Cappadocia: mmm, pointy

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


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Monday, May 8, 2006

After all the excitement of the first 24 hours in Goreme it was time to range further afield to see other sites on the Anatolian plateau. Cappadocia is more than large pointy rocks and as the distances between these other sights are quite sizable, we signed up for a day tour to sit back and relax in a nice white minibus...

Cappadocia has been inhabited for ages. Some say it dates from 10,000BC, as evidenced by a newly discovered community dubbed the Asikli Tumulus, which would make it one of the oldest known civilisations in the world. Local paintings from 7,000BC show fire and brimstone spewing from one of the 4,000 metre high volcanoes nearby and the legendary Hittites first appeared here about 3,500BC. A couple of thousand years on they started beating up on the Egyptians. Later still Cappadocia was a stop of the famous Silk Road from the oriental east.



Was it the dreamy smell of sulphur they came for? No - both salt and the hard black volcanic rock known as obsidian were major drawcards, and when the volcanoes aren't covering it with lava and ash, the countryside is very fertile for farming and grazing too. One of the other main reasons though was the ease of building settlements in the tufa above and below ground. The Hittites started the trend but it became more important in later times with ravaging hordes of Muslims and Mongols sweeping across the land.

There is around ten underground cities in the region and the largest of these could house an estimated 10,000 people. Our first stop was the nine level city of Derinkuyu - that's right, some are up to 15 levels deep reaching 90 metres below ground, with all living, dining, storage, production, worship and stabling areas cut straight into the soft rock - much like a giant lump of subterranean Swiss cheese. They are also well ventilated using complex shafts and chimney systems, discrete to maintain their anonymity, served by numerous internal wells and linked to other cities up to 10 kilometres away by large connecting tunnels. Brilliant.



With all that you'd think they'd never want to leave, but apparently the cities were only used in periods of turmoil - particularly in the 7th and 8th centuries AD. Although not very photogenic it was certainly an interesting stop so hopefully the pictures and artist's conception gives you the general idea.



Another must see around here is the Ihlara Gorge, a magnificently deep and lush 15km-long serpentine canyon. The river water was up from the melting snows in the surrounding mountains and bees were buzzing the abundant spring flowers along the 4km stretch of riverbank we trekked along. The path isn't easy as large boulders have fallen from the 50 metre high cliffs to rest in the valley floor over time, but it is a good scramble and the air is fresh, although there is litter in the water.

A number of rock cut caves also feature here, some of the earliest in the region dating from the 5th and 6th centuries AD I believe, which makes sense as the frescoes are a lot more basic in the one we visited (situated near the village of Belisirma). If you've seen the TV show Southpark you will appreciate the figures depicted in these paintings.



Further on at the other end of the gorge sits the Selime Monastery and adjacent Seljuk-era tomb. The monastery is cut into the rock halfway up an imposing cliff that would have been more suitable for a military installation. Anyway, some religious folk made a home here before the Seljuks moved in 500 years later.



Nice place but the views around are much better. Prominent and plunging cliff-lines cut swathes in the rolling green countryside whilst the cotton candy clouds crown the landscape beautifully. The cemetery and Sileme's tomb below are an interesting punctuation and groves of poplar trees seem to like their environment very much.



Further views in the neighbourhood included a great fortress church landscape and a side trip up an extinct volcanic crater lake. Very nice indeed although I can't remember the names.



For something different we stopped at a Seljuk-period Caravanseri near Kayseri. There used to be one of these every 40km along this well travelled highway and they had all the modern conveniences a trader or buyer could hope for including free lodgings (for the first three days), stall areas, camel parking, a small mosque and all inclusive security. All they had to do was turn up. And since the Sultan actually insured them in transit it sounds like being in business was pretty sweet back then.



We couldn't go home without at the obligatory stop at a pottery factory but from there we had one more peek at the fairy chimneys in Monk's Valley, where St Simeon wound up ending his days. The troglodites in this valley are unusual in that some are double and triple topped so it is well worth a visit, especially at sunset when the light works well on the tufa. Nice.



Finally, should also mention the other obligatory event on the Goreme calendar - an all-inclusive Turkish 'Night Out' to see the Whirling Dervishes and bellydancers, eat fifty tiny portions of rabbit food and drink a gutful of grog. The dervishes are strangely hypnotic and very hard to photograph whilst the folk and belly dancing is frenetic but ultimately a little tedious. But when they drag you out into the courtyard to dance tribal style around a bonfire just after they serve the main course it's downright annoying - even if you do get your money's worth in the way of liquor.

My suggestion is to save your $40, see real Dervishes down the road in Konya if you can and head to a pottery cooking restaurant for the meal instead. They cook up uniquely tasting beef, lamb, chicken or vege kebabs in a pottery jar that you break open yourself to eat. Still touristy but pretty good all the same, even if you take a golf swing at it like I did and add to your molar woes by chewing shards of pottery all night. Mmmm, crunchy!

So that ends a great time in Cappadocia and Mystery's time in Turkey *sob*. A major highlight of this huge country that I'd do it again by bus even if it is ten or eleven hours from Istanbul, so I'll definitely come again if I can whip over on a plane.

Next entry -> all roads lead to Istanbul

Words from the Wise #58

"If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul."
Alphonse De Lamartine

Let's hope you're right Frenchy!
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