Strong winds again scrubbed our balloon flight so we booked a car & driver and headed out to Ortahisar Castle, an enormous honeycombed rock, the highest point in the region, carved out by Romans as a fortress. An impressive sight, great view of the valley, and a nice walk to the top. Admission 70US¢.
Next stop was Kaymakli Underground City (US$7 admission) about 30 km from Goreme. It has eight levels reaching depths of 260 feet, dates from the 800 BC, and was used, in some manner, up until the 1923 “population exchange” when Greeks were suddenly expelled from Turkey. There are many similar sites and this is one of two that are open. They are as described — underground cities once populated by thousands of troglodytes (from the Greek trogle “mouse-hole” and dyein “go in”) and their animals. Think Flintstones and you won’t be far off; these places are wild even by Cappadocian standards. Used by Christians for protection from religious persecution, the cities were re-discovered by accident in the 1950s and used as playgrounds by local children. I can’t imagine! Ceilings are low so wear a hat. Unless you’re claustrophobic don’t miss this.
Our third adventure of the day was hiking in the 16km long, 100m deep Ihlara Valley, US$6.5 admission, originally occupied by Christians seeking refuge from Roman soldiers. It’s about a one hour drive from Goreme to the official valley entry point at Ihlara village where 400 stairs take you down to the Melendiz River. Visiting various sites along the way, we walked about three hours (6 km) to Belisirma where our driver waited for the trip back to our hotel.
Ihlara Valley’s steep walls contain more than 100 cave churches and numerous dwellings. Sixteen of the churches are open for exploration and supervised by video camera if at all. Many of the frescoes are vandalized but restoration efforts are underway. There is still much to see and it’s another lovely experience not to be missed. A guide would likely provide a lot of information but we enjoyed exploring and discovering on our own at our own pace. It’s an easy trail and impossible to get lost.
We never did get our balloon flight so might have to make another visit to Cappadocia. Next morning we were up early for a short flight to Istanbul where the wonders of Byzantium awaited us.
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