Adventures in Cappadocia, Part I

After a few days in Istanbul, a city with a population of 12 – 20 million, depending upon whom you ask, we were ready for some relaxation in rural Cappadocia, in central Turkey. So we took a quick flight out and were picked up at the airport for the hour ride to the town where we’d be staying, Goreme. Unlike Mediterranean Istanbul, this region of Turkey is landlocked and very arid. There are areas of green, but the views from the bus were a lot of this:

Countryside of central Turkey

Beautiful in its own way, but a little forbidding and bleak. We saw fields of squashes, and some small towns, but that was about it. It’s hard to imagine that this area has such a long history–what did those people do and how did they do it? But of course it’s all about location, and Cappadocia was along one of the many Silk Routes. Still, why did we travel by plane and bus to get all the way out here? Because, in addition to the history of trade, Cappadocia is known for its amazing natural rock formations which were dug into by the Hittites 4,000 years ago and used for centuries as dwellings and/or hideouts in the cliffs and underground. We came to see this:

Our first view of the wind and rain-sculpted "fairy chimneys" of Cappadocia

And it only got better!! It’s truly an amazing region, and what’s most incredible (and, frankly, concerning) is that much of it is open for people to scramble around in unsupervised. This, of course, was heaven for explorer me, but art historian and preservationist me is still shocked. But, when in Cappadocia…

Our first stop after the hostel was not the caves, but the town of Goreme where we were staying. It’s a small town, totally tourist-funded due to the caves and the excellent carpet-weaving in the area. And the shopping here is certainly impressive. This was my favorite carpet/textile/souvenir store:

Kelli eventually bought a small carpet here and I bought some small knickknacks. There was also a great small shop down the street that had interesting metal objects:

Oil lamps

Of course, we later saw all the same stuff when we finally got to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, but here was our first real taste, and it seems so much better when you fly to the middle of the country to get it!

Cappadocia, although dry, does produce grapes and lots and lots of squash, which are grown solely for the seeds inside, so you’d see huge “junk” piles of halved squash empty of seeds, but still full of meat, sitting throughout the town and fields. Here’s how they do it:

After wandering through the town we headed towards the “open air museum”, but were side-tracked by a sign for a church leading off down a dirt road–irresistible! We followed along for awhile and eventually came to the El Nazar Church:

The church is the conical structure on the right with the small round window

….which was locked. We had to pay the keeper, Sami, a few lira to let us in, which also gets you a (literally) hands-on tour and an invitation to tea afterwards.

Office of the church's keeper, Sami. We went in here for tea, believe it or not.

Still-colorful wall paintings, from the 9th - 10th c. AD.

After describing the paintings to us, Sami left us in the church to take photos while he prepared for our visit for tea. This included putting on a tie and cologne, surprisingly enough. But he was very nice and showed us a brochure about all the wonders of Cappadocia. He even offered to take us to a hot spring later that evening and give us massages (he’s a professional!), or at least a two-minute test massage right then and there! After we politely declined, he offered us keys to a “hidden” church that’s not open to the public, which we’d have to climb through the cliffs to find. Now THAT’S more like it! Sami stayed at the office in case more tourists came by (whew!), so he sent us on what felt like a wild goose chase to find a church over some hills, and down some stairs to the left. (his directions) After some searching we did find it, and it was definitely worth it. This was my first of many Indiana Jane experiences on this visit and I loved it!

Heading down to the hidden church

Allison unlocked the door and forced it back on its rusty hinges and we were in!

It was incredible! There were sneaker prints inside, so Sami must send people here somewhat frequently, but still, it was exhilarating. The paintings were less damaged than the ones in the previous church since this one was harder for the typical wanderer to find (prior to the locking of these churches, anyone could roam through).

We shots lots of pics and then headed back to return the key to Sami and say our goodbyes.

Sami, Kelli and I pose outside his office after our church-hunting expedition.

There were also incredible views from the cliffs at the hidden church and at the open church, including this one, of the rock formations in “Love Valley.” I’m sure you can guess what the locals actually call it.

"Love Valley"

That evening I made a friend at our hotel, the Kose Pension, which is a very casually-run establishment where guests may end up serving food, or staying for a few months.

I find love with Spotty...

Spotty is the resident cuddler and guide dog–he often takes guests for walks through the town. Allison, the cat lover, was less impressed:

I joke, I joke; they had their own cuddle session before this photo…

That evening we ate at Dibek, which is famous for the regional specialty of meals cooked for hours inside terracotta pots, that are broken open in front of you:

It’s a mix of rice and veggies, or meat, and has a distinctive and tasty smoky terra-cotta flavor. The restaurant is also in a cave (there are a lot of cave hotels in this area, too) and has traditional seating on cushions around a low table, which made the meal that much more special (and a bit overpriced). But it was a nice end to an exciting day!

Stay tuned for even more exciting adventures in Cappadocia!!

About Stephanie Beck

Exploring the international world of art.
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