A home in the hills of Cappadocia.

I am in the weird and wonderful “Land of The Beautiful Horses” — Cappadocia. 

Earlier in the day my Insight Vacations tour left Roman-era Hierapolis above the Aegean coast and we crept up the mountain road to Konya, the ancient capital of the Seljuk Empire and home of the Whirling Dervish sect. 

In Konya our tour group visited the Mevlana Tekke Museum and national monument with its beautiful fluted turquoise dome and the Karatay Medrese and Ince Minaret before driving across the fertile plains to Nevsehir in the heart of Cappadocia.  

During the Byzantine era emigrants from Central Asia settled Turkey and the domes of mosques resemble the domes on their yurts for a reason, to dispel heavy snows.

The fluted dome & the Karatay Medrese & Ince Minaret.

A stone mushroom.

There is no city or town of Cappadocia, but it is an ancient semi-arid region in central Turkey (Anatolia) spread across a plain of high steppes, an empire that once stretched from the Taurus Mountains to the Black Sea during the time of the Persian conquest.  Before Darius the Great, the powerful Hittite army stabled their horses in the hand dug lava caves that are still used today for the same purpose.   There are so many trails and paths amongst the chimney towers and hillock scrublands it certainly would perplex an enemy army, which would have to ride single file, thus no wide assaults; they were easy to pick off individually.

Tour operators today offer balloon rides, horseback rides, hiking and mountain biking trips, and jeep and ATV excursions through and over the fantastic wilderness maze.

The Cappadocian plateau is above 1,000 meters in altitude, with Mount Erciyes (ancient Argaeus) near Kayseri (ancient Caesarea) being the tallest at 3,916 meters.  As the Insight Vacations (www.insightvacations.com) motorcoach crept through “The Valley of Inspiration” or also known as Rose Valley, other volcanic peaks scraped the spring sky with phantasmagoric forms. The black capstones on the eerie phallic  ice cream cone spires held down the softer volcanic soil from blowing away in the winter winds. Modern Cappadocia has shrunk in size to about  400 kilometers (250 miles) east–west and 250 kilometers (160 miles) north–south, encompassing the most impressive hoodoos and badlands. Spring tulips and poppies dotted the landscape like out-of-place pointillist daubs of color.

A fantasy landscape in the Valley of Imagination.

The ancient population had carved tunnels, shafts, passageways, rooms, and entire cities in the lava underworld, some deeper than seven stories.  In times of emergencies the populace hid in their anthills to evade first the Hittites, then the Persians, then the Romans, then the Moslems.  The Persians charged the people a tax in horses, so I suppose they hid their horses down there too. In pre-Hellenistic times, Persians, Hittites, Assyrians, and Greeks all lived in Cappadocia, but now the Turks are the majority in the area.

An early Seljuk condo in the Zelve Valley.

I enjoyed the excursion to Goreme,  a region of vast volcanic hoodoos and landscapes and hand-hewn churches decorated with magnificent and colorful ancient wall frescos; no cameras were allowed in the early Christian museum churches; wood catwalks protected the old paths.

We continued to the Zelve Valley where the scenery was dotted with churches, caves, and troglodyte dwellings.  My first recollection of Cappadocia was in the pages of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” when I was a kid.

It was hard to believe that cave dwelling denizens carved sizeable and elaborate quarters out of the lava rock. Actually, the rooms were quite comfy and warm in the spring air. A true home in the hills.

I toured the underground city of Kaymakli and the cone of Uchisar.

Deep underground with Oguz, my guide.

Kaymakli is one of the largest underground cities in Cappadocia, but it is connected to many other suburbs by narrow paths which I duck walked through.  The term Troglodyte (which means, “prehistoric cave dweller”) comes from the Middle-East and also means a small, short people, but the tunnels were deliberately narrow to prevent armored armies from entering their abode.  Intricate traps were devised, including holes and shafts to drop spears down, stones that could only be rolled one way across the path, arrow slits in the walls, and then the utter confusion in the darkness. 

Kaymakli had over one hundred tunnels with many used today for cellars, storage, and stables.  We could only crawl down to the third level because deeper  shafts were clogged from debris from past floods.  In ancient times the hideout was used for months at a time; the locals cooked, slept, and even forged copper in the inner world.  I was surprised how well ventilated the rooms were. I was also amazed that our guide, Oguz, could find the way not only into the depths but brought us back out without a GPS or map.  Today, the tunnels are well lit but each step must be well placed.  I held out my hand for support to find only empty air.  In darkness no enemy had a chance to find its way out of the abyss.

Past a millstone door near the stables in the first level was an early Christian church; a second, larger church is on the second level, with a nave and two apses and baptismal font. The living spaces and storage rooms are on the third level, where kitchens, wine and oil presses, bread ovens, and the copper smelter were once located. The city once supported a large population, but only a fraction of the complex is open to the public.

A Christian church carved in the Zelve Valley lava.

Whirling Dervish display in Konya.

That evening we were treated to a beautiful multi-media show against the inner walls of an old caravanserai near Konya.  The steppes are known for hot days and cold nights and the open air camel stable proved its mettle in the weather department. I was led down corbelled chambered corridors as large wooden doors were closed behind me.  The camel tenders slept in rooms along the corridor and the razor winds were blocked out as I awaited the Whirling Dervish show.  The cone shaped hats of the Dervishes resembled the capstones of Cappadocia’s natural lava columns. Art imitated nature. The master Dervish was dressed in a full length black dress-like robe, while the dancers or Dervishes wore the same robe, but in white.  The trance-like drums beat a slow rhythm as the Dervishes slowly twirled, then faster and faster in a hyperkinetic spin like a child’s top, their arms first akimbo, then above their heads, like a ballerina. The trance transformed the audience in the moment.

Whirling Dervishes copied nature for their garments and hats.

Traditional weavers make new rugs.

I think the Whirling Dervish trance was still with us when we visited  a Turkish carpet weaving village near Konya, known as a carpeterium. Over sweet Turkish tea and snacks, many of our group shelled out big bucks for double-knotted silk-on-silk carpets and tapestries. 

The price of Turkish carpets has risen faster than most Persian carpets, and their value is retained as a sound investment.  Larger carpets sell for over $60,000 USD.  The Turkish government  pays all shipping and taxes to support over 200 home weavers in the area.

Silk worms are raised in the area because of the multitude of mulberry trees, the only leaves they will eat. I watched in amazement as a mechanical device unwrapped hundreds of yards of silk from a water soaked cocoon.

During the time of the Seljuk Empire and before they came to Anatolia, Turks reigned in Iran (Persia) and the Caucasus Mountains for centuries. The art of weaving was introduced to Anatolia by the Seljuk’s toward the end of the 11th and the beginning of the 12th centuries A.D. when Seljuk sovereignty was at its strongest.  There are only 18 carpets and fragments known to be of Seljuk origins in existence today.  The technical aspects and wide variety of designs used proves the resourcefulness and splendor of the Seljuk rug weaving.  The oldest surviving Seljuk carpets are dated to the 13th-14th centuries.  Eight of these carpets were discovered in the Aladdin Mosque in Konya (capital of the Anatolian Seljuks) in 1905 by Loytred, a member of the German consulate staff and were woven during the years between 1220 and 1250 A.D. at the apex of the Seljuk’s reign.

Each rug is different in style, size, design, and color.

New prayer rugs.

The Turkish rug, which originated in Central Asia, preserved all its characteristics until the 14th century.  After the Ottomans gained control over Anatolia, changes were made in the rug motifs and sizes of the rugs. No two rugs are exactly alike. They also weave Kilim or flat tapestries that also serve as prayer rugs, but are also popular in Western homes. Modern Kilims, have 14 threads of warp and 16 threads of weft to the inch. The pattern consists of narrow stripes of blue, green, brownish yellow, and red, containing very small geometric designs.

In the 19th century A.D. Ottoman court rug workshops were opened in Istanbul in the districts of Kumkapi, Topkapi, and Uskudar.  In 1891, Sultan Abdullhamid II increased the number and sizes of the carpet workshops in Hereke and so they became more plentiful. Throughout their history, from Central Asia to the Caucuses to the plains, steppes, and coasts of Anatolia, rugs retained their purity. Rugs from Hereke, Usak, and  Begama became well known.  Anatolian rugs are incredibly rich in design and colors, and symbols.  Today, these fine rugs are woven in over 750 villages and tribal (nomadic) areas all over Turkey.  Each rug is different in design, color patterns, symbolism, and size.

Shipping and taxes are free with factory rug purchases.

Belly dancing was a cavern hit.

Later that evening we visited an underground cavern near Konya that was converted into a huge restaurant and entertainment center for a night of Cossack and belly dancing, and traditional folkloric singing.  We were seated in linear tables of six guests each with a gallon jug of wine on each end and Turkish finger foods in between; this is my kind of Turkish hoedown!  The entire hall was transfixed on the belly dancers as we were with the Whirling Dervishes, or maybe it was the whirling head from all the wine!  The Cossacks brought the tempo up and before long even the guests were dancing to the beat. Some of the earliest Neolithic settlements in the Middle East  have been found in Asia Minor, and I must state, I was feeling a little Neolithic myself this evening.

Inside a caravanserai.

In the bright sunlight of day we visited a 13th century caravanserai on the Old Silk Road.  After the division of the Roman Empire in the 4th century A.D., Asia Minor was part of the eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire, with its capital in Constantinople or Byzantium, the western terminus of the camel route from China during the Ottoman Empire. The caravanserais were built at a distance that a camel could walk in a day — 40 kilometers between each hostel. We made a pit stop at the Agzikarahan, one of the best preserved Seljuk caravanserais in Anatolia, on the road to Ankara. I was reminded of the tome by James Michener, Caravanserai,

I am certain Marco Polo passed this way on the route to Costantinople and dropped off some rugs and silk and was wined and dined with Whirling Dervishes and belly-dancers.

Insight Vacationss tour visited a ceramic factory.

Insight Vacations puts The Treasures of Turkey Tour all together for your advenurous pleasure. Turkey is one of the most fantastic destinations in the world. Insight Vacations offers clean, modern transportation with all itinerary aspects wrapped up for you like a folded map, waiting for you to take a peek. Visit Insight Vacations at www.insightvacations.com. Read Jetsetters Magazine for more adventures in Turkey with Insight Vacations.

— Feature and photos by Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine.