Saturday, 24 December 2011

Turkey – The first underground city

December 19
Hello everyone!

As you saw before, Cappadocia is a beautiful and otherworldly region of the world. I eventually decided that it probably has some similarities with the Moon. It might be a while before I get to put that theory to the test, however, so in the meantime we contented ourselves with exploring this most bizarre of settings known as the ‘Land of the Pretty Horses’.

There is much to see amongst the vast swathes of rock formations so we joined a tour. We were actually switched to a different tour after our first stop, a panoramic view of Göreme in the early morning sunshine. This was probably a good thing, as we were concentrating more on the number of times the guide said ‘My friend’ rather than what he was saying. Twenty-one times at the first stop alone! It wasn’t overly warm, but compared to what we have been living through it felt like paradise. Lot of ‘evil eyes’ were hanging off a tree near our viewpoint. Contrary to what you may think from the name, these hanging ornaments are said to bring good luck and are found everywhere, not just in Turkey, but in the whole region.

From here we were driven out to Yeralti Sehri underground city. During times of repression and war, many communities in this area built and hid underground. Due to the softness of the tufa rock they were carving into, they were then able to develop these caves further, creating tunnels and entirely new rooms. The people were able to stay under ground, and away from attack, for up to two months.

The Yeralti Sehri cave complex was the biggest of the thirty-six underground cities excavated so far. We went down into the Derinkuyu underground town, which is eight floors deep. Through the ventilation shaft you can actually see up to the top – that is how the people at the bottom knew if it was night or day. They city contains living quarters, kitchens, a granary and wine cellar, shrines and even stables for small animals. Up to 5000 people could live down there at one time. It was a fascinating place which made me think about whether we would be able to survive in such primitive conditions.

We were then taken to the Ihlara Valley, the second longest in the world behind America’s Grand Canyon. After seeing a cave church from the 7th Century that has never been restored – the eyes of the frescoes here were removed due to a law passed by the Muslim leaders of the 12th Century – we walked along the stream past some beautiful and rugged scenery. The holes in the rocks, seemingly in patterns, were as prevalent here as they were in the towns. It was here that I also got my first taste of apple tea – very sweet, and warming to the body.

After a kebab – the first of many, I can assure you – we drove to our next location, and the one with the most hype attached to it. Selime Monastery is a series of caves located high in a large rock. With its steep faces and precariously positioned enclaves, it possesses the characteristics of a natural adventure playground.

The reason this place attracts attention is because Star Wars was due to be filmed here. The story goes that the Turkish government refused filming permission, so an entourage was sent from Hollywood to take pictures of the monastery from every possible angle before recreating it in Tunisia, where filming duly took place. Obviously George Lucas and I share creative ideas if we think Cappadocia represents an unearthly backdrop. I get the feeling we don’t have much else in common, though.

After being taken to another view of Göreme from Pigeon Valley and an onyx workshop, we returned back to our town. Our cultural experience was not yet complete for the day as we decided to savour our second kebab. This one was served in an actual loaf of bread, with Justine’s chicken kebab still having the stick inside it. To call it filling would be a rather large understatement. We even threw some to a dog that followed us all the way back to our hostel, but he seemed more intent on stalking than eating.

An exhausting, thoroughly rewarding day of exploration in central Turkey. From open-air monasteries to underground kitchens, we are certainly learning much about life in the caves of Cappadocia.

Love you all


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