Göreme, Turkey: Geological Grandeur


As a disclosure/sidenote, I didn’t plan anything for this trip. I had no idea where we were going when we woke up at 6:30 and headed for the airport. I just did as I was told. When we ended up in what looked like the middle of no where, getting off the plane on those stairs they just push up to the side, I didn’t know why we were here. We boarded a shuttle to our hotel, and I promptly fell asleep. I woke up 20 minutes later looking out to a scenery like this. Welcome to Cappadocia.

Cappadocia is the name of the central Anatolia region of Turkey. Anatolia refers to the Asian part of Turkey. Cappadocia is derived from “the land of horses” in Greek, because when people first came to the area, wild horses were all over.

The region is a protected UNESCO site because of the pillars that have been formed from volcanic activity in the region. These pillars are affectionately called Fairy Chimneys because when they were seen from a distance, explorers thought they were the chimneys to the houses of fairies that lived inside. While it hasn’t been proven that fairies have lived in these pillars, people have actually lived inside. The black rock on the surface of the pillars is hard and durable and made from magma, while the tan peaking out is volcanic tufte, a softer rock derived of ash. People carve into the soft Tufte, and make homes inside the pillars. Our hotel during our stay was made out of one of these pillars, and our room used to be used as a stable and a bakery. There was a resident dog at the hotel named Pandos who I loved. He caused some problems for his owner though because as she put it “he hates Turkish men, just like me.” He had a reputation, and most tour guides would call from the end of the driveway instead of coming to the door to pick up guests.

While in Göreme, the city we stayed in, we went on a tour of the region, and learned about it’s history. We started at an area called Pigeon Valley, which the Red River runs at the bottoms. The Red River is a big and important river in Turkey, spanning 1,150km. Some of the pillars were carved out especially for the use and for the care of pigeons. There would be a small hole on the outside that leads into a room that would have a grid of shelfs in the opposite wall that the pigeons nested in. The pigeons feces was used as organic fertilizer and was very important for the farming community in the area. Since the creation of pesticides and chemical fertilizer, the pigeon industry has died down, soil pollution has risen. Pigeon competitions are still held in the area though, for all the pigeon enthusiasts to enjoy.

When the Roman’s came through the region, they would often persecute people practicing Christianity. In order to avoid this, one town created an underground city that they could hide in while above ground was too dangerous. The underground city could fit 20,000 people, and had a school, church, and a place for livestock. When it wasn’t being used as a refuge, the space underground was used for storage of the harvest, and as the place to make wine. The area was pretty advanced, fit with ventilation shafts hidden by bushes at the surface, 8 floors descending into the ground, and they created a door system that protected them incase their location was discovered. While a lot has been discovered about the city, it is still a little unclear what exactly they did when they needed to use the toilet.
This is the wheel door that the underground city used. The stone was too big for one person to move, but only on one side of the door was the path big enough to fit two people. This made a one-way system that prevented people on the wrong side from getting past the door.

Before the creation of Christianity, the area followed a shamanistic religion. Part of the religion is this concept of the “Evil Eye.” The evil eye is the look that a friend or stranger can cast at you when they are jealous or envious of you. This look can curse you and can cause bad things to happen. It can be given unintentional, and young children are especially vulnerable to it. When people coo over a baby, saying things like “he is the cutest baby I’ve ever seen,” that is considered an “evil eye” statement, and could cause the baby to become sick. In order to repel the evil eye, an individual can wear an evil eye amulet, which is intended to absorb the evil eye curse. You wear an eye to protect yourself from the evil eye.

A tree of evil eye amulets.

In the 1920’s, Turkey had a population exchange with Greece. Politicians masked the exchange as a chance for Turks to visit Greece and vice versa, but it ended up being a religious exchange and not a cultural exchange. Christian Turkish citizens went to Greece, and Muslim Greeks to Turkey. What was left behind are abandoned Greek villages speckled around Turkey.

Tourism is the main industry of Cappadocia thriving on activities like hot-air ballooning, hiking, hot springs, and tours. Traditionally, pottery and carpet weaving were the main source of income. If a man couldn’t make a pot, and conversely, if a woman couldn’t weave, they were deemed unfit for marriage. I’ll talk more about traditional pottery in the next post. It was my favorite part of our tour of the region.

View from our room in the morning.

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