Last week I spent a fantastic few days in Cappadocia, central Turkey. I’ve already written a couple of posts on what I did there – notably staying in a cave hotel, taking a flight in a hot air balloon, and eating a fair amount of Cappadocian food – but since it’s not an area of the world that a huge amount of people go and visit, I thought I would write a little bit more about it.
Cappadocia is often compared to the moon, with good reason. The landscape is like nothing I’d ever seen before, which is why the first thing that comes to mind is that it must be extra-terrestial. People often used to think that parts of Star Wars were shot here (though actually the locations were in Morocco) – but in any case you certainly wonder if you’ve wandered into a Sci-Fi set when you arrive.
The area is famous for its “fairy chimneys”. This is a fairly polite term for what these formations actually look like:
But presumably they couldn’t market the area as “a land of penis-shaped rocks”. They were apparently formed by a combination of continuing volcanic eruptions and earthquakes (I can’t say I completely understood the precise geological explanation). The surviving rock is very soft, which is why early dwellers were able to carve homes out of it – it’s called tufa, and is made out of compressed volcanic ash.
Fairy chimneys aren’t the only type of crazy rock formation that Cappadocia boasts – other strange shapes were created by different types of erosion:
There are many different ways to explore the rocks – in a hot air balloon in the sky, on horseback, by foot, with mountain bikes…or with quad bikes. That’s what we did on our third day in Cappadocia, and it was quite an adventure, the most dramatic moment being when was I driving a buggy type vehicle, hit the side of a rock and managed to turn the car over…whoops. Guess I will be needing quite a bit more practice before I pass my driving test! Unfortunately there are no photos of this moment as when the car rolled over and emitted lots of dust and smoke, my family assumed that I would be worse for wear than just some very dirty jeans so taking a photo was not top in their minds.
Goreme Open Air Museum
This is a highlight of the region (UNESCO certified and everything). The word ‘museum’ usually suggests an indoors carefully-labelled gallery, but this is just a site containing lots of caves for you to explore. Inside many of them are tiny orthodox churches from around the 10th century (although Christians lived in the area long before that), carefully painted with beautiful frescoes that have retained their colour extremely well as it’s so dark in there. A few of them were chipped away where the faces were – I assumed that this damage was done by anti-Christian vandals, but in fact the story goes that shepherd boys used to play in the caves and use the faces for sling-shot competitions. The site used to be a cave monastery (which explains all the mini-churches), and so also had caves carved into dining rooms (complete with stone dining tables), storage rooms and kitchens. All good fun for clambering about it, despite the extremely irritating group of 12 year old boys that insisted on following me round.
One morning we also took a bus from Goreme to Derinkuyu, one of Cappadocia’s most famous “underground cities”. I’ve been to a few underground places before (catacombs and the like), but this is the first place I’ve seen that can genuinely be called a city underground. Again, it feels like something straight out of a fantasy movie. This particular one was started by either the Hittites (1500 BC) or the Phrygians (700BC) – much of the archaeology is rather uncertain – but most of the work enlarging it was done by Christians who needed protection in earlier times against the Romans, and in later times against Arab raiders. It’s the largest out of around 200 underground cities in the area: it has been estimated that Derinkuyu could hold 20,000 people (!!!) with their animals and food. The city goes 60m deep (that is TEN floors) – but they cleverly constructed several ventilation shafts throughout the city to keep the population healthy underneath. The whole place is carved entirely out of rock – I don’t even want to think about how long it must have taken, even if the rock is ‘soft’ rock. The purpose of the city was so that the entire population of the area could hide underground – all that you would be able to see from the surface would be a few ventilation shafts, which were disguised as wells. I cannot imagine how any army would be able to take this subterranean fortress – the paths down into the city from the ground are thin and twisty and you have to stoop low, or in some places crawl. There are numerous places were rocks could be rolled across the passage to completely block the city off, and holes above the passages where arrows could be fired down on any unwanted visitors. The only problem with the place is that it was very dark inside – when you got outside again, it felt like your eyes were properly on fire from the bright sunlight.