From Burdur Bell headed east towards Isparta taking in the spectacular ruins of Sagalassos at Ağlasun on the way. There, to my delight, I found her visit remembered in the form of one of her photos mounted in front of the earthquake-shattered theatre. She had ridden down over the hills in the late April of 1907 when the stones on which I now sat down to eat a snack and ponder her journey had still been half-covered with snow. in those days hardly any tourists would have made it here; even now no one came along to disturb my reverie.


Bell pitched camp near Isparta and ventured into town to inspect the church of St Nicholas whose core, she thought, dated back to the sixth century. In the museum they threw up their hands in horror when asked about an ancient church of St Nicholas instead directing me to two huge 19th-century churches buried in the back streets. One of them claimed to be dedicated to St Baniya, a corruption, I assumed, of the Greek for St Mary the Virgin, and featured a wonderful triple-decked facade. The more ruinous church of St George boasted a unique stone bell tower mounted on an arched platform. I loved both of them although Bell herself would have dismissed them as too new to be of any interest.


Unfortunately I couldn’t linger to investigate further since I’d arrived during an unexpected weekend-long sports jamboree that meant that every hotel in Isparta, from no-star to five-star, was full. Instead I was forced to press on to Eğirdir, a small lakeside town best known for its lovely setting. Here most visitors make a beeline straight for Yeşilada, once a true “Green Island” but now connected to the mainland by a causeway. Gertrude took a boat out to it to explore the two churches that were the heart of its then Greek community. Today the shell of St Stephen’s still survives behind a firmly locked gate but where a larger church once occupied a grand waterside spot there is now just a small park. Even the spring whose health-giving properties she described is long since dried up.


Gertrude was rowed out to the island but I had to take a motorboat whose owner was only reluctantly dissuaded from blasting out loud music to entertain me. Returning, I took a quick turn around town and was thrilled to find a setpiece Selçuk assemblage that still more or less fits her description of it. Here a mosque and medrese face each other across a courtyard accessed via a gate surmounted by a minaret. If I closed my eyes to the new carpets covering the mosque floor and the one-piece Islamic bathing costumes on sale in the medrese this was one of those rare corners of Turkey that stood virtually unchanged since Bell’s visit. 


One thought on “Ağlasun and beyond

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