We went to bed with the intention to wake up early. However, the rooms in the cave hotel were so dark and optimized for sleep that it was 8AM by the time any of us realized it was morning. A quick round of freshening up and we made our way to a yummy breakfast of fruits, cheeses, wafers, corn flakes, milk and omelettes. Due to waking up late, we missed the view of the hot air balloons filling up the Cappadocia sky but had 2 floating into our view towards the end of our breakfast just to cheer us up! Sometimes that is enough to make up a memory that brings a smile to your face.
After freshening up we headed to the Ihlara valley which is a canyon of about 100 m depth formed 1000s of years ago by the Melendiz River. It extends to 14 km making 26 bends along the way so one can only imagine how large the area is.
Unless you’ve several days in Cappadocia this is one place you may benefit from either limiting yourself or taking a guide along to visit a few spots to get an idea of the space. Despite the heat, it is a pleasant place to wander with the river flowing by your side and the pistachio and poplar trees providing some respite.
Byzantine monks and Christians fleeing the Roman army dug their houses and churches since the 7th century out of the stone deposited by the volcanic Mount Hasan. It’s said that due to multiple languages spoken in the region, low literacy rate and knowledge of Latin the illustrations within these churches were used to aid understanding of Christianity. Depending on one’s interest and energy levels one can easily spend an entire day out here stumbling upon caves and the 105 churches to explore at every turn. We, however, had limited time and decided to check out 3 of them.
The serpent church: The paintings in this church are relatively very well preserved. The walls of the church are full of scenes from the bible- the Ascension of Jesus, the Crucifixion, the last supper and scenes of Mary with the infant Jesus, myriad prophets. However the name of the church itself – in addition to patterns of intertwined snakes on the ceiling, comes from the scene of 4 women attacked by snakes.
- 1 for leaving her children
- 2nd from not feeding the children
- 3rd being bitten on the tongue for slander
- And the 4th because of her “disobedience”
It’s interesting how women-specific these sins seem to be. As an articulate modern woman, all I have to say to it is..Pbbbbtt…
Sumbullu(Jacinth) church: The exterior of the churches gave us flashbacks of the Ajanta caves especially with its structure that was 2 storeys high. Below was the church, also with numerous frescoes and above was a long room. From there you get a nice view of the canyon walls.
Agacalti (daniel pantonassa) church: A surprisingly large amount of the frescoes on the ceilings are still visible in lovely shades of red, blue, yellow and white. In addition to the scenes from the Bible, it had an abundance of angels on the ceilings and more prophets on the walls.
Kaymaklı Nevşehir Merkez
In a search for directions and lunch, we stumbled upon a charming restaurant and were treated with the sweetest smile from an Afghani waiter on knowing we were from India. With the babbling brook beside and the quacking of happy ducks in their waters for company, we enjoyed our meal and then made our way to Kaymakli .
At a depth of 200 ft depth Derinkuyu underground city is the deepest multi-level underground city in Turkey and Kaymakli is the widest. Both are connected through tunnels of several miles in length. Due to limited time, we just headed to Kaymakli since it was the closest to where we were. The concept of an underground city itself takes a moment to fathom for those of us hearing of it for the very first time. This space housed 3500 people along with their livestock and food storage. The 80 feet deep ventilation shaft was meant to get sufficient oxygen to the residents but they made me nervous since I couldn’t but think of horrific scenarios where it could get blocked. The stone was said to naturally absorb smoke thereby allowing them to cook indoors. The residents even made wine indoors, had a well for their needs of water, had churches and schools too. One of the large stones had 57 holes carved into it for copper ore to be poured into and hammered with rocks via a pre-historic metallurgical process.
The space was optimized for security with a long list of features not limited to
- narrow tunnels that you (still) need to crouch through so enemy soldiers can only attack in a single file.
- All water sources self-contained so that it all couldn’t be poisoned at one time.
- Peepholes on entrances that could only be opened from inside.
Note: Supposedly the Kaymakli underground city tunnels are steeper, narrower and more inclined than Derinkyu. If you’ve any form of claustrophobia we’d strongly advise against visiting either of these spaces.
Even when it was not occupied by people to live in, the underground cities continued to be used for housing animals, food storage and as a winery due to the stable indoor temperatures. It is not completely clear who first built the underground city, however, Christians and Cappadocian Greeks used this place as a refuge at various times against Muslim-Arab raids, Mongolian attacks, Turkish-Muslim rulers. Unfortunately despite that, even in the early 20th century, thousands of Greek Christians had been massacred and therefore forced to leave Cappadocia and abandon their underground refuge.
Personally, we found this place extremely moving- on one hand one cannot but admire the ingenuity of the design of space while on the other it’s heartbreaking that humans can drive their own into a situation so desperate as to need to use it. We felt extremely privileged to have the opportunity to see this place and hopefully learn from it-if nothing else, as a reminder of the continued need for tolerance and humanity.
Meanwhile, we hadn’t realised how time flew and had just enough time for freshening up in record time and getting to our bus to Ephesus.