Returning to Turkey, we flew all day starting with an 11am flight from Dublin to Istanbul and then on in the early evening to Kayseri, the minibus dropping us off at the Özsoy Apartment at 1:20am the following morning. Fikret had stayed up all night to warmly greet us and had our room ready and waiting. We spent a somewhat jet-lagged day re-packing everything, having taken advantage of the return home to abandon the last of our camping gear and lighten our load (the tent was left at Motocamp in Bulgaria as we simply were not using it).
For the next week we marveled at the breathtaking otherworld that is Cappadocia. Its name is a derivative of the Persian “Katpatukya – Land of Beautiful Horses” but as noted in the previous blog, the most striking features are the geography and geology of this alien landscape. The terra-forming is utterly bewildering, leaving one wondering if this is a view of an ancient landscape sculpted by weather and time or is it some hole-in-time glimpse into a future fusion based landscape molded for a post-apocalyptic world.
The landscape was created eons ago when three huge volcanoes surrounding the region slathered and smeared deposits of volcanic ash, lava and basalt and generally made a right untidy mess of the place. Earthquakes, wind and rain have rearranged this such that today it looks like a crazy artists palette splattered across hundreds of square miles with whippy meringue points and peaks in a profusion of pastel colours from pinks and purples through sulphurous oranges and yellows to warm and cold blues and greys. The net effect is a creation unlike anything you’ll see anywhere else on this planet.
The area has been settled by man way back as far as the Paleolithic era. It has been a jewel for several empires, a kingdom in its own right, is mentioned several times in the bible and as with the rest of Turkey was fought over and conquered by invader upon invader, sometimes coming from the west at other times from the east. And this is where history and geology combine; the soft substrates that make up the labyrinth of the Cappadocian landscape have lent themselves to caving and tunneling even to the extent of creating underground cities for those in need of a good hidey-hole.
Like early Christians who hid and worshipped here, converting some of the caves into exquisitely decorated churches and the best examples of these were on show at Göreme, the Grand Central of the attractions with its Open-Air Museum. We tried getting there early in the morning to avoid the crowds but it was useless as busloads of Japanese and Spanish tourists soon thronged the pathways making it feel more like a trip to the sales than a visit to a national park. All of the churches we visited had been vandalized, especially any depictions of saints, prophets or other holy people, where the faces have been savagely hacked. Here, at least in the Open Air Museum, many of these are undergoing restoration.
Abandoning the museum after an hour, we wandered down into the little town of Göreme itself, straying off the road to investigate interesting looking features along the way; cave houses, holes in the rocks and a natural arrangement of rock and stone that looked huge bunny rabbit, all of it bewilderingly beautiful. In the town many caves are still used as dwellings and some of the bigger complexes have been turned into very trendy boutique hotels.
A day later and we are wandering amongst even more marvelous rock in Red Valley. Leaving the bikes in the car-park, we got pleasantly lost in the myriad of pathways through the enormous pink pointy cones, remnants of what are known in the area as ‘Fairy-Chimneys’. Later this blended to a landscape of dove-grey and snow-white mushroom headed features, all of it so easy on the eye and calming on the soul. It was one of those places where we didn’t speak much but just wandered along lost in the beauty of the place.
In the afternoon we rode to Pigeon Valley, so called because many of the caves here had been used as dovecotes and this led us to the fabulous castle of Uçhisar. The castle itself is another monstrous Mad-Max rock formation, this time a huge block arising and dominating the area for miles, all cut through with weird chambers and windows. The reward for the strenuous hike to the top was unparalleled ‘King of the Castle’ panoramic views over Cappadocia in every direction.
From Uçhisar we rode back through Göreme and took another little breathtaking backroad that dumped us in the midst of a phallic phalanx of ‘Fairy Chimneys’ leaving every guy there in a depressive state of penis envy. These impressive rock formations are formed when there is a hard material thinly deposited over a thick softer underlying substrate. Over time, cracks in the upper layer allow the much softer rock beneath to be eroded and washed away to leave some fairly impressive columns, in some cases up to 45-metres tall. ‘Fairy Chimneys’ are created when a small cap of the upper hard layer remains, protecting what eventually becomes a stem of the underlying softer layer from erosion. With their capped heads they look like mushrooms, but here in Cappadocia they are so long and slender they look like something else and we both agreed that ‘Fairy Chimney was probably a Turkish euphemism… Ultimately, further erosion of the soft layer causes the cap to eventually fall off, and the stem is then quickly eroded into the cone shapes abundant across the rest of Cappadocia.
We caught the Fairy Chimneys at that magical hour of dusk as the sun was settling low in the sky, its light diffused by dust in the atmosphere, the horizon orange and red and flaring the grey rocks of the stone columns to peachy pinks. The crowds had gone home and we had the place mostly to ourselves for peaceful contemplation over recent events.
Cappadocia held one last surprise in the form of a longer ride out to visit Ihlara Valley, a superb walk along a canyon cut deep by the Melendiz river that runs for 10-miles in south west Cappadocia. The valley, with its obvious and natural water supply, was a natural hide-away for early Christians and contains more than four thousand cave-dwellings and around one hundred cave churches decorated with frescoes. It is thought that up to eighty thousand people once lived here, mostly Greeks who indeed populated most of Cappadocia up until 1923 when they were forcibly evicted in the fore-mentioned population exchange between Greece and Turkey (see previous blog).
Before leaving Cappadocia I must also mention Ürgüp, our base throughout our stay here. It is another ‘cave-town’ overlooked by another Mad-Max citadel and a place where we felt quite at home and so well looked after by our host, Fikret, at the Özsoy Apartment. But it was time to leave Cappadocia and take the road north to the Black Sea and from there continue ever east.
The related photogallery for his blog is at Cappadocia