Afyon – or, to give the city its full name, Afyonkarahisar - is renowned as one of the leading spa centres in Turkey, due to its famous thermal springs and their healing waters. It is also famous for its marble, which is its most successful export, not just in Turkey, but throughout the world.

Where does the name Afyonkarahisar originate?

Literally translated from Turkish, Afyon means ‘opium poppy’, after what was formerly the region’s most prevalent crop, and kara hisar means ‘black castle’. This is a reference to the age-old black fortress which looks down on the town from a 200-metre-high promontory of dark volcanic rock.

Where is Afyon?

Afyon is situated inland in a mountainous region, known for its agriculture. It is situated at the half-way point of the Aegean coast and the Anatolian hinterland. Due to its location, it has always been of strategic importance and, in fact, it was the site of a significant victory in the Turkish War of Independence, when invaders were expelled from Turkey at the Battle of Dumlupınar, on 30thAugust 1922.

Afyon – Spa Capital of Turkey

Afyon’s thermal springs

The best known of Afyon’s thermal springs is at Gazlıgöl (literally translated as ‘lake with gas’), around 22kms from the city centre. Its waters are rich in gases and minerals such as sodium bicarbonate, sodium chloride, carbon dioxide, bromine and fluorine.

Its waters are said to cure such diverse ailments as rheumatism, skin problems, digestive complaints, cardio-vascular problems, and diseases of the kidney and urinary tract.

The history of spas here stretches back some 5,000 years, and the therapeutic powers of the thermal waters are still in demand today, with visitors coming from all over the world. They offer not only physical cures but also psychological benefits, ensuring rejuvenation and complete relaxation.

Many of the hotels in the region offer halal-friendly spa facilities, with separate spas or areas dedicated to women-only and men-only. Some have women-only outdoor or indoor thermal pools as well as dedicated men-only pools. Other complementary treatments and therapies include steam rooms, hydrotherapy, aromatherapy and saunas.

HalalBooking offers an excellent range of halal-friendly thermal and spa hotels in and around Afyon, to suit all requirements and budgets.

Afyon’s mud baths

Afyon’s therapeutic treatments also include mud baths. The mud from nearby Sandıklı is said to be radioactive, and is thought to cure aches and pains and help remove toxins from the body, thereby improving the circulation, curing rheumatism and improving joint pain, by relaxing the muscles. It is also said to aid weight loss and make skin smoother, getting rid of wrinkles.

Turkish baths in Afyon

The history of the bath house dates right back to Roman times. It was enthusiastically adopted by the Turks, especially after the region embraced Islam, with its focus on the importance of cleanliness.

During the Ottoman period, the Turkish bath or hammam became much more than a place to wash, established as being at the heart of many social occasions. It developed its own rituals, not only around washing, but also around the celebrations which took part here, including the preparations for marriage, where the bride and groom would have their own separate hamam preparations and festivities.

Even today in Turkey, it is only in tourist resorts where there are mixed baths. Traditionally, Turkish baths are always separate for women-only and men-only, either housed in separate buildings or open to women-only and men-only at separate times, with only women working in the women’s section, and men in the men’s section.

Afyon’s thermal spa hotels mostly have traditional Turkish baths where you can enjoy the age-old rituals of ‘kese’, scrubbing down with a rough cloth to remove the dead skin, and a relaxing ‘köpük’ foam massage with the lather of a traditional block of olive oil soap. You’ll definitely be glowing afterwards!

Halal food in Afyon

In common with other destinations in Turkey, all of the food served in Afyon is halal. Also, it is easy to find alcohol-free hotels in Afyon and many restaurants in the region are alcohol-free too. There are all sorts of delicacies in the region for you to enjoy.  Afyon is known especially for its Turkish delight ‘lokum’ and its clotted buffalo cream ‘kaymak’ there’s even a local favourite which combines the two: Turkish delight with a layer of clotted cream, sprinkled in desiccated coconut.

Alternatively, enjoy your kaymak on the Afyon version of bread pudding, made with sour cherries, vișneli ekmek tatlısı. Local bakers sell freshly-made poppy-seed bread and the spicy Turkish beef sausage ‘sucuk’ is a tasty treat – you can even find succulent döner kebab made from sucuk.

Other things to see and do in Afyon

Historic Mosques in Afyon

Afyon’s Ulu Cami is the oldest building in the city, and a fine example of a Seljuk mosque. It was built between 1272 and 1277 and is one of the oldest examples of its kind in Anatolia. Its original wooden ceiling and carved wooden pillars are beautiful and give rise to the name by which it is often known, the ‘Mosque of Forty Pillars’.

Afyon is also home to the Mevlevihane, the second most important Mevlevi lodge after Konya, founded in the 1300s by the religious order sometimes known as the ‘whirling dervishes’. Part of this complex is the Mevlevi (Türbe) Camii.  The mosque was rebuilt in 1908 by order of Sultan Abdül Hamit II. Its mausoleum holds the tombs of Mevlana’s grandsons. Opposite the mosque is the Mevlevihane museum telling the history of the Mevlevi in Afyon.

Another impressive mosque is the Imaret Cami, also known as the Gedik Ahmet Pasha Mosque, after the Grand Vizier who commissioned its construction in 1472. Its beautiful blue-tiled, fluted minaret is typical of the Seljuk style. It was restored extensively in 1795.

Afyon’s Phrygian Valley

The Phrygians began to settle in Anatolia from around 1200 BC and from the 9thcentury they ruled over the area between the Kızılırmak and Sakarya rivers, with Gordion as their political capital and Pessinus as their religious centre. Although the name ‘Phrygian’ may not be familiar, many myths associated with this ancient civilisation are well-known – the legend of the Gordian Knot, for example, or King Midas and his golden touch. The Phrygian Valley spreads across the provinces of Afyon and neighbouring Eskişehir and Kütahya. The area is quite reminiscent of Cappadocia with its strange volcanic rock formations. There are also similar cave dwellings at Ayazini Köyü.

The best way to explore the sites is to follow the Phrygian Way, one of the longest trekking routes in Turkey at over 300 miles (500 kms) – you can choose to walk the path or maybe hire a bicycle.

Some of the main Phrygian sites in the area are Midas Șehri (City of Midas), around 70kms north of Afyon in the village of Yazılıkaya, which means, literally the ‘rock with writing’. The 6th century BC Temple to Mita is dedicated to the goddess Cybele and is a 17-metre-high carved rock wall.

There is also a rock-cut monastery and museum. A smaller temple is nearby at Küçük Yazılıkaya.

Two of the best-known monumental rock tombs are known as Aslantaş (‘lion stone’) which is 11 metres high and depicts two lions standing on their hind legs, and Yılantaş (‘snake stone’) despite its name, (which perhaps came from its broken parts lying on the ground) it also depicts lions.

Afyon’s natural beauty

Afyon is situated in the midst of stunning countryside, surrounded by mountains. There are many areas of outstanding natural beauty to visit. The Akdağ National Park is home to fragrant pine forests, streams and lakes not to mention caves and a 20km long canyon. There are many observation posts from which you can see horses, deer, wild boar, foxes and wolves. Lake Eber (Eber Gölü) is another area of particular natural beauty. Sunrise and sunset are the best times to visit to see the wild birds including pelicans, cormorants, herons and terns.

You can also take a boat trip on the lake to see the wild carp and pike. Lake Acı (Acigöl) is around 5kms from the city, sheltered by the foothills of the Söğüt Mountains and has thermal water with high sulphate content. This is one of the rare places where you can see flocks of flamingos throughout the year, as well as eagles, hawks, falcons, wild ducks and geese and water turtles. There are watch towers around the lake from which you can observe the birds.

Getting to Afyon

Due to its strategic location, it is relatively easy to get to Afyon by road, or by railway – the Izmir-Ankara and Istanbul-Konya train routes stop off in Afyon. The nearest airports are Kütahya (approx. 60 kms away) or Ușak ( approx. 102 kms away) which can both be reached by domestic flights from Istanbul.