Dominated by an ancient citadel that’s built atop a tall, dark and imposing rock, AFYON certainly makes an impact, and it remains impressive on closer inspection. Clean and relaxed, it retains much interesting Ottoman architecture as well as some attractive mosques. Until recently, the city bore the resounding name of Afyon Karahisar, or “Opium Black Fortress”. First fortified by the Hittites, the towering rock was later occupied by the Romans. The Byzantines built most of the present-day fortress, which served as an imperial treasury for both Selçuks and Ottomans.
For three weeks leading up to August 26, 1922, Afyon was Atatürk’s headquarters, prior to the last, decisive battle of the independence war, fought against the Greeks at nearby Dumlupınar.
Afyon’s fortress (220m), scaled via some 700 steps on the southern face of the rock – the 20min hike is best avoided in the heat of the day – is thought to stand on the site of the Hittite fortress of Khapanouwa, built by king Mursil II during the second millennium BC. The rock was subsequently fortified by the Phrygians, the Byzantines and the Turks, but all that remain are a few crenellated walls and towers. On the way up look out for hoopoes among the varied birdlife, and at the top for votive rags, representing wishes, tied to trees. At prayer time as many as eighty minarets resound and echo off the rock to dramatic effect.
The Opium poppies of Afyon
The Opium poppies of Afyon
A quarter of the world’s legal production of opium is harvested from the poppy fields surrounding Afyon. While the authorities are reluctant to tout the city’s eponymous enterprise as a tourist attraction, there are still tell-tale signs of civic pride in the traditional industry: a close look at the fountain in the town square reveals that it is a graceful bronze sculpture of poppy seed-pods.
If you want to take a look at the crop, in May/June head out of town for around 5km on the Sandıklı road, and the open fields of poppies are clearly visible from the road. Much more grows around Yalvaç and in the Toros mountains. The fields are regularly patrolled by officials, who check whether the seed heads have been illegally “bled” for heroin.
Thanks to its natural thermal waters, the Afyon region has become synonymous with thermal tourism. Hot springs, whose waters bubble up to temperatures of 50–80°C and have a high content of fluoride, bromide and calcium salts, are located in four different districts of the city. Marketed for their curative properties, the natural springs have given rise to assorted spa hotels and treatment centres providing hydrotherapy exercise pools, whirlpool massage and therapeutic mud baths, used to treat muscular disorders, injuries and even neurological issues, as well as for pain relief and rehabilitation. Even drinking the water supposedly reaps health benefits, and mineral water from this region is bottled and sold all over Turkey.
If you don’t fancy visiting one of the region’s spa hotels, the deep mineral mud baths at Hudai Kaplıcıları (48km south of Afyon, beyond Sandıklı off the Denizli road) are accessible for a TL4 cover charge.