Scenes from an alien world
Every now and again you find yourself in a place that seems like part of some alien landscape – somewhere not quite Earthly. Cappadocia is just such a place. This strange and spectacular landscape is fascinating and had us entranced today as we toured around the major sites in the region.
Cappadocia is a land of vast plains, rolling hills, rugged mountains and extinct volcanoes. Today it is famous for its unique landscape of valleys and unusual rock formations, known as “fairy chimneys”. These pillars of rock were formed over the past 9 million years from volcanic debris laid down by 3 large volcanoes located on the edges of this region. The layers of ash, lava and basalt were gradually eroded by wind, rain and snow to create the fairy chimneys and unique rock formations so characteristic of the region.
The harsh Cappadocian climate*, with its sharp changes of temperature, heavy rains and melting snow in the spring, played an important role in the formation of the landscape. Water that found its way into cracks froze in winter and caused fragmentation; the heavy spring rains transformed the smooth surface of the plateau into a complex pattern of gullies; and eroded materials were then removed by rivers and streams, leaving only smooth pillars of soft rock.
*Summer temperatures regularly reach 50C here and in mid-winter it often drops to -30C. It often snows in winter, the air here is incredibly dry and the winds can be very strong. Not an easy climate to live with!
As the rock below the top layer of basalt is extremely soft, it can be easily carved away. The various peoples who have lived in this region over the centuries took advantage of this and made their homes in the rock pillars and under the ground. Today, we saw examples of underground and cave homes, churches and whole cities. It was amazing!
The name Cappadocia dates back to Hittite times, when the region was called as katpatukya meaning “Land of the Beautiful Horses”. Since that time the region has seen the rise and fall of many different civilisations and cultures – from the Persians, to the early Christians, Greeks, Romans, and later, the Turks. It is the cave churches left by the early Christian inhabitants of the region that had us most fascinated today. These carved-from-rock chapels date back to the 9th century and contained some amazing, ancient frescos.
Cappadocia also contains several underground cities – initially used by the Hittites to hide form invading Persians, and then by early Christians as hiding places before Christianity became an accepted religion. Today we visited the underground city of Kaymakli, which extends 8 levels below ground and is a warren of small rooms carved out of the rock and tight, steeply sloping tunnels. We took a guided tour down to the 4th level below ground and it was quite claustrophobic down there at times, but fascinating to see how people lived, down there far below the ground. There were living quarters, ventilation chimneys, food storage areas, communal kitchens and well shafts for water, all carved out by hand and interconnected to form a labyrinth of stone.
One of the most interesting thing about Kaymakli was the vast defence networks of traps laid out across the levels. These traps were very creative, including such devices as large round stones to block doors and holes in the ceiling through which the defenders may drop spears. These defence systems helped protect the inhabitants and ensured the community prospered; at its peak Kaymakli is believed to have been home to over 15,000 people.
It was great seeing so much of Cappadocia today and we’re keen to explore more of it tomorrow – starting with an air-borne exploration from a hot air balloon! We’ve booked ourselves on a dawn flight over the Goreme Valley, where most of the fair chimneys, underground cities and cave dwellings/churches are. Will let you know how that went tomorrow…