It’s odd how long an idea can be simmering in the back of your mind before coming suddenly to the boil. For me the boiling point in my upcoming Gertrude Bell project came the moment I saw one particular old photograph. It was reproduced in Bell’s own book, co-written with Sir William Ramsay, The Thousand and One Churches, and it showed an extraordinary building, part Byzantine church, part mosque and part belltower. According to the label this was the church of St Amphillochius in Konya, and I had absolutely no idea where it could have been.
Just months before glimpsing this picture I’d spent some time in Konya happily tulip-peeping with the locals on Alaadin Tepesi. I’d taken a look at stalled progress on “restoring” the old Selcük palace that stands on its slopes. Nowhere had I come across even passing mention of this church.
A quick query on Twitter and I found out that the church/mosque/belltower had been blown up in the 1920s.
And that was all it took.
Suddenly I understood not only that Gertrude Bell had done a lot more travelling in Turkey than I’d realised but that she had left a priceless archive of images of the country’s ancient monuments as they had been at the start of the twentieth century. Those photos alone would tell a fascinating story of change right the way across the country. And so was born the idea for Following Miss Bell, a plan to retrace her travels around the country and then write up the story.