Day 13 Cappadocia and the Goreme Open Air Museum

Today was the first day since I have been in this country that I didn’t see it as similar to somewhere else I have been back in the US. Today, Turkey was only Turkey, Turkiye’ as it is called here. Today we woke to fog in Urgup, in the central part of the Cappadocia region, but by the time we began our explorations, the fog began to lift. This place is surreal, like no other. I know I am behind, it is midnight right now after a day that started at 6am, and no, I haven’t had time to keep up with the stories. But I do have the photos, and the stories will have to fill in later. For now, just check out this magical landscape and these amazing chapels in the carved out caves of Cappadocia.
Ten million years ago, volcanic eruptions from Mt. Erciyes and Mt. Hasan blanketed this limestone plateau in central Turkey with ash and lava. When they mixed with water, the result was a mud-like substance that slowly hardened into a soft rock called tufa or here in the west we call it tuff.

Centuries of erosion from rain, wind, and flooding from the Kizilirmak River shaped this tufa into a striking, surreal moonscape of cone-shaped pinnacles and towers, all in a variety of lovely hues. One of the region’s most unusual geological features, the peribacalari (fairy chimneys), formed when boulders of hard basalt trapped on the surface shielded the soft underlying tufa from erosion.

The holy grottoes of Cappadocia once housed the largest community of Christian monks in Asia Minor. From here missionaries spread the Christian faith as far as Ethiopia. Some 300 beautifully frescoed churches and dwellings for 30,000 people were carved from the soft volcanic pinnacles between the 4th and 14th centuries. I was awestruck by the maze of cones, windows, and chimneys built directly into the malleable rock. Beneath these fanciful shapes lie even more wonders—underground chambers, even entire villages, some 14 stories deep!

Residents fashioned bedrooms, churches, and storerooms from the rock, connecting it all with an elaborate labyrinth of passageways. We saw a host of churches carved more than 1,300 years ago, still boasting lovely frescoes. Some of the houses remain occupied today, and some of the ancient storehouses still provide shelter for grapes harvested from local vineyards.

Waking up in the Perissia Hotel was a delight, even though the morning was foggy. This was my favorite hotel, even though it wasn’t as new or as fancy as the suite we had it Antalya, it was charming and roomy, with pale lemon colored walls with rose accents, lots of windows with dark mahogany woodwork, and antique porcelain fixtures. We could see the dry brown landscape of Cappadocia through the fog, but had no real clue as to the wonders that awaited us on this day.

I have seen photos of this place, read a lot about it, looked at websites describing it, but again there is nothing that can really begin to describe what it feels like to be in a world of houses carved out of rock. It’s like some kind of fairy land, or something you might have dreamed once. It is the reason why travel can never be replaced by writing or talking or looking at the pictures. You just have to be there.

We explored the Pigeon Valley, and took photos of some of the amazing shapes formed by the erosion of the volcanic tuff with the volcano that made all this ash looming above the landscape. As the fog cleared we made several stops at viewpoints a long the way for short hikes and more photos, and for some of us, more jewelry shopping. Then on to Goreme’, the outdoor museum of churches and chapels that were carved into the stone. The caves have existed for a few thousand years, but in the time between the 6th and 13th century they were used as chapels for the early Christian church. The paintings from the earlier periods are primitive, mainly done in a terra cotta red, but as the caves became more sophisticated, the art developed as well, and the Byzantine and Iconoclastic frescoes painted in the interiors of these caves was incredible.

I have said this before, but again I am discovering why I am not a professional travel writer. I am completely out of adjectives. This trip has drained my skills completely dry. I walk around trying to remember to keep my jaw from dropping all the time, and just am at a loss for words. Cappadocia has to be experienced. Nothing else will do.

We had a decent supper in the hotel before going out in the evening to a remote location where a large restaurant was carved into the rock, mainly for the tourist busses I am sure, but it was still fun. The folklore show was interesting, but because there were so many visitors from so many countries there weren’t any kind of announcements about where the different dances were from, which was a bit disappointing. The men were the stars of the show in this case, with some amazing feats of dancing, including that Russian looking thing where they kick their feet out from a sitting position. I still don’t know for sure if that is really a Turkish thing or a Russion thing. The women were demure and certainly outdone my the men in these traditional dances, but they did perform one tribal belly dance that was fun because I knew all the moves from my belly dancing days. Later in the evening we had a cabaret style Egyptian belly dancer who was really quite good, with some top notch shimmies and belly rolls. She wore very high heels though, which was also a bit strange, but I guess it’s to please the men.

We ended this long day winding in the very dark landscape in a very big bus with a bunch of tired people back to the hotel via some weird short cut. Getting in after midnight made us really glad that the next day was going to be a late one.