Located in the Anatolian region of Turkey, with its valleys, canyons, hills and unusual rock formation created as a result of the eroding rains and winds of thousands of years of the level, lava-covered plain located between the volcanic mountains Erciyes, Melendiz and Hasan as well as its troglodyte dwellings carved out of the rock and cities dug out into underground, Cappadocia presents an otherworldly appearance. The eruptions of these mountains which were active volcanoes in geological times lasted until 2 million years ago. A soft tuff layer was formed, 150 m in thickness, by the issuing lavas in the valley surrounded by mountains. The rivers, flood water running down the hillsides of valleys and strong winds eroded the geological formations consisting of tuff on the plateau formed with tuff layers, thus creating bizarre shapes called Fairy Chimneys.
One of the best ways to view these strange formations is from the air. It has been said that if you only have one opportunity for a hot-air balloon flight, this is the place to do it.
After our (first ever) balloon flight we concur. It is quite an experience to quietly drift over this strange land early morning before sunrise, even a bit eerie.
Driving or walking around Cappadocia allows one to get a detailed look at the rock formations, and also allows you to visit some of the dwellings that were carved into the rock. One such area to visit is Rose Valley, that gets its name from the rose-coloured rock formations. It is quite beautiful to take a walk here.
Some of these ancient dwellings can be seen up close, and comprises rudimentary homes and quite a number of ancient churches, some of which are well preserved.
Some of these cave- or rock dwellings are still in use today. Because the erosion is an ongoing process there has been a fair amount of restoration of the dwellings and it is not unusual to see some of these dwellings being extended to more modern homes, or even hotels. We were surprised to see just how many are in use today, varying from simple homes to luxury hotels.
Other than the Fairy Chimneys, a visit to Cappadocia is not complete without visiting one of the underground cities.
These troglodyte cave-cities were excavated as early as Hittite times, and expanded over the centuries as various marauding armies traversed Central Anatolia in search of captives and plunder. There are 36 underground cities in Cappadocia,
of which Kaymakli underground city is the widest one, and the one we visited.
Kaymakli underground city is built under the hill known as the Citadel of Kaymakli and was opened to visitors in 1964. The people of Kaymakli (Enegup in Greek) village have constructed their houses around nearly one hundred tunnels of the underground city. The inhabitants of the region still use the most convenient places in the tunnels as cellars, storage areas and stables, which they access through their courtyards. The Kaymakli Underground City has low, narrow and sloping passages. While the underground city consists of 8 floors below ground, only 4 of them are open to the public today, in which the spaces are organized around ventilation shafts.
Visiting a city like this is not without it’s challenges, which I was to find out pretty quick. Many of the underground passages are quite low and narrow – to the extent that I came to the (incorrect of course) conclusion that it must’ve been built by pigmies. My particular body shape, coupled to my state of unfitness made it somewhat difficult to crouch low enough to pass through some of these passages. There was one particular stretch that we had to crouch through to reach an old wine cellar. Now being a wine-lover myself and wanting to see this wine cellar I naturally went against any common sense and started crouching towards it. Fortunately I was the last in line because I got about halfway before getting stuck – stuck, good and solid.
Here I was, bent forward with my chin almost touching my knees, and solidly stuck.
I could see the damn wine cellar ahead, I could hear the “oohs” and “aahs”, I could hear the guide talking about the cellar, I could hear cameras clicking, yet I could not get there – I was flippen stuck.
I developed visions of remaining stuck here forever, becoming another exhibit in the underground city.
It was very depressing.
The irony of dying of thirst in a wine cellar was not lost on me either, and I became even more depressed.
By now the bunch ahead became aware of my predicament, and with their enthusiastic encouragement (and no doubt giggling amusement) I eventually managed to reverse a few centimeters, just enough for me to flop down unceremoniously on all fours, and managed to crawl the remaining couple of meters to finally arrive in the wine cellar, covered in dust, dirt, and grime from head to toes like the original cave diggers, accompanied by loud cheers, clapping of hands, and backslapping.
It’s been a while since I felt this big an idiot !
We certainly enjoyed our visit to Cappadocia and found it an amazing place to visit. It was not all walking, crouching, or balloon flying though – in between all the action we could just relax and enjoy the strangeness of the land.
Next up – A very unusual hotel 🙂
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