Classic Cappadocia

Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
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Trip End Nov 30, 2009


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Sunday, May 7, 2006

Well, I promised some exceptional sights and scenery and I think you will agree that this and the following entry delivers. Cappadocia is so full of astounding eye-candy that I've had to cut the coverage in half - and because I'll probably run out of superlatives to describe them pretty early on, I'll have to let the pictures do the most of the talking. They do more justice to this amazing place than my hackneyed descriptions ever will...

To get here Mystery and I rode a red-eye bus service from Antalia to the teeny town of Goreme (pron. Goremay) in Turkey's heartland - Central Anatolia. Eleven straight hours on a very uncomfortable bus arriving at 6am is always going to turn messy and we had to write the first half day off because of it. Still, that allowed the weather to turn and begin cooperating (April and May is wet season here) and by that afternoon we were out amongst the towering fairy chimneys ( sometimes known as 'Troglodites' by geologic nerds in the know) of the surrounding hills and dales.



The highlight of the three days we spent here had to be the walking tour. Starting in Goreme, you walk up and through the pragmatically named Pigeon Valley, resplendent with tiny 'dove cotes' (pigeon houses) that riddle the walls for a kilometre or two. As you continue to ascend on the way to the next town of Urchisar the surrounding scenery becomes more abstract, with giant mushroom-topped cliffs to one side and oozing pink marshmellow formations to the other. The cute winding path winds over grassy knolls and through small cave holes worn smooth over the ages by erosion and man. You eventually make it to the top and the view down the pink bowl to ragged cliffs in the distance is magnificent. Can we pause a moment Mr Guide?



Not far away is the entrance to 'Honey' Valley - equally breath-taking but very diffierent to the pigeon haven despite its proximity. What I assume are sulfuric oxides in the prehistoric volcanic ash that fell here have remained in layers through the 'Tufa' and have hence cut a bright yellow swathe in the cliff face. Resembling mouth-watering melted nougat I felt like kneeling down and taking a bite as we tramped down the ever narrowing canyon. *Drool*.

Towards Honey Valley's end there is a series of hollows, caves and erosion formations that keep the camera clicking, although clouds overhead did not collaborate with the sunshine to provide perfect light conditions for a couple of the major formations, which was a real shame. I hung around until the others had left me but still no banana, so these shots above will have to do.



Honey Valley merges into Love Valley, although for many of you a more obvious name will spring quickly to mind. Rising 15 or 20 metres into the air, these fairy chimneys are bizarre in the extreme and you have to chuckle as you sit and rest amongst the forest of monumental phallic formations. The labourers in the surrounding grape vines certainly have a unique and inspiring work environment.

After the obligatory smutty comments all guys on the tour, young and old alike, insisted on a novelty photo or two - much to the chagrin of their female companions. The homeymooning Korean couple were especially boisterous. A copy of mine can be obtained by clicking the donation link above and contributing $50 or more to the save a technotrekker fund ;-)



Much to my surprise and disbelief Mystery was not greatly impressed with such inanity and could only think of a getting home for a kebab - the Penis.. err, Love Valley landscape hadn't inspired any amorous desires, just more basic needs like hunger and her love of this staple Turkish fare. Oh well, the kebab vendor got lucky in a way I suppose.



She will probably kill me for that but I'll plow on anyway. With hunger sated and desire to see more of Cappadocia suitably enhanced, we headed out to the Goreme Open Air Museum. The Central Anatolian area was a safe haven for Christians as Islam swept across the Holy Land and Egypt from the 7th century AD onwards, so many monks descended on this remote area seeking refuge from religious persecution.

The tufa of Cappadocia is extremely simple to carve and tunnel through, so the Christians built camoflaged communities above and below ground - both within the fairy chimneys and as complex undergournd cities. Some of the largest and most beautifully decorated churches can be found in what is now the Open Air Museum, where fairy chimneys have been hollowed into basic cruciform floorplans and then brightly decorated with powerful religious icongraphy of the age - about the 11th century AD for those who were wondering. What remains after all this time is remarkable in many cases.



The 'Dark Church' takes its name from its lack of external light which has allowed the wall-to-wall frescoes to retain an extremely vivid lustre even after a millennia in this extreme environment. Such darkness makes it very difficult to photograph without a flash (which is an understandable request from museum management) but you can see that ornate detail that has gone into the artwork from the pictures provided above. It probably houses the best set of frescoes in the museum but unfortunately management slaps an additional $5 fee on this particular church (above and beyond the $10 fee general admission) so I recommend visiting the other free options unless you hold great interest in the subject.



The best of these 'free' churches is the Church of the Sandals, so named for imprints of sandals carved into the floor (apparently - I couldn't see them) and because most of the figures in the frescoes are wearing this perennially favourite form of traveller footwear. Not quite as detailed as the Dark Church, it still contains some great works which make you wonder how the poor artists actually painted them with little more than candlelight to work by.

You may also be wondering why many of the frescoes are chipped and damaged. It is not just age - the general explanation I've heard over the years is that as Muslims don't appreciate religious imagery they went about defacing anything vaguely religious, generally the Christian stuff. That's no doubt the cause in some cases but I've found out that in Cappadocia it might not ring true as latter day Christians here came to the conclusion that consuming chips of a fresco ground up and drunk as a broth was medically beneficial. And I get called sacrilegious for saying "Christ!". Morons!



Here are two more images from the Sandals Church, and there are five or six other churches in the museum complex - some of which we didn't go into due to the crowds, others which are quite bland and still others that are decorated in a more basic manner (see below right) despite being contemporary developments to their more colourful brethren. There is also a Hidden Church somewhere in the neighbourhood which I read about later - someone else will have to find that one...

In the end I was very impressed by all of these - had no idea the internals would be as spectacular as the outsides.



Tokali Church is the largest in the neighbourhood and comes included in the general admission price despite being outside the perimeter fence. It gives you the best idea of how malleable this 'tufa' is as a building material and how extensive construction plans were despite a monastic, isolated lifestyle that most of the inhabitants of the area were seeking. It also employs unusually realistic and detailed artistic design which is lost in these photos, however the swarms of gawping people inside don't help that cause either.

One final interesting point to note is the propensity of grave niches carved directly into the floor of churches and monasteries all over the area. Your relative dies so just sweep them into a hole under the carpet eh? Nice one. If you check out the Kizlar Monastery area to the left of the entrance (your last stop if you follow the main path) you can actually see human bones preserved in some of these niches. Many of them are very small - children didn't cope so well inhaling lung-fulls of cooking smoke that accumulated in poorly-ventilated trogolodites...



On the way back to Goreme from the Open Air Museum there is a small underground UFO museum which we thought we'd take a peek in as well. If you're a UFO buff they have just about every newspaper clipping regarding the paranormal in eight different languages throughout the rambling subterranean complex. Complementing all this reading material is a host of models and mockups, such as the Roswell crash and our personal favourite - the ubiquitous Alien Probe scene. It's quite well presented but you need to be fresh for it and it is therefore probably only worthwhile if you have a few spare days to kill here.

So that's a good start - stay tuned for the second half as there will be some really nice stuff show-cased there too.

Next entry -> travelling a little further afield in Cappadocia

Words from the Wise #36

"Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind."
Seneca
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