The Black Fortress of Opium

I arrived in Afyon several days ago after a stuffy ten hour train ride from Istanbul. As I walked into the city to meet my couchsurfing host I realized what “monument” he was referring to for our meeting place.

At the intersection of the train station road and the main road is a giant black bulb, between whose petals it is possible to make out an ancient castle. So I had arrived in Afyon - whose name literally means opium.

The official name is Afyonkarahisar, which means the black fortress of opium, but that is recent change and everyone still calls it Afyon. It is the capital of the Afyon Province and has about 170,000 residents, but like many things in Turkey, it is caught between the old and the new.

My host is an openly gay student studying to be a veterinarian at local Afyon Kocatepe university, but he spent most of his time at the local cafes and the municipal theatre. More on this in a future post.

His friends, also students, take a dim view of the city. No nightclubs and expensive booze are the main complaints - but just a short ride outside the city reveals the vast valleys and herds of a farming nation.

The city played a crucial role in Turkey’s independence war, when the Turks began a decisive counterattack against the Greek army in the summer of 1922. But Afyon’s history stretches much further into the past. Look up from anywhere in town and you see this fortress on a hill:

Some 731 steps lead to this castle,which was begun by the Hittite king Mursilis II around 1350 B.C. The trip up offers a humbling view of the city.

I made the trip just as a fresh Turkish flag was being raised the day before the Commemoration of Atatürk (and Youth and Sports) Day.

Afyon has been my home base for the next few posts, which will include: A bit about the city's Armenian architects; a short sketch of the village of Fethibey; a look at a local pump-engine vehicle; a profile of the endless marble factories along the highway; an ancient cure for rabies; and finally the poppies that this region is named after.

It's been a long week.