"Country Town" Population: 11,000
These days when it comes to the mystical side of Islam you can hardly move for whirling dervishes, not all of them especially authentic. But who ever hears anything about the Ahis, a group of medieval mystics who have been described as the Muslim equivalent of the Masons if only because, like the Masons, they were a secretive bunch of believers with strong links to the trades rather like the western guilds.
The Ahis drew their ideas from those of Ahi Evran (1171-1262), thought to have been a tanner who had arrived in Central Anatolia from his birthplace of Horasan. He died in Kırşehir where his shrine is now an important place of pilgrimage.
Kırşehir is not a town that receives a lot of tourists even though it sits on one of the main roads from Ankara to Cappadocia. Most drivers – and all the buses – prefer to take the more westerly route that passes through Şereflikoçhisar even though the only attraction along the way is Tuz Gölü, the great Salt Lake. If you head out east through Kırıkkale, however, you can break your journey in a succession of small towns with enough in each of them to while away a couple of hours.
Kırşehir is not a beautiful town. The shrine of Ahi Evran, for example, may date back to the 13th century but overlooks a grim, dipped arena rather like an abandoned municipal swimming pool with a statue of the evliya (Muslim saint) on its far side. Crude restoration has done little to beautify the shrine.
However, right in the town center there’s one breath-takingly beautiful building, the Cacabey Cami, that started life in 1272 as a theological school and observatory built for Nüreddin Cibril Bin Cacabey, a local governor in Selçuk times.
To see the mosque at its best you should walk around it until you see the wonderful striped portal that looks as if it has somehow strayed from Gaziantep. The elaborate muqarnas (stalactite carvings) on its top side are typical of the Selçuk period as are the carved stone balls that protrude from each side of the entrance. Less typical are the elaborate carvings at the bottom of each corner of the building, and the convoluted stone pillars rather like carved balustrades that flank the mihrab. The cells where students would once have studied still open off from the sides of the central area which is fitted with an open-topped dome allowing light to flood into the interior. Finally, a striking brick dome still retains some of the turquoise tiles that would once have highlighted its patterning.
Sadly, this wonderful mosque has been robbed of its setting by ugly commercial development.
But Kırşehir does have one more surprise up its sleeve in the shape of a small local museum (closed Mondays) that contains several particularly interesting exhibits. Downstairs in the archeological section, for example, are a collection of tombstones that give the lie to the idea that there was no figurative representation in medieval Anatolia. Two of them depict human figures, two of them lions, while one is shaped like a sheep, a faint echo of similar tombstones from far away Elazığ. Those who’re heading on to Cappadocia may also like to look at the small silver coins that date back to the days when the province was actually a kingdom (c. 300 BC to AD 17).
Upstairs, the museum houses a hat and staff said to have belonged to Ahi Evran, but most people will probably be more taken with the reconstruction of the interior of an old Kırşehir house, the delicately carved wooden wall paneling recalling an age with a more highly developed sense of aesthetics than the present one.
Most people will want to press on to stay in Cappadocia.
Kadıroğlu Hotel. Tel: 0386-212 1200
Grand Hotel Terme, near Kırşehir. Tel: 0386-214 4797
Intercity buses connect Ankara with Kırşehir. There are local buses from Kırşehir to Nevşehir via Hacıbektaş and Gülşehir.
Day trip destinations