Aksaray is a city in Central Anatolia, 240 km southeast of Ankara and about 50 km west of Cappadocia. In 2021 the city had a population of 247,147, with another 68,000 living in the small towns and villages of Aksaray Province.
Cappadocia was a Persian kingdom from 331 BC to 17 AD and its last independent ruler Archelaus thought it would be neat if this town was named Archelaïs. He was unpopular with his subjects and ran out of money - the Romans invited him to Rome to discuss ways they could help, and when they'd done discussing, Archelaus was mysteriously dead. So the Romans took over the territory and renamed the town Colonia, just so everyone understood their status.
The town was on the Silk Road, the trading highway to Konya from the east of the country, and away over the far mountains from Persia. It came under the rule of the Seljuks from the 11th century, who adorned it with their distinctive architecture, building stout caravanserai to protect the travelling traders. The next brief dynasty was the Karamanids, then the Ottomans won it in 1470. By then the town had its present name of Aksaray meaning "white palace", of which no trace remains. Many residents relocated to Constantinople at that time, so there's a neighbourhood of Aksaray in present-day Istanbul.
Later trade was of salt (essential in the days before refrigeration) harvested from the great salt lake to the north. Aksaray today is an industrial town that you pass through on the road to Cappadocia but don't linger.
There is no railway service to Aksaray. YHT fast trains run from Istanbul to Ankara and Konya.
Buses from Istanbul run every hour or so via Gebze and Ankara, taking 10 hours for a single fare in 2022 of 300 TL. (From Ankara takes 3 hr 30 min.) These buses continue via Konya and Isparta to Antalya, another 9 hours.
The main bus operator is Flixbus. Metroturizm have a sparser service.
1 Otogarı the main bus station is 4 km west of town just off D750 / D300. It's modern but has limited facilities. Take a dolmuş to get downtown: the fare may be included in your bus ticket, enquire when booking.
By road from Istanbul head east past Ankara onto O-21 towards Adana. Exit at Acıkuyu onto D757 / D750 into town. D300 is the east-west highway Kayseri-Cappadocia-Aksaray-Konya. D750 south eventually rejoins O-21.
The central sites are within a short walk. You need wheels for sites further out.
2 Eski Garaj is the former bus station on Atatürk Blv in town centre. Dolmuş routes radiate from here.
Inova Rentacar are based in Eski Garaj.
- 1 Grand Mosque (Ulu Camii), 717th Sk. It's also known as Karamanoğlu Mehmed Bey Mosque, as it was built in 1408 during the Karaman reign. The detached minaret was added in 1925. Free.
- Governor's Office and other handsome early Republican buildings are in the square 200 m southwest of Grand Mosque. The street on the square's north flank is optimistically called Turizm Cd.
- 2 Zinciriye Medrese, Belediye Cd 28. M-Sa 09:00-17:00. This was built in 1336 and has a fine facade. Enter from the east via the elaborate Crown Gate. In the 19th century it became a jail then a museum and is now a library and cultural centre. Zinciriye Mosque is 200 m north. Free.
- Kılıçaslan Hamams are 12th century bath houses on the riverbank opposite Red Minaret Mosque. In modern times they became garbage dumps but are under restoration.
- 3 Red Minaret Mosque (Eğri Minare Camii), Nevşehir Cd 2. Mosque and minaret date from 1306, the Seljuk era. The red-brick minaret leans (hence Eğri) at an angle of just over 3°, with its upper section collared by steel braces. It looks more like an old factory chimney in Salford than the leaning tower of Pisa (tilt 4°), but you can't blame the tourist office for trying. The tilt probably reflects subsidence shortly after construction and appears stable. Free.
- 4 Yusuf Hakiki Baba Complex includes the elegant tombs of Islamic saint Somuncu Baba (Sheyh Hamid-i Vali 1331–1412) and the scholar Cemaleddin (Şeyh Cemaleddin Aksarayî’ni, 12th century). There's also a mosque, library, display place and exhibition hall.
- Aksaray Museum, Konya Cd 16 (500 m east of Otogar next to Grand Çakıroğlu Hotel), ☏ . Tu-Su 09:00-16:30. Small but informative museum of the area's history and prehistory. Free.
- Science Museum (Aksaray Bilim Merkezi), Değirmen Sk (200 m north of main museum), ☏ . Tu-F 09:00-17:00, Sa Su 10:00=18:00. Child-friendly science museum. Free.
- 5 Sultan Han 40 km west of town is a caravanserai of 1229, one of the finest Seljuk structures. Astride a trade route, it's a sturdy little fort designed against banditry and thievery not major assault. A decorated marble gateway leads into the open-air summer courtyard, now lined by souvenir shops. The kiosk mosque in the middle has steps to keep the camels out. A second courtyard is covered for winter shelter. The Han is free to explore daily 08:00-18:00.
- 6 Ağzıkara Han 17 km east of town is a richly-decorated caravanserai of 1230/40. Access has been closed for years.
- Tepesi Delik Han another 5 km along that road is nowadays a cafe, souvenir shop and filling station. Alay Han another 10 km east is derelict.
- Acemhöyük 18 km northeast is an archaeological site with nothing for casual visitors to see. But look out for its artefacts in museums: the finest, the "Pratt Ivories", are now in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art but were probably looted.
- 7 Çanlı Kilise (meaning "bell church") is in the hills 15 km south of town. It's the ruin of a 10th / 11th century Byzantine church, and the chief building of an ancient village cut into the mountainside. It looks like the village fell on hard times, as the houses were later subdivided, and abandoned in the 14th century. Approach by the road from Akhisar village, which crosses the hills into Ihlara Valley.
- 8 Hasan Dağı is the twin-peaked mountain seen 30 km south of town. The east summit is at 3069 m and the west at 3253 m (10,673 ft) - the prominence is only 1000 m as it sits on the Anatolian plateau. It arose some 10 million years ago when the African tectonic plate collided with Eurasia: the last eruption was 3000 years ago but as the tectonic plates are still in motion, it's considered dormant not extinct. Access is from the north, along the unsealed road off D750 at Taşpınar through Gözlükuyu to Karkin. A track suitable for 4WD hairpins up from Karkin to the trailhead at Hotel Karbeyaz. The summit ascent is not technically difficult but be prepared for strong cold winds and snow underfoot.
- 9 Tuz Gölü means "salt lake", a name applied to dozens of saline lakes in Turkey but in season this is the largest, some 40 km north-south by 20 km east-west. In summer it dries up completely, leaving salt pans. Known in ancient times as Tatta (Greek: ἡ Τάττα), it was a freshwater lake which at some point in prehistory had its outlets blocked and the climate became arid, so it evaporated and became hypersaline. It's best to visit in early summer when there's ankle-deep water to paddle into and view the dreamlike mirror-reflection of the sky and far shore. Access is from various points along D750 towards Ankara. The first area is the distinctly pink southeast pool, wherever you can find a track branching that side of the highway - never stop on busy D750. Maybe pass by the turnoff from the town of Şereflikoçhisar, as this track leads to commercial salt pans. Third (marked on the map) is another 20 km further on the northeast shore, where a rash of souvenir kiosks tells you tourists are expected. Access is free, you can buy overpriced salt and soap but that's better bought in town and comes from the same place.
- See Güzelyurt for strange Cappadocia scenery and ancient religious sites.
- Lunapark is a chain fairground 1 km west of town centre on 33rd Cd. It's open daily 14:00-00:00.
- For hiking and rock-climbing in Ihlara Valley see Guzelyurt.
- Migros is the main supermarket, on Atatürk Blv opposite Eski Garaj. It's open daily 09:00-22:00.
- Nora City is a shopping mall 200 m northeast of Migros on Atatürk Blv.
- Lots of small neighbourhood stores, A101 is the main chain.
- Riverside along Ebulfeyz Elçibey Cd is the main eating strip. Choices include Sofra, Etci, Künefeland, Has Döner, Şehzade, Çiğerci Bahattin, Elçibey, Domino's Pizza, Omur Baba and Kardeşler.
- Several more in the park upriver.
- Mert Birahanesi is at Kalealtı Cd 58. Don't look for head-banging music in Teknobar just south, it's a construction company.
- Many cafes and restaurants serve beer.
- Tezcan Otel is a basic but acceptable place off Vehbiby Cd, a block east of Zinciriye Madrasa.
- Grand Saatçioğlu Otel, Turizm Cd (200 m southwest of Grand Mosque), ☏ . Clean, comfy and central. B&B double 800 TL.
- Üç Yıldız Otel, Bankalar Cd 57 (northwest side of Grand Mosque), ☏ . Üç Yıldız means "three stars" which is about right. Very central, good value for comfort and welcome. B&B double 800 TL.
- 1 Otel Ahsaray, Ebulfeyz Elçibey Cd 1, ☏ . Smart clean hotel just off D750 junction. B&B double 1000 TL.
- 2 Grand Çakıroğlu Hotel, 5719th Cd (block south of road to bus station), ☏ . Clean modern hotel 3 km west of town, free parking. B&B double 800 TL.
- 3 Melendiz Hotel (Ağaçlı), Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Blv (junction of D750 and D300), ☏ . Modern hotel with spa at north edge of town, convenient for motorists. B&B double 1000 TL.
- 4 Grand Altuntaş Hotel, Muhsin Yazıcıoğlu Blv 150 (5 km northeast off D300), ☏ . Smart comfy hotel on the highway to Cappadocia. B&B double 1500 TL.
Aksaray and its approach roads have 4G from all Turkish carriers. As of Nov 2022, 5G has not rolled out in Turkey.
- Güzelyurt and Ihlara valley 30 km southeast are the closest parts of Cappadocia, a fantastical landscape of volcanic tufa.
- Nevşehir, Göreme and Avanos are Cappadocia's main tourist bases.
- Kayseri further east has an ancient citadel and old town.
- Konya west was the home of the Mevlani, the Sufi "whirling dervishes".
- Ankara north is a sprawling modern city but with many sights of interest in its historic centre.
|Routes through Aksaray|
|Ankara ← (S) ←||N S||→ Pozantı → Adana|
|Afyonkarahisar ← Konya ←||W E||→ Nevşehir → Kayseri|
|Zonguldak ← Ankara ←||N S||→ (W / E) → Pozantı → Tarsus|