Cappadocia, Day One

Sealed grave atop a fairy chimney near our hotel.

After a snowy Christmas in Ankara, our first destination was Goreme, a silk road village in the Cappadocia region of central Anatolia. We hired a car for the 3-1/2 hour drive and booked rooms at the US$70/night Erenby Cave Hotel, one of many hotels in the region that are carved into the volcanic rock of the region’s cliffs and ‘fairy chimneys.’ Cappadocia tends to be a fairly expensive destination but there are many accommodation options from hostels to 5 star and we were happy with our choice: nice people, good clean cave rooms, reasonable price, central location and a great Turkish breakfast with home-made preserves.

By the time we settled and ate it was mid-afternoon so we headed out for a bit of exploration.

The Smithsonian explains the extraordinary landscape thusly: “The chimneys are a result of a geologic process that began millions of years ago, when volcanic eruptions rained ash across what would eventually become Turkey. That ash hardened into tuff, a porous rock, which was covered by a layer of basalt. Finally, the long work of erosion began. As millennia passed, the softer tuff wore down, giving way to pillars that stand as tall as 130 feet. The harder basalt erodes more slowly, forming a protective, mushroom-shaped cap over each one.

“During the Roman period, persecuted Christians fled in droves to Goreme, a town in Cappadocia. There, they learned that the soft tuff could easily be excavated and built homes and churches in the chimneys. They expanded ancient caves into underground cities like Kaymakli and Derinkuyu — massive refuges that could shelter thousands.”

We arrived in Goreme mid-afternoon so decided to explore on our own, heading up the main road, about a half hour walk past horse ranches and ATV rentals to the Kiliclar Valley. It was a wonderful introduction. As we rounded a corner to yet another 1500-year-old cave or church, it was easy to imagine that we were discovering it for the first time. The sun was setting and it was magical.

Artwork we saw that evening was simple, red ochre faux-brickwork and religious symbols from the iconoclast period, around 800 AD. At that time church authorities forbade religious images as sacrilege. Later on, frescoes and mosaics predominated and were rationalized as a necessary way to tell Bible stories to illiterate people.

Next day we had a balloon flight booked with Royal Balloons but high winds caused it to be cancelled. This decision is centrally managed so it was just bad weather luck. Balloon flights are a big thing in Cappadocia with dozens (hundreds?) of flights each day so missing it was unfortunate. There were many other things to keep us interested.

We headed off for the Goreme Open Air Museum, a concentrated site with numerous rock-hewn churches and monastic buildings about 2 km from Goreme village. (Admission US$3.50) Many of the frescoes are intact although, especially in areas within easy reach, the faces of Christ and the Saints are often scratched off due to 20th century Islamic zeal.

Church ceiling at the Goreme Open Air Museum

Dinner was at the Pumpkin Göreme Restaurant and Art Gallery. Lovely place run by a Persian couple. Their enthusiastic daughter and her friend were serving and the atmosphere was great as was the food. Plenty of online reviews so knock yourself out! Recommended!

Thus ended the day. Weather permitting, a balloon ride awaited us in the morning.

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