We flew Turkish Airlines the 2.5hrs south and east of Istanbul to the town of Nevşehir to spend some days exploring Cappadocia. Cappadocia is an area of some 40 square kilometers bounded by two very distinct (and extinct) volcanoes – Erciyes Dağ (3916 m) and Hasan Dağ (3253 m) – with several UNESCO World Heritage sites scattered over its various valleys and mountain ridges, including two subterranean cities, Kaymaklı and Derinkuyu. Cappadocia is famed for its volcanic rock formations known as ‘fairytale chimneys’ or hoodoos, which, over the centuries, have been home to troglodyte villagers, Christian monks fleeing Roman prosecution, merchants who paused here while traveling the caravan route to/from the Far East and, today, boutique hotels. The area is endlessly fascinating and I truly loved the time we spent here and would highly, highly recommend a visit if you can.
You will need to either rent a car to explore the area or you can – as we did – hire a car and driver for your touring (this will run you US$100/day or thereabouts). Guides for the various sites you decide to visit are additional though you may be able to forego them with a good guidebook. We made our home in Cappadocia at the gorgeous Hezen Cave Hotel, a 5-star boutique hotel complete with rooms carved out of the rock in a very small town called Ortahişar that has AMAZING views of Ortahişar Castle, a huge chimney rock carved at the time of Hittites that stands some 86 metres high.
9) and the bedroom built into the cave walls
We spent a day touring the Pigeon Valley, climbed Uchisar Castle (which is the highest of the rock formations in the Cappadocia area), and wandered amid the ruins of churches built in the area since the 4th century at Goreme Open Air Museum. These were fascinating. Goreme was a destination of choice of Christians being persecuted and they built many fabulous churches within the rock formations. If you do go, it is absolutely worth it to pay the extra Turkish lira to visit the “Dark Church”, which was built in the 6th or 7th century and later (circa 11th century) decorated with vivid Byzantine fresco scenes of the New Testament (sorry, picture-taking is not allowed inside). They are stunning and worth a visit to the Open Air Museum alone. It is also well worth the climb up the VERY winding road at the entrance of the Museum to take pictures of entire area with Uchisar in the background; just watch out for the cars and buses negotiating what is a terrifically steep, switch back road.
Like Istanbul, the food in Cappadocia was excellent and the wine superb, plentiful, local and cheap. We enjoyed several great meals including a lunch in Goreme in a restaurant along the main strip (Goreme is very touristy and tourist-friendly so language is no problem but if touristy places are not your thing – as is very much the case with G and I – it is best to get in and get out of this place quick) and two outstanding dinners in our little town of Ortahişar at a tiny, quiet, family run restaurant situated on the edge of a gorge a scant 10 minute walk from Hezen Hotel. Unfortunately, neither of us can remember the name of this little gem (I blame too many bottles of Turkish wine!) – we think it may be Tandir Cafe? but don’t quote me on it – that was frequented by locals which is always a good sign.
41) lunching at A’la Turca restaurant in Goreme
For some reason that defies logic, I was all hot and bothered about visiting one of Cappadocia’s two underground cities. So we found ourselves one morning at the entrance to Derinkuyu City in line with umpteen other, by and large Turkish families, waiting to enter. First built by the Phrygians way back in the 8th-7th centuries BCE, this city was enlarged by Byzantines as a place of refuge from the raiding Umayyad arabs and likely could have accommodated – wait for this – some 20,000 citizens (having descended into this ‘city’ I doubt this sincerely, but heck, I’m not a scholar of this period so who knows)! What is interesting is the city contained food stores, kitchens, stalls, churches, wine and oil presses, ventilation shafts and wells and descends 8 levels to a depth of 85 metres.
…But back to the line. We are standing it seems an hour before getting to the ticket window, we buy our ticket and are then off going down, down, down into increasingly dark, narrow, congested passageways. And by narrow, I mean tiny, cramped spaces where you almost need to crawl to get to the next chamber. And then we hit a roadblock where we do not move for many minutes as to proceed further downward there is but one stairway that folks going down – and coming back up – must negotiate. So here we are pressed like pigs in dank spaces and all I can keep thinking about is how this part of Turkey is prone to earthquakes. Can you say panicking! Claustrophobic panicking! When we – it seems hours later – finally make it to the point where we can descend down the stairway, I’m saying to G, ‘nope, no way; I’m done with this adventure’ and promptly take the conveniently located emergency exit provided (as no doubt there’s been others like me in this same dilemma before) and up, up and ever up we go to light, and open space and sunshine.
All that to say, if you do go, give it a try but Derinkuyu is not for the faint of heart. How the hell did people live down there!?
Our next stop was Selime Cathedral/monastery which could double as a set from some Star Wars movie (though that is rumour and scenes were not filmed here). Selime was an important Christian site constructed around the 13th century. The cathedral, per se, is carved out of the rock and is actually the largest of its kind in Cappadocia. Alongside the cathedral are numerous other caves and rooms that were used by the monks (living quarters, kitchens, chapels). It was a very neat site easily accessed directly from the road and well worth a stop to explore.
67) a short video panoramic of Selime
68) this is just up the road from Selime, a place called Bezirhane, which had (on left) a church called Ala Church with frescos from the 12th and 13th centuries and (on right) a linseed press which produced linseed oil
After visiting Selime, we drove across to the Ihlara Valley to the Ihlara Gorge as we wanted to hike this natural wonder. The government has set up a very pretty hike of a section of the 16km long gorge that wanders alongside the Melendiz River. Our driver dropped us off at the top entrance and then we hiked down the gorge to meet him again at the bottom. At the bottom you can also stop for lunch at a handful of basic restaurants set on the river. The hike takes, oh, about an hour and a half or so.
84) on the way back to the Hezen we stopped at this historic kervansaray (literally ‘caravan palaces’) – which were inns used by traders plying the camel trains from the Far East to Europe during the 10th century
95) here’s a video I took from the top of Ortahişar Castle looking over the city during the call to prayer