For those of us who didn't get up 4am for the hot-air balloon ride, breakfast was at 7am. The tour started at 8am.
Cappadocia is a region in central Turkey dominated by three volcanoes, Erciyes, Melendiz and Hasan. The eruption of these volcanos thirty million years ago, and subsequent centuries of compression and erosion, created a landscape made of tuff, soft stone made of mud and ash. Not only is the region fertile but the unique land formations make it very inhabitable. Settlement occurred sometime before the Hittites arrived in 2000 BC.
The region was ruled by the Hittite Empire until its fall in 1200 BC. The name Cappadocia comes from the Hittites and means 'land of well-bred horses' (we didn't see any). After passing through several changes in reign, Alexander the Great arrived in 333 BC and left the region relatively independent for the next 300 years. Then the Selçuk Turks took over, followed by the Mongols and the Ottoman Empire.
Christianity was introduced sometime in the first century. To avoid persecution by the Romans and attacks by the Arab raiders, dwellings and churches were built into the soft-stone land formations for protection. To this day they are still used as homes.
Our first stop was the Göreme Open Air Museum, a monastic settlement that dates back to the 10th century. It should be said that in the earliest years of the religion, Turkey was the most important region for Christianity in the Mediterranean. There are around 1000 churches in Cappadocia region alone.
Along with churches and living quarters, the area also had graves carved into the stone. They were quite short and some still had skeletons in them.
Underground cities of Cappadocia were discovered in the late 50s. Kaymakli is considered the widest, 19 km long, and Derinkuyu is considered the deepest, 85m down. To give you an idea of the size, Derinkuyu can hold roughly 30,000 people. So far, 35 underground cities have been discovered in the region.
It's unclear who or when they were constructed but it's been suggested the Hittites built them for protection or the Christians built them to avoid persecution... or aliens lived in them.
The underground cities have churches, storage rooms, ventilation shafts and kitchens. Boulders were used as doors and rolled over the entrance ways. Tunnels between rooms are extremely short, narrow and sometimes long. When our guide brought us into Kaymakli he warned that we would be going 30m down into the earth in an extremely claustrophobic area that would take half an hour to get out of if we had a panic attack.
|Entrance to Kaymakli Underground City|
I was pretty nervous. Moving through the tunnel was like moving through a straw. I kept my distance from people to avoid claustrophobia and I was thankful we had arrived before another busload of tourists. For some idiotic reason a Japanese family brought an incapacitated, elderly women into the tunnel. One of our guides (we had two) left us to take her out before she got too far.
After the underground city we had an opportunity to shop. Everyone asked me how the tunnel was. I was grateful for the experience and thrilled I didn't die. So I bought myself a gift from a local artisan.
|Turkish Water Carafe|
The Nazar is also a huge symbol in Turkey. It's found on houses, jewelry, artwork and even on trees.
Our next stop were the Fairy Chimneys.
The fairy chimney rock formations are created when tuff (soft stone made of volcanic ash) erodes underneath hard rock, like basalt. Caps are left on top of columns that will one day collapse.
Looks like a valley of penises. Or Tatooine. Very popular with the tourists.
After lunch, during the hottest time of day, we headed to the town of Avanos along the Kizlirmak river. The river provides a vast source of clay (again from the volcanos) and as a result, a number of pottery factories are located in this area.
We watched as plates and bowls were being made. Popular Turkish designs are blue, red and green depicting motifs such as tulips and the tree of life. This pottery mixes the clay with sand to make it stronger. Some glazes are also mixed with borate so that the design glows in the dark.
Then, they let us make our own bowls. We needed a lot of practice.
We headed back to the hotel in time for a swim before another buffet dinner. Tomorrow would be another long six hour drive.