Fantastic Cappadocia, Turkey

We're back in Madrid now, and it feels a lot like home. Of course, it was our home for a couple of years…32 years ago. But, we still love it.

However, we've just spent 11 days in Turkey, and I think I've found my second favorite country. (The USA, of course, is disqualified from my favorites list due to excessive familiarity.)

So, in the next couple of days, I'm going to try to catch up on what we saw in Turkey. I've already commented on Gallipoli. But, of course there was a lot more and I'm going to spread it over a few entries on the blog.

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cappadocia turkey cave church
The cave churches of Cappadocia have a wide range of decoration. This crude painting direct on the wall dates from the sixth or seventh century.

I'm going to start with the last place we visited, Cappadocia, In a word: fantastic. In the literal sense. It's a fantasy land, both in terms of history and landscape. The region is a network of small towns that have one thing in common: the weird geology of the region lent itself over the ages to people digging caves to live in. And so they did.

cappadocia turkey cave church
A few centuries later, you have an actual fresco, albeit rather crude. This is St. George and under that spear is a dragon.

And, if you look at a map, and know a little of the history of the Christian church, you'll see that this area also lent itself to becoming a true cradle for the infant church–a cradle which sheltered Christians in these caves for up to fifteen centuries.

cappadocia turkey cave church
And by the 13th Century, you've got a lot more sophisticated frescoes, and more sophistcated cave digging. Arches and columns echo actual church construction above ground in other parts of the world.

Now, I don't know much about the early history of the church. But it is clear from the evidence that this area spawned a plethora of saints. If you include nearby Ephesus, you've even got the former homes of the evangelist St. John and Mary, the mother of Jesus, to bolster the region's historical cred…and tourism.

But Ephesus was a full fledged Roman/Greek city with marble columns and paved streets and sewer systems.  Goreme and the other cities of Cappadocia were small crude rooms dug into the soft volcanic soil of the middle of Turkey.

Our guide, Mesut, explains how things were done 30 meters underground.

You pretty much have to see these places to believe them. In more than one mountain, the people dug down more than 90 meters below ground level and created hundreds of rooms–bedrooms, kitchens, toilets, store rooms–you name it–that housed thousands of people.

And, the dominant force was the church. Among these caves spread over such a large area are more than 230 churches. Most of them are the size of a large American living room. There are 25 churches within the open air park in Goreme alone.

cappadocia caves
This is the remains of an underground city. Both sides of the mountain in which it was carved have now fallen away. That's why you can see through it in places.

Now, this is all one big tourism site. And a fascinating one. You should go, because the very softness of the earth which allowed the digging of all those caves so many years ago is now causing their destruction. The reason why you see so many caves and doors and rooms open to the side of the mountains now is that the sides of the mountains have eroded away, or in many cases, simply fallen down.

The door above used to be at ground level. The openings you see below were underground rooms.

You see doors 30 meters above the current ground level because 30 meters of ground has been washed away over the last 700 years.

Our guide told us that more and more sites are being closed all the time because they're becoming unstable.

So go soon.

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1 thought on “Fantastic Cappadocia, Turkey”

  1. It is our goal to visit every single underground city of Cappadocia and the surrounding areas. We have done the cave churches and that took long enough! Did you go to Ilhara Valley?

    Reply

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