17-20 September 2015.
1. Strange and Spectacular Landscape: Cappadocia covers an area in central Turkey about 400 kilometres (250 m) from east to west and 250 kilometres (160 m) from north to south. The entire expanse is semi-arid with sparse rainfall. Each day we are there it is hot and dry. It feels like a harsh parched desert peppered with rock formations from another world.
The pinnacles are affectionately called “fairy chimneys”. Travelling the area we discover that they are everywhere.
2. Pigeons: There are also pigeons everywhere. I’ve heard them described as rats with feathers. There are always pigeons, wherever we go. We take them for granted. We would have barely noticed them here in Cappadocia except that their feet are covered in feathers.
Then we learn of their special importance in this part of the world. Pigeons were farmed for feathers and food, and trained to carry messages. Most importantly their dung was used as manure. The soil in Cappadocia is very infertile. Hundreds of years ago it was discovered that pigeon dung makes great fertilizer. As a result the window and door entrances of many of the old churches and monasteries were walled up to create pigeon coops. Niches and small holes were carved in the walls for the birds. Through a small doorway, sealed with a wooden door, once a year, the dung was cleared out and used for fertilizer.
Cappadocia is known for its excellent apricots, and to this day some farmers use pigeon dung as fertilizer claiming it is the reason for the exceptional taste of their fruit. I eat local dried apricots with my breakfast every morning. They are really good.
3. Uchisar Castle: Just five kilometres from Goreme is Uchisar with its impressive castle that dominates the skyline. It’s a tall volcanic outcrop that’s visible for miles and which, unsurprisingly, was used by the Romans as a fortress. It’s riddled with rooms and tunnels and stairways, and it’s possible to climb to the top. Villagers used it for centuries as a place of refuge when there were warring factions on the plains below. We don’t climb up to the top. The view of it at sunset is rewarding enough.
4. The Evil Eye: Everywhere we go there are blue discs for sale. They range in size from tiny, about five millimetres (1/4 of an inch) across, to ten centimetres (four inches). These talismans, known as nazars, are to protect against the evil eye: a curse cast by a malevolent glare. Many cultures throughout the world and throughout time, believe that bad luck will befall a person who has been given the evil eye, and Turkey is no exception. Nazars are found in houses and vehicles, and worn as beads. We were given tiny ones.
5. Byzantine Churches: Three young shepherd boys, taking refuge from stormy weather, are inside an abandoned cave church. The only religion they know is Islam and they have been taught that the depiction of any images in a sacred space is sinful. On the rock wall in front of them there are frescoes left from Christian times long before they were born. They are using the face of one of the Christian saints as target practice. Over and over they hurl pebbles at the face, seeing who can do the most damage. It’s fun. They’re out of the weather, their flocks are huddled out of the wind, and they get to while away the time practicing their aim. It’s a common occurrence in the cave churches of Cappadocia after they were abandoned in 1923 when the orthodox Christians were expelled from Turkey in a population exchange with Greece.
The Goreme Open Air Museum, is a vast collection of Byzantine churches, chapels and monasteries carved from the rock cones and chimneys dating from the tenth century. There are scores of refectories, each with it’s own church. It began as a Byzantine monastic settlement that housed about twenty monks. By the seventeenth century it had become an important place of pilgrimage. The medieval orthodox Christian monks carved into the soft rock creating homes and places of worship. Gradually more and more were created as Christians sought refuge here, and later came as pilgrims. The monks decorated the churches with frescoes.
Weather, earthquakes, and shepherd boys like those mentioned above have damaged many of the cave churches, but the most beautiful still survives. The church known as Karanlık Kilise, the dark church, has very few windows, and it is this lack of light that helped preserve the magnificent frescoes, which have recently been restored to their original splendour.
6. Hittite Wine Jugs: About 3600 years ago the Hittites established an empire in what is now Anatolia in central Turkey. They worshiped Ra, the sun god. To honour their god the Hittites designed their traditional wine jugs in the image of the sun, or a big O. The hole in the middle allows the jug to be carried on the shoulder for pouring. It also means that the server pouring wine for the king is forced to bow down as he pours. These beautifully handcrafted pieces are still made and used in Cappadocia today. Wine has always been important in Turkey. According to legend, after the flood when Noah’s ark came to rest on Mt Ararat one of the first things he did was plant a vineyard. Mount Ararat is very close to Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. This part of the world is thought to be the place of origin of the wild vine species vitis vinifera sylvestris, from which all domestic vines are derived.
We are taken to a large outlet for traditional Turkish pottery where a master potter demonstrates the process of making the Hittite wine jug. The pot is made in pieces – top, body, bottom, and circle, and then the pieces are joined together.
Making the circle:
After completing the jug,
he slices through the soft clay with a wire so we can see the inside.
After firing the jugs are hand painted in traditional designs.
7. Turkish Carpets: Marco Polo reported that the best and finest carpets were produced in Turkey. It could probably be argued that they still are. They are made with silk, wool or cotton, or a mixture. Rugs are hand woven on a loom:
In the showroom rug after rug after rug is spread on the floor before us. They come in all sizes, and every colour.
From Goreme we catch the chicken bus without the chickens to Kaiseri Airport and fly to Istanbul.
Next couple of posts: All about Istanbul. The sights and sounds of the markets and bazaars. What women wear. A couple of beautiful mosques. The waterfront by day, and by night. Agia Sofia. Nargile pipes. A brilliant dance performance. Public displays of affection – or not. And much more.
Goreme Open Air Museum
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2016.