Underground, overground Wombling free!

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April 6th 2018
Published: April 20th 2018
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Another travelling day sees us eating up the miles on our way from Konya to one of the most iconic districts of Turkey, the natural wonders of Cappadocia. As usual on travel days our clever tour company has included interesting stops along the way. Our first is to see a 13th century pit-stop for camels, the Sultanhari Kervansarayi. This is one of a number of 'hotels' along the Silk Road where traders would stop for 3 nights to allow their camels (donkeys if they were Del Boy types) to rest before the next stint of their journey. They were not able to travel at night because of thieves and bandits lurking in the hills, so only traveled a day at a time covering approximately 40km to the next Kervansarayi. The Sultanhari has a massive portico doorway with stone carvings decorating the surface and this is contained within really high walls that make it look more like a fort than a place of rest, perhaps to deter those pesky pilferers.

For our second stop on our way to Cappadocia we find we're going wombling in some underground caves in the Derinkuyu district of Turkey which is as near as damn it in the exact centre of the country. It's thought that this underground cave system was initially dug out of the soft volcanic rock during prehistoric times, but has been added to and embellished upon by various groups of people over the centuries. It seems the Derinkuyu Underground City has been a hide-out from persecution for those escaping the Muslim Arabs during the Arab-Byzantine wars, by Christians escaping the Mongolian incursions of Timur, by refugees escaping the Ottomans and as late as the 20th century the Cappadocian Greeks were still using the caves to escape persecution again by the Ottomans. Today we are escaping the market sellers trying to get us to buy tourist souvenirs.

We are warned before we go inside that the tunnels get pretty small and we'll have to crouch really low to crawl through them. Luckily they are lit for the most part, but some sections are completely dark and camera torches will come in useful. An interpretation board shows a cut away of the underground caves with many levels going an incredible 60 metres down into the ground. I'm pleased to see there are also ventilation shafts shown! We find out that around 20,000 people and their animals were able to live inside this underground city at any one time.

The first level we clamber down to turns out to be the kitchen area. We see stones with grooves in that were used to help press grapes for wine and curved holes in the floor that were used as tandoori style ovens. As we move through this weird womble like cavern we see little rooms that have been carved out of the soft stone that families would have lived in. Every so often there is a column holding up the main part of a larger opening. As we move lower down the levels the passageways do indeed get narrower and lower and we all find ourselves stooping down to get through, staring right at the bum of the person in front! It's a relief every time we emerge into a 'room' and can stand up again and have a stretch.

At the entrance to many of the passages there are big circular stone blocks that are able to slide through a slot to block off the passageway from intruders. There's a depression in the circular stone 'doors' which we guess were used to pull the stone back again from the inside to get out when the danger was past. We see the narrow vertical ventilation shafts that also double as wells in some cases. There is a stone ledge each side of some openings to the shaft which would've been used to put a wooden pole across to wind a bucket down to the water.

When we get to the lowest section of the underground city that is open to the public we find a tomb in one part (this is the bit in complete darkness where we have to use torches in the tunnel that leads to the tomb) and a large arched room that was used as a chapel and school room. On our way back up to the surface we learn that the area nearer the surface was used for animals and this is where people went to the toilet in order to mask the smells. It really must have been a hellish place to live with the smoke from oil lamps and cooking, the stink from animals and latrines and the general dark and cold seeping into every pore. It's a wonder they managed to survive. Apparently they were able to come to the surface every so often when their persecutors weren't actively searching for them, but even so it would've been a tough life in the underground city.

Wombling done we carry on our journey to Cappadocia. Our lunch stop is interesting today. We are at a restaurant run by only women. They have designed the decor, menus, cook and serve the food. It's the nicest restaurant we've been to so far and the food is lovely. The women are supported in this endeavour by the Turkish Government to get them out working instead of sat at home bored witless 'looking after' their lazy husbands.

As the miles go by we start to see more mountainous scenery and then the yellowy sandstone pointy rock formations of Cappadocia appear. We make a stop at a market town that has a back drop of these eroded stones with carved holes cut into them - some used as cave homes and some as storage. There are a few straggly looking camels that are being used as a photo opportunity - I hope their famous spitting happens a lot to tourists supporting this stupid practice.

We continue to our hotel and our mouths are open in amazement at where we'll be staying tonight. We have our very own rock cave hotel stet into a hillside on its own. It's truly a one off and totally awesome. The hotel is carved into the rock face and is on various levels. I have a sofa outside my room. Inside my room, carved into the rock, are two beds and even a toilet and shower room. It feels so cold inside compared to the outside temperature. This is all very well in the height of summer when I'm sure it's a blessed relief to get out of the sun, but at this time of year I'm looking at piling the bedding from both beds on top of me tonight! We all go exploring the valley and sneak a peak in each others' rooms. It's such an amazing place, we are so lucky. The tour used to stay in the town in a normal hotel and this is the first time they've used this alternative option. We love it!

After a wonder meal cooked by our hosts - vegetarian too - we are taken by bus to a look out point over one of the valleys with all the weird Cappadocia rock formations and spend the evening watching the sun go down. It's so magical and I feel so lucky to be able to travel to such special places.

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