Monday, November 5, 2012
At a geographical short but culturally enormous distance from Istanbul, we found Cappadocia, a part of Turkey that might as well be on the moon. I mean that not only because of the terrain, which is geologically bizarre and the reason many tourists visit, but because at the time that Constantinople was the crossroads of the world, producing glorious art and artifacts, people in Cappadocia were living in caves.
Granted they had reason. Early Christian communities were under attack from the rise of Islam in the area and armies tended to sweep across this lunar landscape on their way hither and yon. Faced with limited choice of building materials, the inhabitants tended to set up communities in the holes in the tufa landscape.
Hermits and monks, a category of people who seek out solitude, found plenty of isolated spaces in the bizarre "mushrooms" the wind left behind. Layers of soil eroded at different speeds, producing villages of...well...whatever you think they look like.
In some of the more typical hillsides, non-religious communities took up residence in the holes provided and enlarged them, sometimes to the extent of multi-story towns dug into the ground. The "underground cities" had elaborate ventilation systems and entrance/exit protection.
The hillside villages eventually collapsed and inhabitants were moved into more conventionally built houses on flat surfaces. What I had trouble understanding is why it never seemed to occur to them once the immediate danger was over about a millenium ago that they could build houses?
Some of the cave dwellings have recently become very expensive second homes for city dwellers once modern conveniences were added. I was told that one of these would sell for $1 million nowadays. We spent three nights in a cave hotel, in a room carved from living stone. No thanks.
You can climb up into some of the cave churches, some of which have spectacular paintings on the walls, which unfortunately we were not allowed to photograph. Most however were little more than primitively adorned caves, which sheltered these people for centuries.
For those of you who, like me, love coming across odd signage, here are a couple.
And so as the sun sets in the west (you remember those old travelogues that all ended that way, I hope? No? Oh well...) we leave warm and sunny Turkey behind and spend a long day getting back to Paris and rain.