Please welcome guest blogger Sarah Todd! Sarah lived in Turkey for a short time and as she and her husband love to travel, they grabbed the opportunity to visit some of the country’s beautiful places. I have followed her travel blogs for several years, as they are always well-written, informative, and intriguing.
Today, Sarah shares with us her visit to Cappadochia.
First time visitors to Cappadochia in Turkey could easily be forgiven for believing they’ve landed on a distant planet in a galaxy light years from earth. The reason? The unique landscape and history of this area is unique in the world.
Situated in the region of Central Anatolia, Cappadochia (pronounced “kappa-dok-key-ah”) owes its unique landscape to volcanic activity dating back between three and nine million years ago. As the lava cooled layers of volcanic basalt rocks formed over the natural soil. Gradually the harder volcanic rock began to crack, and the much of the softer earth below the basalt was eroded. However, in many places smaller boulders of basalt rock remained, protecting the soil from erosion. This resulted in the formation of a pillar of softer soil topped by a cap of basalt rock. This feature is known as a “hoodoo”, or “fairy castle".
Before my visit to Cappadochia I researched some of the history of this fascinating region. It is believed around 36 different civilisations have lived in this region. When one considers that Egypt has been home to six civilisations this gives one an idea of the vast influences each of the people residing here have left on the region. Artefacts dating back to 3,500 BC have been excavated at Cappadochia, including kitchen containers, spindles, weights and even human bones. During its long history the so-called fairy castles have provided accommodation, and even today some of these wonderful natural structures still form part of modern day houses. In 1985 Cappadochia was named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I visited Cappadochia in March 2008, together with my Brisbane-based nephew and his wife. At the time I was living in Izmir, Turkey’s third largest city. Izmir is on the country’s western coast, and the flight east to Cappadochia took about two hours. To describe my command of the Turkish language as “basic” is generous, so we arranged to view the area with a tour guide. We were met at the airport by Mehmet and his driver Ergan. The drive from the airport to our hotel took under one hour, and included a stunning view of Mount Erciyes (3,932 meters above sea level) - the tallest mountain in the region and Turkey’s fourth highest mountain.
Our first stop was the Katpaktuka Cave Hotel in Goreme, one of the small towns in the Cappadochia area. The exclusive hotel comprises eight rooms, all built around actual fairy chimney rooms. Windows and doors fitted to each room have been designed and fitted without causing damage to the actual fairy chimney. Each room is furnished and decorated with items from the nomadic and Ottoman eras. The hotel is positioned to take full advantage of sunrise, which when viewed over this unique landscape is stunning. On the left is the view from my bedroom window, while the picture on the right is of the passage outside my room.
Our first stop was a place that is almost a national park just outside Goreme. Here the fairy chimneys are in excellent condition, and there are plenty of marvellous photographic opportunities. Interspersed with the windows and doorways are many much tinier holes, providing homes to pigeons – the ancient people used their guano for fertiliser and as an adhesive. Houses in ancient times were very different to the places we call home today – families lived in several rooms, with ablutions and cooking carried out in larger single rooms shared by a number of other families. Communal kitchens with blackened walls and ceilings from centuries of cooking featured tables formed from the same natural soil making up the fairy chimney structures, clearly visible in the picture below.
Stairs have been carved into the natural rock for access to rooms at different levels in the fairy chimneys, so they look almost like an ancient high-rise block of apartments. Mehmet told us the rain and wind is slowly eroding the Cappadochia fairy castles, so that one day in the distant future they will disintegrate into dust below their basalt caps. He showed us how easily the sand can be wiped off the structures simply by brushing his hand over their surface. It made me feel quite humble to realise how fortunate I am to have seen this unique place while it still exists, as well as proving why the fairy chimneys are so well protected.
It had rained the night before we arrived; so much of Cappadochia was still damp. This brought out the reds and greens of the iron and copper mineral spores in the soil, making the entire area look even more surreal.
Our drive back to Goreme took us past some wonderful scenery. We visited Cappadochia in March, which is winter in Turkey, so the leafless trees and dry grass added to the sense of visiting an alien world. Although the vegetation was sparse and dormant, this simply enhanced the natural beauty of the terrain.
After a traditional Turkish lunch of kite (minced lamb), salads and bread, washed down with a strong cup of Turkish coffee we visited a traditional Turkish carpet factory. Prized all over the world, handmade Turkish carpets feature designs unique to each region in the country. The dyes used to colour the wool supplied by local farmers are all sourced from natural products. Generations of mothers and grandmothers have passed the craft to their daughters, who spend many long hours in front of looms using intricate knots to create the carpets. Watching these women at work one can understand why a handmade Turkish carpet is so expensive.
The factory also produces silk carpets, using thread obtained from their own silkworms. These carpets are the most beautiful I have ever seen; the combination of the fine silk threads with rich jewel colours bring the carpet to life. One silk rug featured The Tree of Life, a very important part of Turkish mythology. The glorious tree shimmered in gold and emerald green, surrounded by innumerable animals, birds and plants. Combined with sapphire blue waters and ruby red roses the depth and vibrancy of the colours brought the entire carpet to life. The price tag of US$11,000 was not really surprising considering the carpet took over 2 years to produce! After our tour of the factory we were given a short lesson on working on a Turkish “Kulim” (a woven rug with no pile) on a loom. It wasn’t as easy as it looks!
The following morning we visited some of the eleven Christian Churches dating back to the 9th century. The Churches are located in an area known as the Goreme open-air museum. Each church has been built inside the fairy chimneys, and has been decorated with brightly coloured paintings featuring stories from the Bible. There is a Church of St John the Baptist, the Sandals Church (so named for the footprints painted under its Ascension painting) and the Snake Church, which owes its name to a fresco of St George and St Theodore slaying the snake.
Although the colours remain fresh and in excellent condition, some of the frescos have been damaged. The Muslim faith forbids the depiction of prophets and religious characters, so many of the faces have been cruelly mutilated – their eyes have been scratched off or the faces completely erased. Each church is unique, with its own story and history, and most of them have benches and tables that were used by the congregation.
We spent our afternoon at a pottery in Avalos. The Kizilirmak (“red”) River flowing through the town is the source of the red clay used to make the pottery for which this town is famed. Some of the techniques used by the modern day potters working here date back to the Hittites, who lived in Cappadochia around 2,000 BC. Before visiting the store selling the pottery we watched the potters at work. On their insistence we each donned huge protective trousers and took our turn behind the potter’s wheel. It was messy and great fun.
In the shop I bought a traditional Turkish plate and a clock, both featuring the Tree of Life. Again, my eye was caught by an enormous Ali Baba pot. The hand painted pot was over one metre tall, and decorated with jewelled tulips and other flowers. We were assured that the $40,000 price tag included shipping to anywhere in the world...
Our final day in Cappadochia was spent in the ancient city of Derinkuyu, one of 36 underground cities in Cappadochia. Reaching eight stories below the earth’s surface, up to 10,000 inhabitants and their animals could survive for up to six months in the city without moving above ground. Rooms for storing grain and other food products were cool enough to ensure the contents remained fresh and edible, while water was supplied by wells below the lowest level of the city. Ventilation was and is excellent – although we were only permitted to explore the first three levels of Derinkuyu the air was fresh, never damp nor stale.
The city was accessible through a secret entrance, and proved a very good defence against marauding tribes, who could also be dealt with should the city be discovered. Special round millstone doors were rolled across the entrances and wedged shut. These doors could only be opened from inside the city, and the keyhole in the centre of the stone was large enough to thrust a spear through to caution anyone trying to gain access to the underground residences. Although the passages to the rooms were fairly narrow they are very well lit, and the electric cords and cabling do not detract from the city. We saw a giant circular stone covered in small indentations – this was the equivalent of an ancient spice rack used in the kitchens.
In the evening we watched the Whirling Dervishes perform their centuries-old “dhikr”, a dance honouring man’s spiritual evolution through God. The most famous part of the dance is “twirling” or pirouetting continuously for periods lasting up to half an hour. The dervishes twirl on the right foot, dressed in white gowns to symbolise death, a black coat commemorating the grave and a brown hat to represent the tombstone. We were not allowed to take photographs, but we were introduced to one of the Dervishes after the show ended. He told us the male dancers undergo up to a year of training before they may perform in public, and that twirling for such long period of time is almost cathartic!
We returned to Izmir the following day, our minds filled with the incredible culture and history of Cappadochia. Although our tour covered the most important aspects of all Cappadochia has to offer, I personally would have like to spend a few more days exploring this incredible region. Cappadochia is truly representative of mankind’s history, and the merging of both Christian and Muslim cultures is fascinating.
Sarah! Thank you for this beautiful and fascinating view of Cappadochia, Turkey! You can find more of Sarah's work in her Writing.com portfolio.