a range called Karadja Dagh, and then skirted its base westward. After three hours' travel we passed a village of neat, whitewashed houses, which were entirely deserted, all the inhabitants having gone off to the mountains. There were some herds scattered over the plain, near the village. As the day wore on, the wind, which had been chill in the morning, ceased, and the air became hot and sultry. The glare from the white soil was so painful that I was obliged to close my eyes, and so ran a continual risk of falling asleep and tumbling from my horse. Thus, drowsy and half unconscious of my whereabouts, I rode on in the heat and arid silence of the plain until noon, when we reached a well. It was a shaft, sunk about thirty feet deep, with a long, sloping gallery slanting off to the surface. The well was nearly dry, but by descending the gallery we obtained a sufficient supply of cold, pure water. We breakfasted in the shaded doorway, sharing our provisions with a Turcoman boy, who was accompanying his father to Eregli with a load of salt.

Our road now crossed a long, barren pass, between two parts of Karadja Dagh. Near the northern side there was a salt lake of one hundred yards in diameter, sunk in a deep natural basin. The water was intensely saline. On the other side of the road, and a quarter of a mile distant, is an extinct volcano, the crater of which, near two hundred feet deep, is a salt lake, with a trachytic cone three hundred feet high rising from the centre. From the slope of the mountain we overlooked another and somewhat deeper plain, extending to the north and west. It was bounded by broken peaks, all of which betrayed a volcanic origin. Far before us we saw the tower on the hill of Kara-bounar, our resting-place for the night. The road thither was over a barren plain, cheered here and there by patches of a cushion-like plant, which was covered with pink blossoms. Mr. Harrison scared up some coveys of the frankolin, a large bird resembling the pheasant, and enriched our larder with a dozen starlings.

Kara-bounar is built on the slope of a mound, at the foot of which stands a spacious mosque, visible far over the plain. It has a dome, and two tall, pencil-like towers, similar to those of the Citadel-mosque of Cairo. Near it are the remains of a magnificent khan-fortress, said to have been built by the eunuch of one of the former Sultans. As there was no water in the wells outside of the town, we entered the khan and pitched the tent in its grass-grown court. Six square pillars of hewn stone made an aisle to our door, and the lofty, roofless walls of the court, 100 by 150 feet, inclosed us. Another court, of similar size, communicated with it by a broad portal, and the remains of baths and bazaars lay beyond. A handsome stone fountain, with two streams of running water, stood in front of the khan. We were royally lodged, but almost starved in our splendor, as only two or three Turcomans remained out of two thousand (who had gone off with their herds to the mountains), and they were unable to furnish us with provisions. But for our frankolins and starlings we should have gone fasting.

The mosque was a beautiful structure of white limestone, and the galleries of its minarets were adorned with rich arabesque ornaments. While the muezzin was crying his sunset-call to prayer, I entered the portico and looked into the interior, which was so bare as to appear incomplete. As we sat in our palace-court, after dinner, the moon arose, lighting up the niches in the walls, the clusters of windows in the immense eastern gable, and the rows of massive columns. The large dimensions of the building gave it a truly grand effect, and but for the whine of a distant jackal I could have believed that we were sitting in the aisles of a roofless Gothic cathedral, in the heart of Europe. Franšois was somewhat fearful of thieves, but the peace and repose of the place we've so perfect that I would not allow any such apprehensions to disturb me. In two minutes after I touched my bed I was insensible, and I did not move a limb until sunrise.

Beyond Kara-bounar, there is a low, barren ridge, climbing which, we overlooked an immense plain, uncultivated, apparently unfertile, and without a sign of life as far as the eye could reach. Kara Dagh, in the south, lifted nearer us its cluster of dark summits; to the north, the long ridge of ▄sedjik Dagh (the Pigmy Mountain) stretched like a cape into the plain; Hassan Dagh; wrapped in a soft white cloud, receded behind us, and the snows of Taurus seemed almost as distant as when we first beheld them from the Syrian Gates. We rode for four hours over the dead level, the only objects that met our eyes being an occasional herd of camels in the distance. About noon, we reached a well, similar to that of the previous day, but of recent construction. A long, steep gallery led down to the water, which was very cold, but had a villainous taste of lime, salt, and sulphur.

After an hour's halt, we started again. The sun was intensely hot, and for hours we jogged on over the dead level, the bare white soil blinding our eyes with its glare. The distant hills were lifted above the horizon by a mirage. Long sheets of blue water were spread along their bases, islanding the isolated peaks, and turning into ships and boats the black specks of camels far away. But the phenomena were by no means on so grand a scale as I had seen in the Nubian Desert. On the south-western horizon, we discerned the summits of the Karaman range of Taurus, covered with snow. In the middle of the afternoon, we saw a solitary tent upon the plain, from which an individual advanced to meet us. As he drew nearer, we noticed that he wore white Frank pantaloons, similar to the Turkish soldiery, with a jacket of brown cloth, and a heavy sabre. When he was within convenient speaking distance, he cried out: "Stop! why are you running away from me?" "What do you call running away?" rejoined Franšois; "we are going on our journey." "Where do you come from?" he then asked. "From there," said Franšois, pointing behind us "Where are you going?" "There!" and the provoking Greek simply pointed forwards. "You have neither faith nor religion!" said the man, indignantly; then, turning upon his heel, he strode back across the plain.

About four o'clock, we saw a long line of objects rising before us, but so distorted by the mirage that it was impossible to know what they were. After a while, however, we decided that they were houses interspersed with trees; but the trees proved to be stacks of hay and lentils, heaped on the flat roofs. This was Ismil, our halting-place. The houses were miserable mud huts; but the village was large, and, unlike most of those we have seen this side of Taurus, inhabited. The people are Turcomans, and their possessions appear to be almost entirely in their herds. Immense numbers of sheep and goats were pasturing on the plain. There were several wells in the place, provided with buckets attached to long swing-poles; the water was very cold, but brackish. Our tent was pitched on the plain, on a hard, gravelly strip of soil. A crowd of wild-haired Turcoman boys gathered in front, to stare at us, and the shepherds quarrelled at the wells, as to which should take his turn at watering his flocks. In the evening a handsome old Turk visited us, and, finding that we were bound to Constantinople, requested Franšois to take a letter to his son, who was settled there.

Franšois aroused us this morning before the dawn, as we had a journey of thirty-five miles before us. He was in a bad humor; for a man, whom he had requested to keep watch over his tent, while he went into the village, had stolen a fork and spoon. The old Turk, who had returned as soon as we were stirring, went out to hunt the thief, but did not succeed in finding him. The inhabitants of the village were up long before sunrise, and driving away in their wooden-wheeled carts to the meadows where they cut grass. The old Turk accompanied us some distance, in order to show us a nearer way, avoiding a marshy spot. Our road lay over a vast plain, seemingly boundless, for the lofty mountain-ranges that surrounded it on all sides were so distant and cloud-like, and so lifted from the horizon by the deceptive mirage, that the eye did not recognize their connection with it. The wind blew strongly from the north-west, and was so cold that I dismounted and walked ahead for two or three hours.

Before noon, we passed two villages of mud huts, partly inhabited, and with some wheat-fields around them. We breakfasted at another well, which furnished us with a drink that tasted like iced sea-water. Thence we rode forth again into the heat, for the wind had fallen by this time, and the sun shone out with great force. There was ever the same dead level, and we rode directly towards the mountains, which, to my eyes, seemed nearly as distant as ever. At last, there was a dark glimmer through the mirage, at their base, and a half-hour's ride showed it to be a line of trees. In another hour, we could distinguish a minaret or two, and finally, walls and the stately domes of mosques. This was Konia, the ancient Iconium, one of the most renowned cities of Asia Minor.


Bayard Taylor