Ankara Stories and Tips

Kayseri - Malatya: The Anatolian Steppe

Kids Photo, Ankara, Turkey

The drive from Kayseri to Malatya may just be one of my favorite drives in all of Turkey. The road is a long and straight two lane highway that rolls along the Anatolian steppe surrounded by towering snow-capped mountains to the south and north. As you head East, the dry, brown, extraterrestrial landscape of Cappadoccia gives way to tolling hills dusted with specks of green grass and herds of grazing sheep. In Medieval times this was an important trade route connecting Eastern Turkey and Persia with the ports and cities of Western Anatolia and all along the road, old caravansaray’s, (some crumbling, some still in visitable shape) mark the points along the road where traders bunked for the night.

Turkey does a rather good job of posting signs along its roads, signs for distance and direction, but as well as signs for tourist sights. In fact, Turkey probably over does it and posts signs for basically every single historical sight you could conceivably want to stop at, making it a bit hard to decipher which ones are actually worth the time, and since most guide books only gloss over this section of Turkey, you won’t find any help in them. In Turkey (like the US) the historical sights are marked with brown signs and will say things like "Ancient Hittite Dam 5km" or "16th-century Caravansaray 10km."

On my road trip my travel partner and I decided that we would stop at every brown sign we saw, unless we were really pressed for time (which was rare). After all, this trip was about seeing as much of Eastern Turkey as we could and there was no real plan except to just go. So that is what we did and this section of road was a goldmine. About a half an hour outside of Kayseri we stumbled upon a caravansaray about an hour later there was an old Hittite dam dating from the 10th century BC. The highlight, however, was probably a tomb and mosque built for a local holy man about an hour from Malatya. The mosque was a relatively new construction, but was built straddling a river and was full of fountains and marble. The place was full of families out for picnics and adorable little kids running around enjoying the pools of water that flowed through the courtyard of the mosque. To the side was a bridge and waterwheels. While there was nothing really historic about the place, or anything that should have been of interest to us personally, the mosque was in an beautiful secluded setting and it was a chance to mix in with locals and it was one of those rare moments where we could stand there and think "There is a good chance that we are the first tourists to ever visit this place," something that is rare in these days of global tourism. Moments like that are why I suggest that if you decide to take your own Turkish road trip, always leave time for impromptu chances to follow brown signs.

The final hour of the drive to Malatya takes you out of the Anatolian steppe and up into the mountains. When you eventually crest the mountains you are greeted by a sprawling lush green valley and the city of Malatya. Malatya is the center of apricot production in Turkey and its apricots are famous the world over. As you descend into the valley you will notice (if the season is right) huge orchards of apricot trees spouting out of the ground, bearing their orange fruit. All along the road you will find stand hawking fresh, homemade apricot products ranging from jam to dried apricots to tart apricot roll-ups. To stop and sample some would be a crime.

Malatya lies in the heart of the valley and at the foot of a range of mountains towering over 2,000 meters. This is still relatively conservative country for Turkey, but its agricultural wealth gives it a more modern feel than Kayseri. While there is not much to do or see, it’s a convenient place to spend the night and prepare for a trip up to Mt. Nemrut.

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