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.
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.
An early Seljuk condo in the Zelve Valley.
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.
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.
Deep underground with Oguz, my guide.
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.
My Insight Vacationss tour visited a ceramic factory.
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— Feature and photos by Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine.