Being in Cappadocia is a bit like being on the surface of the moon. A harsh and tormented history has pushed life underground for many decades. It’s exotic fairy chimneys and phallic towers are a natural blessing from prehistoric volcanoes.
Our hotel is carved inside a cave, as are all the others in Göreme. It’s difficult to tell how many inhabitants and structures make up the city since most are hidden inside rock formations. The phone lines are down in town and our hotel can’t be notified to pick us up, so we walk.
Over the last 400 years, Cappadocia has shifted from a home to a tourist center, and the more primitive caves have been abandoned for life in bigger cities. Several gigantic underground communities have been cleared and cleaned for visitors. We visited Derinkuyu, the largest nearby cave city. Only 10% of the city is accessible to tourists, while the total development extends 8 floors to a depth of 85 meters, it is believed it could once accommodate between 3,000 and 50,000 people.
In the beginning, these cities were largely used by early Christians as hiding places before they became an accepted religion, between the 5th and the 10th centuries A.D. Life inside was surprisingly normal, with wineries, schools, churches and stables.
For the more tombraider experience, some cave cities haven’t been polished up quite so nicely and are left open and raw for tourists to experience. In Zelve, we were able to explore many single and multi-room homes, climbing rock-hewn ladders and picking our way through tunnels (bring your headlamp!). This tri-valley city was abandoned in 1952.
Cappadocia’s age is disputed, the earliest record of the name of “Cappadocia” dates from the late 6th century BC, and it’s people are mentioned even in the Bible. Some of the oldest recorded Catholic churches can be found in this area.
Frescos in the caves have been sheltered from the sun and harsh elements for hundreds of years. The colors are impossible to photograph; their richness stunning. Ten churches are clustered together in the Open Air Museum about a mile from Göreme, each with it’s own focus and style.
The defacing of these figures is interesting in it’s thoroughness, and we would continue to see these Byzantine churches marked in such a way through the Southeast Mediterranean.
Had we more time we would have spent a week hiking in this region. Visually, there is nothing like it on the planet. Tourism is a bit hungry and unrestrained here however, and these spectacular valleys and ancient cities may be trampled by the masses sooner rather than later. If we had a bigger budget, we would have easily been talked into a balloon ride over Cappadocia — it’s ocean of natural minarets must be astonishing from above.
As far as wifi goes, don’t hold your breath. The municipal phones were back online on the 3rd day, just in time for us to book our next stop.
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