Published: November 14th 2008August 23rd 2007
Deeper into the Earth
Another of the tiny tunnels at the underground city.
Any traveler that has ever considered a trip to Turkey has at least heard of Cappadocia. It is a famous place because of its strange, early Christian history and unique, subterranean architecture. It is a sparse landscape of unsurpassed beauty and boundless mystery located in central Turkey and it is the perfect place for any adventurous tourist to explore at a leisurely pace, provided that they are not too claustrophobic. Everything I had heard about Cappadocia excited me greatly. Being a troglodyte at heart, the stories of intricately decorated rock-cut churches, mysterious subterranean cities reaching several levels underground and the virtually unknown, thousand year old culture that built it all made my imagination run wild.
My excitement began to build when the maniacal bus driver slammed the bus into a lower gear, throwing us forward in our seats, and the motor started to whine as it labored to slow the bus down for the approaching hairpin curves of the steep grade that led into Gorem, the town I had chosen as a base for my exploration of the area. The sun had already started its descent, but there was enough light to see the amazing landscape. Everywhere I looked there
A Surreal Landscape
The conical peaks and mysterious passages made Cappadocia an amazing place to explore.
were grayish, heavily weathered bluffs and ravines and surreal, conical spires. The landscape alone was enough to make my jaw drop in awe, but there was something else - Small dark openings dotted the features and led into the black subterranean world. Many of the openings were still being used as homes or store rooms, but many more seemed completely inaccessible, located at impossible heights above precipitous drops - I had expected the passages, but my imagination had gone in a considerably different, less grand direction. When we reached the bottom of the hill the driver pulled off of the road into a parking lot in the center of town.
I gathered my stuff and I got my bearings straight and then I set off in the direction of the hostel that had been recommended to me. After ten minutes of winding my way up a narrow alley surrounded by ancient homes and fairy chimney hotels I found the place I was looking for and I walked inside. There were two backpackers in front of me at the desk and I heard the man behind the counter tell them that they were completely full and that they could wait
if they wanted to see if the reserved guests showed up or not. They took a seat at a festive little seating area and I stepped up to the counter. He knew that I had heard his discussion with the other two people, so he said that I could wait as well, but that I would probably be better off going down to another hostel that still had space. I set off again. I retraced my steps back down the hill to town and then I followed a small, empty creek towards the back of town. I walked past several tourist shops, including one that had several lovely carpets on display, and then I found the place I was looking for. The Rock Valley Pension was located in a palatial two-story building built out of lovely white stone. I walked through the grand, arched entryway and into the lush back ‘courtyard’ area. A young Turkish man came out of the office and shook my hand and said, “Welcome” in good English - It was becoming clear that I was back on the tourist trail and, oddly enough, I wasn’t too disappointed about it. I got a bed in one of
The Canyon Land
The scenery around Goreme was stunning.
the large dorm rooms on the top floor, I stashed my bags and I set off to explore the town. I ended up eating a nice dinner on the second floor balcony of an atmospheric tourist restaurant located on the main road and then I set off to find dessert. I retraced my steps to a tiny sidewalk pastry shop that had a lovely view of the town’s centerpiece, a lovely fairy chimney with a broken colonnaded façade in a large niche about half way up. I sat there for a few hours eating baklava and sipping tea while I watched the town go by - It was a lovely evening and a perfect way to start my time in Cappadocia.
I started the next day early with big plate of French toast at the hostel. As I ate breakfast in the nice seating area I began to notice an annoying aspect of the Cappadocia area. At first it started as a large, demented fly buzzing around my head, but as I ate I started noticing that everyone in the room was swatting at the flies. As the morning progressed the flies got worse and worse until there was
The Hole in the Floor
I gained access to the kitchen by pulling myself up through this hole using hand holds carved into the rock.
an entire squadron of enormous black flies dive-bombing everyone in the room. I asked one of the men that worked at the hostel and he said that they were a normal part of the countryside - Later in the day I would get better acquainted with them in a way straight out of a horror movie. As I sat and ate I talked with the others in the room about what to do in the area. It became clear that the best way to see the sights was just to set off on foot and explore, so that is what I decided to do. I finished breakfast, went up to the room and made some water and then I set off to explore in an area that was unanimously called the most beautiful area in Goreme.
I walked east following the road out of town towards the massive Goreme Valley and the distant Rose Canyon. The whole area was part of a large national park, but people still lived throughout the area. Because of that, I had asked the man at the hostel about the proper etiquette regarding exploring the canyons. He basically told me that anything goes as
I don't know if this room actually served as a kitchen, but it looked like one to me so that is the name I gave it.
long as I didn’t trample the crops or enter the subterranean chambers that were being lived in or used (he told me that those would be very obvious.) I was excited, because I was pretty much free to go wherever I wanted. I found a footpath that led away from the road towards a large group of fairy chimneys that were standing near the closest edge of the canyon system. It didn’t take long before I was out of sight of the road. I was walking through a large expanse of tall, golden grass that was crisscrossed with sandy paths and dotted with planted fields of leafy green plants. I had sweeping views of the distant canyon-lands, which were glowing with a pinkish hue in the early morning light. The first fairy chimney I came to had a set of stairs leading up to a closed and locked door - I supposed that meant that it was occupied, so I continued walking. At that point the landscape changed dramatically. A series of low, rounded ridges and hills rose up and blocked all view of the canyon. Large conical peaks with steep sides rose up all around me. Some of them
Looking Through the Hole in the Ceiling
This was the view up into the third room, from the kitchen, in the amazing dwelling near Goreme.
were standing as solitary giants, alone in the lovely planted fields, and others were standing close together forming sheer bluffs of gray stone. All of them had one thing in common - They were dotted with mysterious openings, many of which were several stories above the ground. I was baffled as I walked through the surreal landscape. How did they build the openings so far off of the ground? Some of the openings could have been reached by a series of pockets that had been carved into the rock forming a ladder of sorts, but most of them were too badly worn to use and nearly all of them were too high for my nerves to allow climbing without a rope. I managed to find a few openings that were close to the ground and closer inspection revealed massive rooms within the rock.
I walked around a large bluff and entered a small, picturesque valley. It was bound on one side by a low, rounded ridge that swept around in a gradual arc. The remainder of the valley was bound by a series of closely spaced, jagged peaks. One of those peaks in particular caught my eye. A well
A Palace in the Rock
The small, dark opening in the central most fairy chimney is the doorway into the three level dwelling that I explored on the first day.
worn path wound its way through the lovely planted field that occupied the valley floor and then climbed up the bluff to a small opening in a perfectly conical peak. There was no door obstructing the opening, so I decided to take a look. I followed the slippery path up the sloping foot of the valley and came to a stop at the dark opening. There were a few very old blocks of stone piled up at the entrance, forming a sort of stairway - It appeared that, a long time ago, the blocks had sealed the recessed opening. I cautiously stuck my head into the opening and said, “Hello”, but there was no answer. Closer inspection of the interior made it clear that nobody was living inside or using it for anything other than exploration, so I decided to take a look. I climbed through the opening into the dark interior and then I stood there a moment allowing my eyes to get accustomed to the darkness. I was standing in the recessed entryway of a surprisingly large room. To my immediate left, a mysterious block wall that looked very old blocked off an opening through the monolithic wall,
This is a fine example of the type of rock-cut churches located in the Cappadocia area, though this one is plainly decorated compared to many.
possibly to a lower section that was inadvertently dug into when the former owners built the place, or maybe something far more interesting. I climbed up a big step that led to the raised floor of the main part of the room and I walked up the oddly sloping floor, stooping down to keep from bumping my head on the ceiling - It didn’t take me long to realize that the original floor was actually concealed beneath a huge mound of dirt that had been accumulating for a long time, possibly centuries. Light was pouring into the room from a partially sealed opening on the far side of the room. When I got to the opening I made an exciting discovery - I found a hole in the nicely carved ceiling that led up to a second level within the peak. The hole revealed that the floor of the room above was around two feet thick. I set my bag down and I stepped up on a rock that had been placed there for the purpose and I tried to find a way to get up there. I noticed that the side of the hole had hand and foot holds
This is the beautifully carved inner room of the first church I found in Goreme.
carved into it that formed a ladder of sorts, so I grabbed my bag and pushed it up above my head as I began the climb. I managed to get up high enough to push the bag onto the floor above me and then I pulled myself up, at first using just my arms. The second floor was amazing. It was slightly smaller than the floor below, undoubtedly to account for the sloping sides of the conical peak it was built into, but it was still large and it was considerably more interesting. The room was well lit due to the strong sunlight pouring in through another partially sealed opening. The room was built in the shape of a ‘U’ with a monolithic partition in the center that rose just shy of the ceiling. The floor was recessed in places and every wall of the room was carved with two horizontal rows of rectangular niches - I decided to call the room the kitchen, partially because it looked like a kitchen. A portion of the ceiling in the ‘kitchen’ had collapsed revealing yet another level in the amazing structure. The third room was considerably smaller than the lower two and
Another View of the Church
I was very impressed by the interior of this church - It is sad to know that I missed the best examples of the rock-cut churches.
there was a single, monolithic column supporting the ceiling. The room also had another sealed door with small windows in it for light as well as another small opening in the floor that led to the kitchen - That hole may have been for a chimney, because there was another hole directly above it that, at one time, may have continued outside. I sat in the kitchen completely awe struck, lost in my imagination. I had expected to find small, plain rooms hollowed out of the rock, suitable for only a basic existence, but not subterranean palaces several stories high. My excitement was building. The multitude of seemingly inaccessible openings meant that there were subterranean rooms and passages crisscrossing the interior of all of the surreal, weather-sculpted features and I was anxious to explore them all. I lowered myself back down through the hole in the floor to the first level and then I emerged back into the sunlight, my urge to explore was newly invigorated, so I set off to look into the rest of the opening in the surrounding bluffs.
Half an hour later I ended up with another surprise. I had been clambering in and out
A Fairy Chimney
The conical peaks, formed by wind and water erosion, have become known as fairy chimneys. Many of them have been hollowed out by an industrious ancient race of troglodytes.
of the countless tunnels and rooms that honeycombed the bluffs. I was having an amazing time - Some of the passages had second floors and many of those were reachable with a bit of effort, but many more were too heavily exposed for me to even consider. I was back on the ground outside when I ducked into another fairly plain rectangular opening in the bluff. Inside I found not a home or a storage area, but a heavily decorated church! I was excited, because I had not expected to find anything so grand in the area. The main room was well lit, glowing bright white in the morning sun. The walls and ceilings were decorated with red lines and patterns and, on the back wall over a small doorway, there was a big red cross. The floor of the first room had a series of deep depressions that were partially covered over with stone slabs, or filled in with dirt. Though there were no remains inside them, it was clear that at one time they had served as crypts for the early Christians that had built the church. I climbed over the empty tombs and entered the dark chamber
Looking Across the Valley
The somewhat sparse canyon land is amazing to explore on foot.
in the back. It took me a few seconds to accustom my eyes to the darkness. Slowly the carved features of the room came into view. There were four square columns, complete with stylized capitols, which rose up to the ceiling in a series of intersecting arches. The ceiling itself was carved into a small dome and the back wall into a sort of altar area. In the dark shadows of the small room the carvings added a surreal touch. The room was painted in the same fashion as the first one, in places attempting to portray stone masonry construction by showing the mortar lines. I left the ancient church and headed up over the ridge next to the valley.
I was not quite sure how to get down to the valley floor, being that I had no map, so I followed the first well worn path I came to. The path was deeply recessed with a curving bottom, much like the bottom of a pipe or a bobsled track, and it was scarred with black rubber marks - I soon discovered that the marks were from the tires of the noisy ATVs that some of the tourists choose
A Defaced Saint
This is one of the vandalized saints I found in one of the churches in the area.
to rent. I followed the path for a long time. Eventually I emerged onto the rounded ridge where I had a sweeping view of the canyons. I scanned the area and couldn’t find a way down that didn’t require advanced mountaineering techniques. I arbitrarily picked the right path along the ridge and started walking. I spent the next half hour leisurely walking along the top of the bluff. I was lost in thought, contemplating the mysterious history of the area as well as other big mysteries, such as the location of Alexander’s tomb. The whole area along the top of the bluff I was walking on was planted with small leafy, green plants or with orchard trees. The different plots were separated with small patches of natural, yellow grass. It was a lovely area, but it was quickly becoming clear that I was slowly heading away from the canyons I was hoping to explore. I turned around and headed back the way I had come, briefly stopping to wave a greeting to a Turkish family that was working in one of the fields - They were clearly baffled as to why a tourist was up there wandering through their seemingly
This is the colonnaded tomb located in the center of Goreme. It is thought that the tomb was built much later than much of the surrounding dwellings.
uninteresting fields, but they smiled and waved just the same. I reached the spot where I had emerged onto the ridge and I continued in the other direction, where, just around a bend, I found a way down the bluff into the canyon.
At the bottom of the canyon there was a small tourist stand selling little trinkets, but it was deserted. I turned and followed a wide, sandy path between the planted fields. The very first fairy chimney I came to ended up being another impressive church. It took a bit of a climb to get to the opening, but I was glad I did. Inside I found a lovely, but badly vandalized, painting of a few saints. Their faces had been completely scratched away, something that was common with nearly every church I visited in the area, but the artistry was still very clear. I was sad that the paintings had been vandalized, but it was not surprising considering that images of people are considered idols and are forbidden in Islamic art - I am actually surprised that any part of the paintings has survived this long. I climbed down from the church using a gently sloping
The Entry Arch
Despite the problems I had with the hostel owners, the hostel itself was in a lovely stone building.
and considerably easier passage toward the rear of the room and then I continued into the canyon.
The next several hours went by in much the same fashion. As I got deeper into the canyon system the shear walls got closer together and the natural vegetation became more abundant. Everywhere I looked there were signs of ancient dwellings in the cliffs. Most of them were completely out of reach, though I tried to get to them every chance I got. I was in a mysterious wonderland, one of the coolest manmade places I had ever seen. In many places parts of the soft stone had broken away from the cliffs revealing parts of the ancient dwellings concealed inside - With a little searching it was not too difficult to match up the massive carved interior of the boulders to the broken dwelling in the cliff. I only managed to explore a few of the subterranean passages, mainly because most of them were built high off of the valley floor, possibly as a defensive position, or maybe due to the flood potential in the canyon. The mysterious wonders of the unreachable subterranean passages and rooms were not the only thing
This church was located just outside of the open air museum and gave me a small hint at what I was missing inside.
of interest in the canyon. All along the verdant valley floor signs of the great race of miners that once lived in the area were apparent. There were huge underwater basins still filled with water after centuries of limited use - I wasn’t able to confirm it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the basins could be reached from the dwellings via some unseen passage in the cliffs. There was also a series of huge tunnels that linked the different arms of the canyon system together. Now the trail passes through the tunnels, but I couldn’t tell if they had been built to simplify traveling in the canyon or as part of a huge hydrologic project, either way they were amazing to see.
I had been following the fairly undeveloped trail for a while when I came to a place where the tunnel had collapsed. I tried to get through, but it looked to be too dangerous and I decided to walk around though the forest instead. After a bit of searching I found the other end of the tunnel and I went inside to explore. It was pitch black inside and there was a distinct humming sound coming
More of that same church.
from the darkness. It must have been the hundredth time that day that I had regretted leaving my flashlight in the hostel, but, like the other times, I didn’t let it stop me. The humming sound slowly turned into an overwhelming buzzing sound as I got deeper into the darkness. Suddenly, when I had gotten close to the back of the tunnel, the buzzing erupted into an explosion of activity as a cloud of huge, blackish insects took flight in an instant, blotting out the light flowing in from the mouth of the tunnel. I had been completely engulfed in the writhing black cloud. The buzzing was deafening, much like the noise of a big waterfall. I had no idea what type of insect was surrounding me, so I automatically assumed the worst, bees or hornets, and I closed my mouth and held my breath as I ran as fast as I could though the cloud and into the open air of the canyon. The cloud, which turned out to be black flies, erupted after me and then, just as quickly, settled down and disappeared back into the darkness. The experience was exciting in a slightly demented kind of way,
The Slot Canyon
This is the view of the narrow slot canyon I explored on the day I was barred from the open air museum.
but it was a bit surprising as well. I had never experienced a cloud of flies of that proportion, even around the stench of the dead elephant in Africa - The tunnel had no bad smells, yet they choose to congregate there in amazing numbers. I moved on at a slightly quicker pace until I was well clear of the tunnel of the flies and then I slowed down again.
By the time my water had run out I was exploring the third side leg of the canyon. I was still having a ball, but it was a hot day and I knew I wouldn’t make it very long without water. I reluctantly started the long walk back to town, pausing briefly at the tourist shack in hopes of getting a bottle of water - It was still deserted! I made it back to town in the late afternoon. My first day of exploring had far exceeded my wildest expectations for the area and I was left exhausted, but looking forward to the coming days. I spent the rest of the evening relaxing and getting caught up on my chores. There was a bit of unpleasantness at the hostel
I think I Can!
This ancient tortoise wanted to get up the bluff very badly. He would climb up some and then slide back down and then do it all over again.
when I attempted to do some laundry and the badly aged and cracked handle to the drier broke off into my hand. Closer inspection revealed that the handle had been broken for some time, but I still decided to be honest and tell the hostel owner. My honesty turned into a major issue when the hostel owner said with a frown on his face, “This is a very big deal! It will be very costly for you!” He told me he would have to get back to me regarding the cost of the repairs (the handle wouldn’t have cost more than $25 back home.) Later that evening I found out from another employee at the hostel that the dryer hadn’t worked for more than a year and that the handle had been glued back together by the owner at that time without fixing the problem. I went back and removed the broken part and inspected the rest of the drier and everything that the man had told me was wrong with it was true - There were even a few big dents and rusty scratches where someone had tried to pry the door open. I was not at all happy,
This is the tortoise running from the annoying, camera happy tourist!
so I went to the owner and told him what I had found out (without giving up my source) and then I told him that I would not cover any repairs above a fair price for the broken handle - He just smiled and shrugged his shoulders and then he walked away, bringing an end to that unpleasantness. I spent the night around a big campfire with several other travelers and then I headed off to bed.
The next couple days were not overly spectacular. The first day was just a quiet day relaxing around town. I used my leisure time getting caught up on my reading. I met an American archaeologist and another girl at the hostel and, over lunch, we formulated plans for a small adventure for the following day. The archaeologist had rented a car from the hostel a few times to do some long distance exploration in the area. The three of us wanted to go and hike through the famous Ihlara Valley, an all day hike that takes you through a picturesque, sheer-walled valley filled with lovely rock-cut churches and other dwellings - I had learned of the place in Africa from a very
In the Small Valley
This is one of the nice looking plants that was growing in profusion in the canyons.
well traveled man who said it was the most amazing place he had ever been. I wanted to get there using public transport and spend the night in a local hotel, making it an overnight trip. The other two wanted to do it in a daytrip and the only way to do that was to get the car - I didn’t really like the idea after my experience with the dryer handle, but I decided to go along anyway. The following morning we got a late start because the car was being used by another group and they had not returned when they said they would. We finally loaded into the car around ten o’clock and set off out of town. We picked up a pair of Polish hitchhikers at the edge of town who were going our way and then we realized that we were out of gas. We made it to the next town, Nevsehir, and stopped at the first gas station we came to. We carefully looked at all of the fuel pumps and came to a stop at the one we thought was correct. The attendant came out and, using a bunch of sign language told
The Upper Levels
The upper two levels of the underground city were heavily developed for tourism. The lower two levels were a bit more original - Perhaps someday they will open more of the levels for exploration.
us that we were at the wrong pump and told us to move ahead. He then filled us up and we paid him and were on our way. Less than a minute after we pulled out of the station the car started pinging and bucking like a bronco - We all knew exactly what was wrong, so we quickly pulled off of the road at another gas station and shut the car off. Luck was with us. The gas station was closed for construction, but there was a group of men sitting there that were eager to help. The men knew exactly what had happened and, in a string of words that couldn’t have been nice, they cursed the man at the other station for deliberately deceiving us - We had stopped at the correct pump and he told us to move. The men quickly pulled the back seat of the car up, pulled the carpet back and set to work pulling the inspection cover in the top of the gas tank off. There were no less than five different colors of silicon sealant on the tank cover, which told us without any question that the same thing had happened
Into the Dark Recesses of the Earth
This is one of the tiny, descending tunnels that led down to the lower levels of the underground city.
several times in the car’s short life - The car was less than a year old, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the same players every time. The men siphoned the fuel out of the tank into a bucket and then started shouting again - Apparently the man at the other place didn’t even have the decency to give us diesel! The men explained that the man at the other station had given us a type of fuel that is only used in tractors and other off-road vehicles, never cars or trucks, which confirmed the fact that the incident was intentional. The men were wonderful. They quickly sponged all of the remaining fuel out of the tank and put the tank back together. Then they helped us push the car up to one of their pumps, turned it on and filled our tank up with fuel. We paid the men for the fuel and gave them a good bit extra for all of their help and then we started the car up and gave it a trial run around the parking lot. It ran poorly for another few seconds and then it was all better.
Looking Down the Well
This was described as a well and an air shaft. It is located in the underground city in Derinkuyu.
piled back into the car and continued on our way. I was a bit worried that the problems were not finished with us, as is often the case when the wrong fuel gets into the system messing up the sensors and such, but the car was running fine so we continued towards the valley. We stopped in the town that the two Polish guys wanted to go to and let them out - They had gotten a lot more (trouble) than they had hoped for, but, in the usual backpacker way, they shrugged it off with a smile, thanked us and continued on their way. We were about half way to our destination and the car was running fine. We branched off of the main highway and started following a lovely two-lane road through fields of tall, golden grass. The landscape of low hills stretched off into the distance. Everything was going well… Suddenly the car started stumbling badly and it lost power! We found a place on the grassy shoulder and we pulled off - It was the kind of place that would have been perfect to stop and take a walk or have a picnic, but we ignored
A Fallen Door.
This is one of the huge round doors at the underground city.
the scenery and set to work trying to solve our car problems. Being the only mechanic in the group I started running through everything I thought could be the problem, but it was a hopeless task, since I already knew it probably had something to do with the computer/sensor system. Our destination was closer than any other town, so we decided to try and make it there. We got back into the car, started it up and set off. Much to our surprise, it was running fine again! We drove on for another five minutes or so before we lost power again. I had been wondering if just shutting the car off and restarting it was what cleared up the problem before, so I asked my friend, who was driving, to put the car in neutral and then turn it off and then back on. He did and the problem was gone again. Over the next ten minutes or so we solved the power problem in the same way at least five more times. Finally, as we began our descent into the valley, the inevitable happened and the car died for good. We coaxed the car into a parking area
The Door in its Pocket
These huge round doors could be rolled out of the pocket in the wall and locked blocking access to the lower levels of the city.
at the bottom of the hill, just next to a lovely river valley, and then we set off to find a phone. The first store owner we found told us that he didn’t have a phone and he directed us up a massive hill to the post office, where the only public phone in town was located. The walk was fairly exhausting, but we eventually reached the top and found the phone. After a brief conversation with the hostel owner it was decided that we would have to leave the car there and take public transport back to Goreme. We walked back down to the car where we found some lunch in one of the little shops there and we talked about what we wanted to do. It was too late in the day to attempt the entire hike, but we still wanted to do some of it. When the shop owner informed us that the last bus of the day was going to be leaving in about half an hour from just outside his door, our plans were finalized. We reluctantly abandoned the hike.
An hour later a smoke belching minibus came to a stop next to our
On the fourth Level
This large room was located on the lowest level open to tourists at Derinkuyu's underground city.
car. Within seconds the bus was filled well past capacity. People were sitting in each other’s laps, ancient ladies were standing in the aisles and the driver was not at all happy - It was a somewhat amazing thing, because a few minutes prior to the bus showing up there was nobody in sight, excepting us and a few backpackers that had just finished the hike. The bus driver, in a fit of rage, kept the bus floored as he rocketed up the hill, leaving several groups of hopeful passengers in a cloud of dust. He whipped the minibus into a parking area at the top of the hill, came to a stop and turned off the engine. He then shouted some words in Turkish and jumped off of the bus and disappeared into a dark garage. We had no idea what was going on, but we took our cue from the rest of the passengers and got off of the bus. It started as a faint grinding sound coming from the dark shadows of the garage. The sound quickly changed into a deep rumbling, a primeval roar from the bowels of the old building. The rumbling continued for about
Another view of the fourth level.
five minutes. Thick black smoke began flowing out of the garage in ominous clouds and then two giant red eyes split the darkness. The roaring intensified and the beast began to move, bursting out of the darkness into the open air. It was a massive, blue and white bus, nearly as ancient as the town we were in. The driver opened the doors and invited us all in. He seemed like he was in a much better mood, which was comforting. The massive crowd managed to fill that bus as well, but there was still a lot of room to expand. We were on our way again. We were sad that we were not getting to explore the area, but we did manage to get a few glimpses of the area’s splendors from the bus’s windows. After what seemed like an eternity we pulled into Aksaray, the biggest town in the area. The driver stopped at the bus station and we got off. Ten minutes later we had tickets for the next leg of our journey, to the town of Nevsahir. We quickly hunted down a few more snacks and then our bus arrived. We were pleasantly surprised when we
To the Bathroom?
This small tunnel descended a bit deeper into the earth. Most of the lights were out towards the center, so it was another exploration in darkness.
saw the comfortable, air-conditioned van sitting against the curb. We were on our way again.
The ride to Nevsahir went well. It took us about an hour and a half to cover the distance. Along the way we got fleeting glimpses of two different caravansaries, one of which seemed to be in good condition. We quickly found a ride to Goreme in Nevsahir and then we slowly walked back to the hostel and the imminent discussion with the owner. As we walked we discussed what we were going to say to the hostel owner. A few lavish stories were discussed, but I felt that being honest with them was the only option. Then, playing the devil’s advocate, I told them exactly how the conversation would go. How we would be charged for an expensive tow-truck, expensive, hard to find parts, labor… We all knew that the problem would likely be repaired with minimal effort right where it was parked (it had already happened at least five times and they knew exactly what was wrong and that they likely had the parts they needed back at the office), but we knew that they held all of the cards. The meeting
A Closed Door
This door was closed - I suppose it leads to the lower levels, which are off limits to tourists.
went exactly how I said it would. We all sat down at a table, the three of us, the hostel owner and the car owner, and we went through the points and shared our opinions. It was a fairly cordial conversation and, though we knew we were going to lose, the negotiations were actually not all that painful. We had all settled on a number, which I felt was as reasonable as we could ever get, when the girl that was with us exploded into an emotional tirade, calling the Turks scoundrels and cheats and stubbornly shouting that we should independently get the car repaired and pay for it ourselves - Something that we knew wouldn’t go well. The two Turks initially returned her shouts, but, at our urging, calmed down quickly. The two of us that had brokered the deal quickly went into damage control and attempted to get her calmed down as the two Turks sat there with slight smirks, nicely concealed behind a look of stern astonishment. We got her calmed down and then we went back to the table, apologized and concluded the deal. Afterwards we went into town for a nice dinner where we talked
A Last View of the Canyons
I think this was Rose Canyon.
about the day’s misadventures and calmed down - We were all laughing by the time we headed back to the hostel. Mike, the American archaeologist, was leaving the next morning early to go home. He decided that he was going to cover the whole cost of the car problems and the rental. I absolutely refused, but he wouldn’t take my money. I tried hiding it in his bag, but he found it and forced it back on me. Eventually, I talked him into letting me pay my portion of the rental/gas costs, but he wouldn’t take any more. I thanked him and said farewell and then I headed off to bed, bringing an end to a less than enjoyable day.
I woke up refreshed the next morning and set off to explore. My plan was to go to the famous Goreme Open Air Museum, an amazing group of rock-cut churches that are intricately painted and well preserved. I walked out of town and, after nearly half an hour I reached the entrance to the museum. I walked up to the ticket window and was stopped in my tracks when a guard came up and said, “I am sorry sir, but you cannot bring the tripod into the museum.” I was not happy. I have a really hard time understanding why so many of the more picturesque sites in the world have such a problem with tripods - I suppose it is just greed, the desire to sell more postcards. I left the site and went across the street and started exploring some of the less spectacular churches and rooms. My failure at the museum actually fueled another amazing day of exploration in the canyons. I had intended on walking back to town, depositing my tripod somewhere and going back to the museum, but, as is often the case, plans change. What started as a quick exploration turned into an all day journey through some truly amazing churches and subterranean passages. I was lost in the mysteries of the huge network of tunnels and rooms that I had stumbled upon. I spent nearly an hour climbing through the structures on the top of the cliffs that led down to a narrow slot canyon. I found beautiful arched ceilings, columns, intricately painted rooms, tiny passages that required me to climb on my belly. One of those passages emptied out on a truly cavernous room. Sadly the opening came through the ceiling of the room and it was a good fifteen foot drop down to the floor. I decided to backtrack, which was easier said than done in such a small passage, and then I found my way into the big room from the outside. That room, like many others, was covered in soot from years of use as a dwelling of some sort.
The view from the rim of the canyon was impressive. The canyon walls were so close together and tall enough that I couldn’t see the bottom from where I had been standing, just a big dark shadow rising up from its depths between the gray walls. There were several dark openings in the rock walls that were completely unreachable from the top. I had followed every passage I could get through, but there were many more that were filled with centuries of dirt and rubble and completely impassable. It was becoming clear that my hope of reaching the bottom of the canyon via one of the passages was not going to happen. Eventually I found a steep, slippery path that led down into the canyon bottom near where the narrow part started and I headed down. The climb was more of a slide; the trail had been a little steeper than I had thought, yet, at the bottom I came across a very stubborn fellow that was trying to climb up the same path I had come down. I told him that he didn’t have a chance of getting up that way, but he didn’t listen - He would climb up a bit and then slide back down on his belly and then do it all over again. His claws were fairly stout and they dug in well, but the physics just didn’t work out - His massive, tank-like body was just too much for his little legs to pull. Eventually he decided that the annoying tourist that was taking pictures of his climb was too dangerous for him to stick around and he ran off to a hiding place near one of the subterranean rooms, of course, the running pace of a giant tortoise didn’t leave me in the dust, by any means.
I left my ancient reptilian friend alone and turned my attention toward the canyon that was surrounding us. It was beautiful and full of mystery. I immediately started exploring the passages and rooms along the bottom. Some of them had passages leading up at a steep angle that were in various stages of collapse. One of the more interesting rooms had a passage leading straight up through the ceiling that had nice handholds carved into the side, but my meager light only illuminated the first ten feet or so of the passage and it was still vertical where it disappeared into the shadows - Well too high for me to attempt without a rope, or at least someone else there to go get help if I messed up! It didn’t take long before the canyon walls started getting closer together and that is where the real fun began. The narrow slot canyon didn’t have much in the way of rooms, at least none that were close to the ground, but what it lacked in ancient wonders was made up with the beauty of the terrain. In places the walls were so close together that I could touch them both with my outstretched hands. The path was basically heading up stream, even though there was no water. In places I had to climb up a large step in the canyon to continue. One of those steps was about ten feet high - I briefly considered turning around at that point because the climb back down the step would have been difficult, but I decided that there must be another way out of the canyon and I continued. The canyon eventually widened out and I came to a fork in the trail. One of the paths led out over the rolling greenery of the small valley and one of the paths led into a dark tunnel, just a little bigger than me. I decided to go underground.
I took my flashlight out of the bag, just in case I needed it, and then I walked into the darkness. I really enjoy walking through dark passages without a flashlight. I know it is not the safest thing to do, with possible obstructions or big drops in the floor or even the potential of coming across wild animals, but I enjoy it just the same. I walked on into the darkness with one hand out in front of my face to guard against a painful bump on the head. I shuffled my feet cautiously forward feeling for any hazards before I moved forward. It was slow going. Eventually the last vestiges of light flowing in from the entrance of the tunnel disappeared and left me in complete darkness - I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face. I continued cautiously forward feeling the walls of the tunnel for openings of any kind, but there were none. From time to time my leading foot bumped into something hard, usually a loose rock, but a few times I found low weir walls blocking my way, which prompted me to turn the light on to investigate. After about ten minutes and several bends in the tunnel the darkness started to fade. It began with a faint hint of shadowy detail in the rock and it progressed until the tunnel was completely glowing in the afternoon sun, my pitch black adventure had come to an end. The light was flowing in from a place where the wall of the tunnel had collapsed a bit, many years before - I climbed up to the top of the mound of rubble and got my bearings. It turned out that the tunnel was just following the little fingers and undulations of the valley walls. I decided to continue in the tunnel a little further, but the dark section was a lot shorter. I emerged into the light again at another collapsed section. The tunnel was impassable from that point so I never solved the mystery of where it went, but it was a great adventure. I followed a lightly worn path through the verdant valley until it joined up with another well traveled trail and then I followed it up to the top of the bluff, stopping to explore a few more amazing passages and rooms along the way. The path dumped me out on the road above the open air museum. I walked back to town, stopping to explore another large section of badly crumbling subterranean rooms of grand proportions. I was sad that I missed out on the wonderful museum churches, but I wouldn’t have traded the resulting adventure for anything.
That night back at the hostel I planned my departure from Cappadocia. I was going to be heading a little further east with a Canadian guy I met in the hostel to see the strange mountain top tomb on Mt Nimrut. We tentatively set our departure for two days later - We both had more that we had to see in the Cappadocia area, so we left the departure somewhat open. I had big plans for the following day, so I was in bed early.
The following morning I ate breakfast and quickly hit the bus station. I met up with an American couple on the bus that was headed to the same place as me and we decided to join forces for the day. We made it to the bus terminal in Nevsahir and then we quickly found our bus south. We were going to the town of Derinkuyu, about thirty kilometers to the south of Nevsahir. We told the bus driver where we were going and he said he would let us know when to get off. Half an hour or so later we came to a stop in a large town and the driver pointed at us and said, “Derinkuyu.” We got off of the bus and then wandered around a bit looking for our destination. We didn’t have a map of the town and, unlike most of the Cappadocia area, the site was not an obvious formation of honeycombed rock rising high above the town. In fact, the area around the town was completely flat. We were quickly corralled and sent in the right direction by a friendly Turkish man who was certain of our destination. A few minutes later we were at the ticket booth. There were no grand buildings or impressive vistas to let us know that we were there, but we hadn’t expected there to be. Derinkuyu is famous, not for its fairy chimneys and lovely scenery, but for its massive underground city! We were about to enter the mysterious realm of the troglodyte!
The underground city at Derinkuyu is one of the largest in the world. Its eight levels (or eleven, depending on where your information comes from) descend to a depth of 85 meters (255 feet) below the surface. An inconceivable network of tunnels stretch miles underground linking Derinkuyu to other underground cities in the area - The logistics of building such a place are mindboggling, even by today’s standards. It was originally built by the Phrygians in the 8th century BC. It was enlarged by the Byzantines as a means for early Christians to escape persecution from the Romans and later from the Arab raiders. There are wells, air shafts, stables, churches and ample storage facilities. It is believed that Derinkuyu’s underground city could have supported more than fifty-thousand people for months without coming to the surface. I was very excited as I walked down the modern staircase to the first level. There was a huge network of tunnels and rooms that intersected here and there to form a large, well lit area. There were modern handrails and bridges to make access easier for less mobile people, but they didn’t detract greatly from the majesty of the place. The first two floors were fairly clogged with tour groups when we got there, so we decided to try and get ahead of them and we continued down to the next levels.
Each level of the underground city could be sealed from the inside using massive round disks of stone that could be rolled out of a pocket in the wall of the tunnel and ‘locked’ in place from the inside. The stone disk had a hole in the middle of it in which a spear could be thrust to repel attackers and many of the doorways had a tunnel above them that would allow spears or hot oil to be dropped down on the attackers as well - It was a well thought out defensive mechanism. As we descended down to the third level we passed one of the large round doors. It was set deep into its pocket in the wall allowing us to pass. A few feet down the tunnel from the door, another tunnel ran around to the back of the wheel - It was from there that the door could be rolled open or closed and blocked. We followed an extremely small, descending passage, stooping badly as we went down the slick steps - It was certainly not a place for even the mildest case of claustrophobia. The tunnel went on for a long way as we descended down into the earth. Eventually it opened up into another group of rooms and passages. Our explorations took us through several similar passages, some well lit and others shrouded in darkness. We found a huge well shaft that opened up to the surface. Looking up the shaft to the tiny little circle of blue sky was amazing. I was on the fourth level, the lowest level open to tourists, and the surface seemed a long way away - It was difficult to imagine what it would look like from the bottom level! The fourth level had an impressive room with a series of monolithic columns. Off to one side was what looked like a small cruciform church and there was another passage that led a bit deeper to a small chamber that looked like it may have been a bathroom. We spent several hours exploring the different parts of the underground city. We eventually made it back up to the upper levels and that is where we made the realization that the organized tours of the city stay on the upper levels. I was immediately grateful that I had opted to do the visit on my own. I had talked to several other travelers who had seen the place on a tour and they had not been overly impressed. I was truly amazed by the city. In fact, I think it is one of the most amazing places I have ever seen. I tried to imagine how I would have felt if I had just seen the upper levels and then I started feeling really bad for everyone who was missing out on the lower levels, which were the true highlights of the site for me. We followed the passages on the upper levels, exploring every nook and cranny. Eventually, after nearly half an hour of aimless wandering in the upper levels, we came across a large open area. There we found some interesting things. One of which was a winery, complete with a grape press. The other oddity was a large cut stone, block building with huge table-like depressions and several other interesting chambers attached to it. There were fountains and other mysteries - Some of the literature I read called the area a university or school. We emerged out of the depths of the earth invigorated and ready for more, but it was too late in the day to attempt to visit any of the other underground cities in the area. Instead we sat down in a café adjacent to the underground city and we relived our amazing subterranean adventure over a late lunch. We had expected huge crowds, but, excluding the two big tour groups that passed through when we first got there, the underground city had been virtually deserted all day. We ended up arriving back in Nevsahir late in the afternoon. I said farewell to my American friends, who were heading elsewhere that night, and I got on the bus back to Goreme.
What should have been a routine journey back down the winding canyon road to Goreme actually turned into an adventure of its own. It all started with a ‘BANG!’ as we began our descent into Goreme. Suddenly we were rocketing down the road - The bus had no brakes! The driver slammed the bus into a lower gear throwing us all forward in our seats. We were approaching a hairpin curve bound by a very scenic cliff overlook. The engine screamed as we skidded around the curves and shot down the hill, miraculously sticking to the road. The driver was handling the runaway bus with the skill of a Formula One driver and, oddly enough, the bus responded like a high-end Ferrari. We could see the parking lot we were supposed to stop at rapidly approaching on the right. The driver shouted something in Turkish and everybody responded by making sure they were holding on tightly - Not that I really had to be told to do that! As quickly as it all started the driver hit the emergency break and the brake pedal with all of his strength and then slammed the bus into its lowest gear. The bus responded with a loud grinding sound and a labored groan as the tires locked up and we slid to a stop in the middle of the parking lot! We had arrived safely, but the bus didn’t fare so well - A pile of twisted brake parts and smoking fluid was accumulating beneath the ragged hulk of a bus and the driver was staring at all of the destruction in awe. I made sure that I thanked him for his wonderful performance before I headed back to the hostel slightly shaken.
It was too late to attempt a visit to the open air museum, so I reluctantly decided to skip it - There is no doubt in my mind that I will return to Cappadocia in the future, being one of the most amazing places I have ever visited, so I will add it to the overwhelming list of amazing sites I still have to see in the area. That night I had dinner with my Canadian friend and a couple who were writers for Lonely Planet. We ate in one of the fanciest restaurants in town. It was located in an old stone building that resembled a caravanserai or a stable and it was decorated with lovely Turkish carpets and old artifacts. Seating was on cushions on the floor around a small, low table. We had an amazing meal and an immensely enjoyable conversation that ranged from our feelings of Turkey and traveling in general to the meaning of several ‘key’ words commonly used in the Lonely Planet guide books - My favorite was the definition of ‘Atmospheric’, which we all decided meant disgusting in a very memorable way. The décor in the recessed alcove we were sitting in was straight out of the Arabian Nights and there was a hint of exotic music on the air - It was a perfect way to end an amazing, occasionally trying visit to Cappadocia, one of Turkey’s true gems.