Visiting History......4 . CAPPADOCIA
It was more Moonscape or Mars-scape than landscape. In any case , it certainly looked nothing like the lush green meadows and apricot groves we had passed by, just half an hour ago. Under a severely bright blue sky, the terrain was all grey, offwhite, pink and brown. Against a backdrop of weirdly folded hill ranges, battalions of giant anthills rose up, filling the whole valley . It looked like a scene straight out of .......
"Star Wars !" Declared the Guide proudly ! " Parts of the epic movie were shot here !"
No wonder !
But the location that served as the canvas for a futuristic sci-fi movie is actually millions of eons old. All those "ant hills ", commonly called Fairy Chimneys ( technically called Hoodoos) , are the handiwork of Nature who used only wind and melted snow patiently for ages to sculpt fantastic shapes out of the prodigious quantities of TUFF ( soft rock of compacted Volcanic ash, sand and gravel ) thrown up by the ancient volcanoes, Mt. Erciyes, Mt.Hasan and Mt.Melendiz
Camp : URGUP, Nevshahir Province. Hotel : Dedeli Konagi : a boutique inn carved into the tufa, with brick and mortar construction used only for the bathrooms. A comfy cave to please the choosiest troglodyte !
Cappadocia, in Central Anatolia, is as much a place of historical importance as a geological wonder. The 1000m. high plateau between The Taurus Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, was once known as Hatti, the seat of The Hittites and later invaded by Persians, Greeks, Armenians, Arabs and the Byzantines. The name Kapadokya denotes the beautiful horses that were bred and traded here during Hellenistic times.
Cappadocia, consisting of many small towns, is revered as an early nursery of Christianity. The spectacular volcanic rock formations around Goreme , Zelve, Uchisar, Devrent Valley, Cavusin etc. were used by early Christians to make cave dwellings and secret churches . Hundreds of caves can be seen , cut into the eerie looking "cones" and "minarets" created by erosion of the tuff. The weather being dry and cool throughout the year, the caves were used as storage houses for grain and fruit even upto modern times. Today, The Goreme Milli Parklar ( National Park) is a UNESCO World Heritage site attracting millions of visitors.
Other than rock cut dwellings, stables, warehouses etc, there are about 25 cave churches of varying ages in this area. Some have primitive wall paintings done in ochre, lime and lamp soot, while the more advanced ones have murals in vegetable pigments. One church in particular, Tokali Kilise, has beautiful murals covering every inch of the interiors. As there are no inscriptions of any kind in these shrines, they are all named for any painted object unique to the particular cave. Names like " Church of Apple", Church of Buckle", "Church of Serpent" etc.
In Uchisar , the most stunning feature is the Uchisar Castle, an enormous rock formation, with multistoried caves ! It looks like something out of Fairy Tales.
Avanos, an ancient town by The Red River, has been a center for Terra Cotta craft since 3000BC and has workshops which give educational tours about the history and techniques the place is famous for. Urns and Jars are artistically displayed all over the town and also on the banks of the River whose bed supplies the fine clay for the craft.
The best part of the Cappadocia tour was the visit to the Underground City in Kaymakli. This is the largest of the 40 underground cave cities unearthed here and goes eight floors down into the earth, each floor having dozens of "rooms", storage vaults, kitchens, stables, catacombs, shrines and community halls. ( Visitors are allowed only upto 4 floors down) All are just caves dug into the soft rock and interconnected by a series of low, narrow passages , some with false leads and blind ends ( a ruse to confuse intruders) To pass through these labyrinthine passageways and emerge successfully, we need a good guide, a good back that can withstand prolonged crouching, good sense of balance to negotiate the stepped levels in a bent-double position, and a good constitution to resist claustrophobia !
It was very interesting to see the remnants of ancient life here, like the mill stone ( the kind still in use in India !), the metal smelting platforms, blackened "stove"hollows, circular stone "doors", niches to stock barrels of fermenting wine etc. The most ingenious device : the vertical, open shafts that run through all floors from the upper ground level, with small "ducts" opening into each level. This provides the much needed ventilation .
Not much is known about these underground cities except the fact that they were first inhabited by the Hittites ( around 2000BC) and later by early Christians who escaped persecution by Romans, Arabs and Pagan invaders by "going Underground" literally ! It is said that this underground city could shelter around 5000 people comfortably !
A 3 km. walk through Devrent Valley is a pleasant exercise, both physically and mentally. The odd , fantastic shapes wrought by erosion arouses the imagination and we see a pair of camels here, a mother cuddling her baby there, Virgin Mary in prayer, a bird ready for flight , even Napoleon's Hat, all petrified into giant statues ! The beaten paths are strewn with small wild bushes bearing brilliantly coloured blooms.
PS : All that rockery and cave dwellings in Goreme brought to mind some beloved story book characters . And before we could say Yaba daba doo, what should we see but a piece of bark announcing "The Flintstones Cave Bar !"( backpackers haunt).