Afyonkarahisar, more often known as Afyon for short, has been home to many civilisations, lying as it does at a strategic geographical junction at the centre of western Turkey. Whether you are travelling from east to west or north to south, by road or rail, you are almost certain to pass through this city. With a history that can be traced back to 3000 BC, Afyon was ruled in turn by the Hittites, Phrygians, Hellenes, Romans and Byzantines until its conquest by the Turks in 1200. With such a rich historic heritage, visitors to the city should start at the museum, which has an outstanding collection of Hittite, Phrygian, Roman and Byzantine works of art.
Upon leaving the museum it is time to explore the streets, which offer interesting sights at every turn, such as a pile of kepeneks, the colourful woollen capes worn by shepherds, which also serve as beds or tablecloths when necessary. If you are curious to see how they are made, all you have to do is enter the workshop with a greeting.
The old quarter of the town known as Kalealtı has many well preserved examples of old Turkish houses painted in diverse colours, and with doors and windows which are lovely examples of traditional woodwork.
After lunch you can climb up to Afyon Castle, perched high on the craggy hill of dark rock that towers over the city. The castle stands on the brink of an ancient volcanic crater, and the view from here is spectacular. You can still see traces of Hittite carving on the walls of the castle, which was used as a stronghold by the Hittite king Murshil II during his Arzava campaign around 1350 BC.
After descending the steep path from the castle, make your way to the city centre, where it seems that every other shop is selling either the famous garlic sausage of Afyon, or Turkish delight with the equally famous clotted cream and other sweetmeats. When I asked what was special about this cream, they explained that it was made from water buffalsne milk.
Next to the Ottoman bazaar is the Seljuk period Ulu Mosque built in 1272 and nearby is Imaret Mosque with its elegant fluted minaret built by Gedik Ahmet Paşa in 1472.
Afyon played a crucial role in the Turkish War of Independence (1919-1923), a role made more important by its key position as a crossroads. From the hill of Kocatepe near the city Atatürk launched his Great Offensive on 26 August 1922 and observed the first stages of the battle. The well known photograph of Atatürk walking along bowed in thought was taken on this hill, and today a statue of Atatürk marks the spot. Trenches left from this battle can still be seen. When I returned to my hotel in the evening, I went to the Turkish bath which is supplied by a thermal spring. There are numerous thermal springs in Afyon, presumably a relic of the aream volcanic past. The next day I visited the town of Ihsaniye, 35 kilometres north of Afyon, and was amazed to see rock cones and pillars just like those of Cappadocia.
Early Christian communities fleeing Roman persecution took refuge here, as they did in Cappadocia far to the east, carving out homes in the soft volcanic rock. The rock tombs and church of Ayazini are the most important sights. The following day I visited the Göynüs Valley, popularly known as the Phrygian Valley. The Phrygians began to expand their territories in Anatolia from 1200 BC onwards. Their kingdom, whose capital was Gordion west of Ankara, covered the mountainous and forested region between Afyon, Kütahya and Eskişehir. In the Göynüş Valley are rock tombs and openair temples.
Here a large lion carved in relief still guards the entrance to the burial site known as Yilanlı Kaya - Snake Rock. Beyond lies the temple of Mal Kaya, the top two metres of whose walls are still visible above ground, carved in low relief in the form of a pediment. It is thought that the walls descend a further five metres beneath the ground. The temple is astonishingly well preserved, despite being nearly 3000 years old.
My last trip was to Lake Eber east of Afyon. The lake is fed by the Akarçay River and streams which rise from springs in the Sultandağ Mountains. As you approach the lake the first thing you notice is the reed beds and people at work gathering them. Along the shore are picturesque fishermen's huts roofed by reeds. The inhabitants of all the villages around the lake make their living from either the reeds, which they sell to the local paper factory, or from fishing.
A strange feature of this lake is the floating 'islands' known as kopak, formed by reed roots which in time become so tightly packed that you can walk on them with perfect safety. Fishermen moor up their rafts to the islands and light fires on which they cook the fish they have caught. I was invited to join them, but preferred to eat in a fish restaurant on solid ground!
So next time your journey takes you to Afyon, instead of driving straight through, stop off for two or three days to see the unusual sights in and around this interesting city.