Friday - Saturday: Cappadocia:
Overnight bus trips are a pleasure to be enjoyed infrequently but we arrived in Urgup safely and comfortably after a drive through rain squalls, stops at brightly lit bus stations bustling with passengers and hucksters and the juddering of rough sealed road to be picked up and driven to yet another bus depot by the local taxi bus to be delivered to the local tour group to begin our tour of the region. We left our overnight traveling companions, an Australian vet on sabbatical and two young Japanese girls en route to London to learn English at the terminal in full expectation that at some stage our paths would cross as we explored the region.
Breakfast was at the Cappodocia Palace Cave Hotel where we waited for the group to assemble. The tour took us around the rock formations or fairy rocks of the Devrent Valley which were formed from the erosion of volcanic tuft laid down some 40 million years before under a thin layer of basalt which had allowed erosion to wear the tuft into weird and wonderful shapes.
The soft rock is easily carved and dug into so the area had encouraged early man to settle in the caves while in later times Christian mystics had sought solace in the caves while carving out small churches and monasteries for themselves.
The Goreme Open Air museum has preserved the small, decorated churches designed more for small group worship and solitary mediation than for the masses. The churches are often dedicated to Saints whose memory and cause of martyrdom have long disappeared in the distant memory of religion. Who, for example, could instantly recall anything about Sts. Barbara, Onuphrius and Thomas?
Our guide informed us that St.Onuphrius was a woman who, on the death of her husband, had been so pestered by men that she had prayed to God that she be relieved of such annoyances and was rewarded for her piety when she awoke to find herself bearded as a man. She then became a mystic and took to wandering the world naked and celebate. She ended up in Cappodocia after being befriended by St.Thomas the Doubter who bought her to the region because he was taken by her piety and abnegation of physical pleasures.
Given that St. Thomas the Doubter had achieved fame by doubting Christ’s resurrection until Christ proved it to him his doubting capabilities must have begun to fail him if he could accept as a man what was represented in the cave paintings as a naked woman. Perhaps he was incredibly short sighted?
St.Barbara was apparently made a saint on the strength of her father being struck by lightning when he was about to sacrifice her because she had declared herself a christian.
I suppose that if one is prepared to believe these stories then all things are possible although I think the strain of living in isolation and in constant contemplation might have been a contributing cause.
We also visited a local pottery owned by the Galip family. The owner, dubbed the Einstein of Pots, showed us how he threw pots using a Hiitite kick wheel which was fascinating especially the speed and accuracy of his throwing.
We were ushered into the pottery showroom where Joy & I promptly identified the most expensive plates at $5000+ each and, despite all attempts to persuade us to buy, left our wallets fixed deeper in our pockets in spite of our hearts urging us to buy.
After further sightseeing of the weird and wonderful stone carved homes and villages of the rock citadel of Uchisar we were taken to our hotel in the Ayvali village, the Gamirasu Cave Hotel. The hotel is several kilometres from Urcug and hidden in the cleft of a narrow valley and was apparently once the site of a 12th century Byzantine monastic retreat.
We were welcomed and ushered to our room carved from the rock where we tidied ourselves up after our long bus trip and all day touring.
The dining room was filled with an excited Hong Kong tour party who, once they’d finished eating, were ushered out on an evening jaunt by their tour organiser leaving the dining room to us and a small family group dining with the owner.
Two local folk-singers appeared and serenaded us, a growing audience, with plaintive love songs accompanied on their lute and guitar.
On return to our room we found the room lit with candles and two glasses of wine for us - we could have been on our honeymoon in all the ambiance!!
In the morning I walked outside the room to see where the hotel was located. The cleft in the cliffs had a small stream trickling through it and a path leading deeper into the valley inviting a purposeful hike if we had been staying longer. All around was evidence of the carved building that had taken place over the centuries in the area.
The hotel, I discovered, had a Byzantine church that was, until recently, used by a religious community and an ancient winery that produced wine for the restaurant and to which we had been treated the night before.
The setting was idyllic and left us wanting to stay longer, to sample the cuisine, the hospitality and to fully explore the village and countryside instead of hurrying on.
Breakfast was held in conversation with two young Indians on break from their jobs in Bahrain before we were picked up and taken into town to begin our second day of touring.
While we waited for the tour group to assemble I stood and watched the village come to life. A local stall holder setting up his roast chestnut stall, a couple of dogs wrestling on the roundabout, shopkeepers rolling up their shuttersw and elderly women, clutching shopping bags, ambling to the store for the morning bread. All very Turkish Dylan Thomas.
Once our group was complete - a Japanese couple with their three year old son, four Japanese girls, a group of Korean women, a Phillipino couple and us- we headed off to explore South Cappodocia.
The tour took us on a 4 km walk through the Rose Valley. Here the rocks were carved into pigeon cotes and, where early Christian mystics had settled,into chapels and churches to be reached only by athletic climbing.
The valley floors were put to use with grapes, quinces and apricots being farmed on every available space. In the harvest time when the farmers would be working the land the scene would have been very romantic but, for us, it was contemplation of the landscape and the power of erosion.
The walk ended in a village set amongst rocks which was settling into slow decay as the cliffs into which it had been built collapsed and destroyed the homes that had been carved into them over the generations.
From here we drove to Ortahisar for lunch in the Cappodocian Culture Museum then onto dive 40 metres underground into the cave city of Kaymakli.
There are reputed to be over 200 of these cities throughout the region. They were begun in prehistoric times and had been progressively developed through the centuries by the Hittites, Early Christians and others until Roman times.
The inhabitants had developed a sophisticated society and living systems in their quest for security underground with communal kitchens, wineries,stable, living quarters and churches in the warren of tunnels and caves.
From here we drove to Pigeon mountain where we had a great view over the township below and watched an enterprising stall-holder snare trade with a sign advertising Turkey’s Natural Viagra (dried apricots). The queues of eager gentlemen of all nationalities from tour buses were testament to the power of suggestion.
We rounded off the day with a visit to a carpet cooperative where we resisted buying a silk on silk wall hanging, that had taken our attention, with extreme concentration and effort.
Then the flight back to Istanbul.