Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Crazy Cappadocia

We took an overnight bus trip from Antalya to Goreme, and although we didn't get much sleep due to the frequent stops along the route, our weariness just made our arrival that much more surreal. As we approached Cappadocia, we felt like we had landed on another planet. The many blues and greens of the Mediterranean had been replaced by a lunar landscape of undulating ridge lines overlayed by jutting rock towers. And because we arrived at dawn, the skies were filled with 20 or so hot air balloons floating high above this fascinating blend of different shapes and hues. It really is difficult to describe, so luckily Gil took a lot of excellent pictures!

The area's unique topography owes itself to the eruption of the now extinct volcano of Erciyes Dag (aka Mt. Erciyes) , and thousands of years of water and wind erosion that followed. The volcanic rock is relatively soft, which in addition to making it susceptible to erosion, allowed it to be shaped by humans as well. So, the area is chock full of cave dwellings, rock churches and underground cities. We even stayed in a cave room!

Our cave room was cool and dark, a was perfect for a rest from the relentless mid-day heat and overnight bus ride. In the late afternoon, we headed out to explore one of the many hiking paths that begin near Goreme. We followed the Pigeon Valley to the town of Uchisar, which has a towering rock castle boasting the highest lookout point in the area. The views were spectacular, but we enjoyed climbing around in the cave rooms and tunnels of the surrounding fairy chimneys even more. (A "fairy chimney" is a conical rock formation, usually topped by slab of harder rock that has eroded more slowly than the base.) What I did not enjoy was sliding down the valley walls on my behind when we found ourselves off of the hiking trail trying to make our way back to Goreme...

While people lived in Cappaocia as early as 1800 BC, the Christians left the most lasting marks on the area during the 700 years they inhabited it. On our second day, we visited some of the most impressive remains from this period, a collection of cave churches and dwellings preserved in the Goreme Open Air Museum. Many of the churches have beautiful frescoes made with natural dies, and those that were restricted from daylight still appear vibrant and colorful.

Hiking later that afternoon in the Rose, Red and Swords Valleys, we came across several other churches, but it was the gorgeous setting and our relative isolation from other tourists that left a last impression on us more than their faded frescoes. The Red and Rose Valleys were particularly striking, with the rock formations showcasing a rainbow of warm colors against the vast blue sky (especially from deep within the folds of the valley walls, where we found ourselves after veering from the hiking path - again!).

The following day we headed south to visit Derinkuyu, one of 36 underground cities discovered in the area. The communities were forced into hiding to avoid being ransacked by invaders, with some generations living primarily underground for years at a time! Derinkuyu reached 8 stories deep and we were able to explore a large selection of rooms and tunnels, including stables for animals, a winery and a church. It was amazing to think about what life must have been like for these people in such a dark and claustrophobic environment.
In order to take in a larger area we rented mountain bikes the following day. This allowed us to get out to the Pasabagi area, which has some of the most remarkable fairy chimneys, as well as to explore the towns of Cavusin and Avanos.

Our final day we dragged ourselves out of bed to see the sunrise and hot air balloons from a cliff above Goreme (and then promptly went back to sleep for another couple of hours). In the afternoon we headed to Urgup, to wander the streets of the town and taste some wine at a local Cappadocian winery. Earlier in the week we had heard that people in the region were sometimes forced to move caves as the structures became unstable over time, and in Urgup got a chance to sees first hand how dangerous the eroding rocks can be. Some time earlier, several huge boulders from the town's most famous viewpoint "Wishing Hill" came crashing down the hillside, taking out several stores and forcing one of the main streets in town closed.

After one final sunset and a chat with a photogropher for National Geographic (keep you eye open for a possible upcoming story on Cappadocia), we dashed off to the bus station for another overnight bus - this time to Istanbul...


fotofather said...

wow!!!!! this sounds magical... I so want to be there. Thanks for sharing

Anonymous said...

Cappadocia is so awesome! I am so envious of your travels -- have a great rest of your trip in Turkey, cant wait to see the next postings! Jodi

Karen said...

Hey guys!! Your blog is awesome. I love reading about all of your adventures! I am excited to read more and see more photos.

Brett Herand said...

Jen, glad you're enjoying your trip. If I had known you were going to Cappadocia, I would have called in a favor for you with my friend Apli who runs Alpino Tours in Capadocia. Your blog is awesome. I enjoy reading it those long Thursday afternoons.