After our short and wet stay in Kayseri, we were off to Göreme, to explore the heart of Cappadocia, looking forward to enjoying live all the natural landscapes we had seen pictured in books and brochures.
It was cold and raining in Kayseri when we left, plus we had been visiting the city wearing too light clothes and were all cold and sneezing. Since this was our very first day, we didn’t want to risk a flu nor waste time, so we decided to take a taxi to reach our hotel in Göreme without mishaps. Easier said than done: we did travel cozy and warm, but not only could the driver not find our hotel (one of the most popular in Göreme) straight away, he couldn’t even find Göreme itself. For a local, professional taxi driver living 80 km away from the most touristy village of a very touristy area, this kind of surprised me. But it didn’t manage to spoil our evening, that was spent sampling as many local specialties as possible with the background of exquisitely picturesque Göreme lit up for night.
For the day after, as suggested by the friendly staff of our Star Cave Hotel (a lovely one that I recommend and no, this is not a sponsored post and the guys at the hotel don’t even know I’m mentioning them), we booked ourselves down for the “Red Tour” along the gorgeous Ilhara Valley, one of the many valleys, and I would say one of the biggest, if not the biggest, that form Cappadocia’s amazing landscape.
Soon after we departed from Göreme, we made a strategic stop to admire the view, a sort of starter to foretaste the main course. Ilhara Valley, as our guide explained to us, stems from the lovely collaboration of volcanic activities and tectonic movements that together have created the natural wonders we can gape at today. When the basalt and andesite lava from Hasandagi cooled down, cracks, subsidence and structural failure gave space to water streams, among which the Melendiz creek, ancient Potamus Kapadokus, that has eroded the bottom of the valley creating what we see now.
For 14 km nonetheless, the Ilhara Valley hosts hundreds, if not thousands, of churches and monasteries, including beautiful Selime, situated at its very edge, where we ended our tour.
All along our walk, from the 400-something steps to go down the valley, we were confronted by natural beauty on both sides, with 100-150-meter-high rock formations and countless churches embellished by beautiful frescoes ruined only by the iconoclast wave and muslim invasions, graves and holy places of the Christians inhabiting the region and hiding there from different invasions.
Churches are all early-Christian style, early Byzantine we might say, the Eastern Roman Empire that started around the end of the fourth century, when it separated itself from the Western Roman Empire that had Rome as capital. A central nave, simple columns, arches, vaults and domes form these primordial christian worship places. We visited some of them, and the most remarkable within the gorge of the Ilhara Valley was Sümbüllü (Jacinth) Church, a monastery where we could see both the sacred area and where bishop and monks lived.
Leaving the valley, we stopped at Selime monastery, entirely carved out of tuff hills, with different areas being employed for different purposes, so apart from the main church, we also visited students’ rooms and refectories. Selime monastery was so beautiful and picturesque that I’ll be devoting my next post entirely to it in a photo essay, because I think including its pictures here together with the rest of the collection would risk to make its charm go unnoticed.
The very first settlements in this area of Central Anatolia appear to be from the Assyrian civilization, becoming next the center of Hittite control in the region, followed by the Phrygians, the Persians, the Romans, the Byzantine Empire, the Seljuk and finally the Ottomans.
Apart from hosting monks and related monasteries, Cappadocia was also a glorious stop of the Silk Road, the legendary trading route where cultures, philosophies and goods were exchanged by traders from the Far East on their way to Europe. Some people just went past, others settled, like the Christians who left Jerusalem in the second century and established their new life in Central Anatolia, around Derinkuyu, today a fascinating underground city.
While the Ilhara Valley, the lovely area of Belisirma and the big rock monastery complex of Selime had predominantly a religious function, scattered around the territory are subterranean dwellings. Our last stop before heading back to Göreme was precisely Derinkuyu, the biggest underground city of the area. At its very entrance, I had the impression of being motioning towards the Underworld, and to some extent we were, an underworld where the region’s former inhabitants had built all needed comforts. Well, sort of.
Deep holes were dug in order to ensure air would be channelled down, wells to provide dwellers with water, cisterns, rooms, kitchens, food storage, even wineries and the unmissable church were built, in a nutshell the essentials to best reproduce a normal life, as possible as it could be twenty meters beneath the earth’s surface. The soft rock sure allowed an easier digging, but the efficient ventilation techniques, air movement channels, safety and security measures, wells and even garbage collection systems never fail to impress its visitors.
Tired and happy, around 6pm we headed back to our hotel, ready for another dinner out, this time at the lovely Kale Terrasse restaurant opposite the bus station to tuck into more local delicacies and prepare for another excursion for the the following day to keep exploring the beauty of Turkey’s Cappadocia.
Stay tuned for new posts and photos, after weeks of sporadic blogging due to a very busy schedule, I’m back, alive, kicking and writing!