Because of my family history, I always try to visit old Greek villages in Anatolia. Sille is one that will always stick out in my mind.
Sille was a Greek village that lived peacefully with its Turkish neighbors from nearby Konya for over 800 years, thanks to protection by Rumi that was honored through the centuries by the Ottoman sultans. It was a remarkable peace that survived even when times were turbulent in other parts of Anatolia. Sille’s original Greek name was similar to the Turkish name – Σύλλη (Sylli).
The villagers spoke a version of Turkish written in Greek script, called Karamanli Turkish. They were forced to abandon their village in the terrible Population Exchange in 1924. Going back even further in history, Sille has significance in the Orthodox faith, which I will mention in a bit.
The current Turkish residents of Sille seem to have embraced the past of the village with a recently restored church bringing tourism to their doorstep. The people are very friendly, and everyone I passed up on the street smiled and greeted me with the religious “selam aleyküm” (Visitors: it is polite to reply “aleyküm selam”). One man named Ahmet even took time out of his day to accompany me to a few of the sites, and in my broken Turkish, I was able to get a local’s perspective of the village.
Before I get into details about Sille, you might want to know how to get there. It’s very easy. On Mevlana Caddesi in Konya, in front of the Şerafettin Camii, there is a huge line of bus stops. Next to the stops is a small kiosk to buy a bus card. Ask the attendant for a card with two rides so you have enough to get back to Konya. You will have to pay a couple lira for the card and the rest is for the fare. The card and round trip fare shouldn’t cost more than 6TL (as of December 2013). Next, find the bus stop for bus #64 and wait. There should be a bus every 20 to 30 minutes and the schedule is posted at the stop. Once on the bus, all you have to do is sit and wait until the last stop. The ride is about 30 minutes long. If you need to reload your card in Sille, there is a small store next to the last bus stop that can do it for you.
I got off the bus at the last stop and directly in front of me was the former Greek Orthodox church of Agia Eleni, now the Aya Elenia Müzesi. In 327, Empress Helena (St. Helen) passed through Sille and Konya on her way to Jerusalem. She commissioned a church to be built for the villagers in Sille. The old Byzantine church was restored in 1833 and abandoned after 1924. It was restored again in 2012 and opened as a museum.
There didn’t seem to be anyone around, but a guard popped out of the administration building and led me to the entrance. He unlocked the door and gave me as much time as I wanted to admire the restoration and take pictures. My favorite part of the church was the dedication panel above the door, written in Karamanli Turkish (a Turkish dialect in Greek script).
The restoration overall was very beautifully done. I was impressed with the care and precision that was given to every icon and every detail of the church. Compared to other restorations I’ve seen in Turkey, this was by far the best. Outside of the church, a panel shows before and after photos of the restoration.
Next, I walked up the hill through an old Ottoman cemetery to another small church. It was locked, but I took a few minutes to admire the views and peaceful silence. There were also good views of Agia Eleni Church.
Ahmet went up the hill with me and told me to visit the small mosque on the next hill. I followed his advice. I found an interesting Ottoman fountain with another Karamanli Turkish inscription and a historic mosque built in 1412.
From there, I went across to yet another hill where there are several caves located. In one of them, I found a church and burial ground with damaged icon frescoes scattered throughout the cave.
As I kept walking by other caves, I came across one cave that was still inhabited! Another great thing about going up to the caves was the view of Sille.
I carefully climbed down the hill and made my way into the village. The architecture wasn’t that impressive like in some villages. A lot of the homes were run down but there were a few nice reconstructions. It didn’t really matter, though. It was just a friendly, peaceful place to take a walk.
I walked down the main road through town, which had a small river running along it. I passed a local museum and art gallery as well. The sign said admission was free and it was located inside an old hamam.
By this time, my fingers and ears were about to fall off from the freezing cold. I decided to stop into a restaurant and get some lunch. I didn’t see much life in other parts of the village, which is to be expected in the middle of December, but I heard loud traditional music coming from the Sille Konak on the main road. I went inside where the owner and I assume his family were cleaning up. I asked if they were open, and I was happily seated and given a menu.
While preparing my meal, I walked around the old wooden and stone home that houses the restaurant. There are several pictures of old Sille on the wall, along with a “wall of fame” of people who have visited the restaurant, including Turkish celebrities and the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I. There was also a picture of an old Greek man born in Sille who had come back to visit along with a beautiful letter he wrote to the owners of the restaurant.
Now to the food. In order to thaw out, I ordered the bamya çorbası (okra soup). It was a bit oily but delicious. It really hit the spot. For my main course, I had the Sille Special, which was small chunks of meat, mushrooms, tomatoes, and peppers, topped with cheese and baked in a stone bowl. Again, it was oily but the taste was out of this world. I sopped up all the oil with some bread. Probably not the healthiest choice, but I couldn’t let it go to waste.
Once I finished my meal, it was back out into the freezing cold to do some more exploring before catching the bus back to Konya. But when I stepped outside, I entered a whole new world – it had snowed about an inch during the hour I spent in the restaurant! It gave Sille a new look and feel. This time, I walked along the river and took a few photos on my way to the bus stop. I had a smile on my face the whole time as I watched some of the villagers enjoying the snowfall. Little kids were throwing snowballs and opening their mouths to taste the snowflakes. The light dusting of snow capped off a very enjoyable day.