Cappadocia’s beauty is surreal. Our first day in the area reflected the cold clammy weather we’d endured back in Istanbul, but we lucked out with two exceptional days of sun for the rest of our time here.
Cappadocia’s lunar-like landscape, with its vast stretches of varying rock formations and plains, vaguely reminded me a bit of when I lived for a few years in New Mexico and of last year’s visit to Tibet. Cappadocia’s considered one of the top places to ride a hot air balloon in the world, which would excite me more had I not already been familiar with the International Hot Air Balloon Festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was too bad we weren’t able to ride a hot air balloon in Cappadocia due to strong winds on our rest day, but we were happy to see some lift off from our vantage point during a tour of the Red Valley.
Uchisar Rock Fortress
At one point, Cappadocia was the largest province of the roman empire. This fortress was strategically carved into the natural volcanic rock at the highest peak in the area and served as a defensive point for the Roman army garrisoned there to guard both villagers in nearby Uchisar and the goods traveling along the Silk Road.
Pigeon Valley (Guvercinlik Vadisi)
Not far from Uchisar Fortress is an area where locals once raised pigeons by carving dovecotes into the cliffs and rocks in the gorge. These pigeons served a wide variety of uses from messengers to providers of fertilizer through their droppings. Eggs were used in the plaster mixture for making the beautiful frescoes adorning the walls of the old Byzantine cave churches in the area.
Now a days, people prefer to use more efficient means of store-bought fertilizer and government mail service, but there are still some pigeons nesting in the cliffsides.
For a small fee, one could even buy birdseed and spend some time feeding a flock that would repeatedly fly around in a circle before landing close by (for the benefit of the tourists, I’m sure).
Kaymakli Ancient Multi-Level Underground City
I have to admit, I was a bit nervous (but excited!) when our guide asked our small group if anyone was claustrophobic as we’d be descending far underground into some cramped narrow tunnels.
Opened to the public in 1964, the underground ancient city of Kaymakli is one of 36 underground cities in Cappadocia. This is the widest of the cities, going as deep as 200 feet (61 meters) below ground. It dates back to the time of the Hittites (1600-1200 BC), an ancient civilization that rivaled the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians. Fun fact: they were the first civilization to smelt iron! Kaymakli offered its inhabitants (estimates range up from 3,500 to 20,000 people over the centuries) protection from attacking forces and easy escape routes.
Out of the 8 floors, only four were open to us. It was really neat to get a feel for how the people lived here without running water and electricity. Our guide stated that they’d spend months at a time underground, shown in the remnants left of scorch marks and wax from candles and torches. There were spaces carved for livestock, storage, wineries, latrines, cooking, prayer rooms…basically anything needed for maintaining a lifestyle. I enjoyed hearing stories of Indiana Jones-like booby traps with heavy rotating stone wheel doors and arrows.
At five feet (152 cm), I fit perfectly in the underground tunnels and rooms, although I did have to double over for one long stretch of tunnel. I would imagine those above five foot five or so (167 cm) would need to bend quite a bit to get to some of the areas.
Red and Rose Valley
This day culminated with more panoramic views. This area received its romantic name from natural hues of its rock.
There’s so much to this area that we didn’t have time to see in the three days we were here. I can only imagine how magnified the beauty of the place is in the Spring and Summer. However, the nice thing about coming during the winter off season is not having to shove our way through crowds of other tourists and getting to enjoy taking our time exploring and learning about ancient cultures. I would highly recommend visiting here if the opportunity arises!