Cappadocia

We arrived in the Cappadocia region of Turkey on June 11th and were there for a total of three days and four nights. This is one of the most incredible places I have ever seen and any description I can come up with can’t possible do it justice so I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking.  We were originally going to take a night bus from Istanbul, but decided to fly instead.  The plane tickets were relatively cheap and spending 12 hours on a bus, trying to sleep, etc. didn’t sound like much fun to us.

Cappadocia is a region that contains four main towns; Nevsehir, Urgup, Goreme, and Uchisar.  We decided to stay in the town of Goreme as it is fairly centrally located and is within walking distance of many of the best hiking areas.  We stayed at a place called Yasin’s Place Cave Hostel. One of the things that makes Cappadocia so incredible is that in these towns, people have actually carved caves out of the rock pinnacles and have used them as houses for centuries.  The hostel was one of these with many of the rooms being carved right out of the rock.  Our room was mostly in a building attached to the rock pinnacle many of the other rooms are carved out of, so the only part that was actually in a cave was the bathroom.  It was a really cool place to stay and if you are going to Cappadocia and Goreme, I highly reccommend staying in one of the many cave hotels.  Goreme is very touristy however and it would be easy to get sucked into all of the tours, ATV rentals, balloon rides, etc.  However, in my opinion, the best thing to do here is to hike around in the valleys surrounding Goreme.  Not only do you escape the crowds (the trails were amazingly empty given the number of tourists in the towns), but it is absolutely free.

Our first full day in Cappadocia, we did a hike where we made a big loop around Goreme exploring three of the main valleys surrounding it.  We started out in Pigeon Valley, so named because it contains many pigeon houses that have been carved out of the rock up on the cliffs above the trail.  These houses were used by local people to keep pigeons for three main purposes including collecting the guano to fertilize their gardens, using the pigeons for communication, and using the eggs to make paint for the frescoes in the hundreds of Byzantine era cave churches scattered throughout the area.  Pigeon valley connects Goreme with the town of Uchisar which contains a castle carved into the rock and many cave houses.  From Uchisar we hiked down into Love Valley, so named because of the phallic shaped rock formations it contains (no, I’m not making this up, that’s what the signs said).  From Love Valley we connected up with Rose Valley to return to Goreme.  Rose Valley contains a higher concentration of the Byzantine cave churches than the others and we came across a couple of these our first day.  The first time was exhilarating.  We climbed up into a little door carved into one of the pinnacles and were greeted with what was obviously a tiny church with an altar at the front, a baptismal, benches along the sides and very faded frescoes and Maltese crosses.  It was definitely an indulgence of all of my boyhood Indiana Jones fantasies.  A little more about these cave churches.  There are hundreds of them scattered around Goreme of all various sizes, some in better shape than others.  They are Greek Orthodox churches and were mostly made in the 8-10 centuries during the heyday of the Byzantine Empire.  Some of them have incredibly beautiful frescoes that are still relatively intact owing to being in a cave and not being subjected to sunlight.  It is a really amazing experience to hike through a beatiful place and come across one of these, step inside, and be greeted by 1,000 year old frescoes, just awesome.  Again, my boyhood Indiana Jones fantasies coming alive.  On our way back to Goreme, we were walking along and were enthusistically greeted by one of the farmers who still live and work in all of these valleys.  He showed us his pigeon house carved into the rock high above his garden and then he shared some bread and onions with us and we shared some cookies.  Although we couldn’t talk about much due to the language barrier, he was very nice and seemed genuinely happy to see us and to show us his place, very cool.  After a full 8 hour day of hiking by the time we got back to Goreme, we were beat.  Showers, food, and bed were definitely in order.

Our second day, we decided to take one of the tours.  There are many tour companies in Goreme and they all offer more or less the same tours color coded as red, green, and yellow.  The green tour was the one we took as it went to the places that were not within walking distance of Goreme.  It was well worth the price of $50 each as it was a full day(9:30-6:00), included all entry fees to the various sites, included lunch, and of course the guide.  The first main stop was the Derinkuyu Underground City.  This is a underground complex carved out of the ground between 2000 BC and 300 AD.  It has 8 levels, goes to a depth of 80 meters, and could house about 20,000 people including food stores and livestock.  The city was started by the Hittite people around 2000 BC and was used for military and food storage purposes.  It was later expanded by early Christians to provide refuge in times of danger.  Next was a short hike through the beautiful Ihlara Valley with a visit to one of the churches there followed by lunch.  The last major stop was the Selime Monastery, an early Christian monastery complex carved into the rock including a cathedral, chapels, and kitchens.

Our third and final full day, we started out at the Goreme Open Air Museum.  This is a must see place if you are in Goreme, although it was pretty crowded with tourists as many places directly accessible by car or bus seemed to be.  This is another monastery complex and it contains some very beautiful and well preserved frescoes as well as kitchens and refectories that give you bit of a feel for what it might have been like to actually live in a place like this.  Definitely pay the extra $5 to go into the Dark Church as it contains the best preserved frescoes we saw anywhere.  After that, Jocelyn and I split up for a while and went to do some more hiking around Goreme.  I started out in the Sword Valley right over the hill from the museum.  This was a very narrow slot canyon where you could touch both sides of it in a lot of places.  From there I connected up with Rose Valley again, but this time explored the other side of it.  Here I found a lot of solitude and also some more really cool churches.

Cappadocia is unlike anywhere I have ever seen.  Not only is it full of stunning natural beauty, but the history and artistic beauty of the cave churches is like nothing you’ll see anywhere else.  This was definitely a highlight of this whole trip for me, and I would highly reccomend it to anyone going to Turkey.

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