Is this Middle Earth, or Luna?

Trip Start May 19, 2009
Trip End Dec 31, 2009

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Flag of Turkey  , Cappadocia,
Saturday, July 18, 2009

If you have not heard about Cappadocia and the town of Goreme, you should. It is one of the most beautiful as well as the most unique and surreal place in the world. Here are valleys of giant rock bamboo shoots that people have hollowed and made them their homes. They look so bizarre that seem to belong only in fairy tales, or from the scenes of "Lords of Rings".

Of course this is not a fairy tale and all these happened because of very practical reasons. Millions of years ago, this place had a lot of volcanoes and they laid a thick stratum of volcanic ashes on the region, after compaction they became soft rocks that were eroded by waters from the top down, forming those giant bamboo shoots in the valleys. They are easy to be hollowed out but once the surfaces of the new chambers were exposed to moisture in the air, some kind of chemical reaction happens and they will become reasonably hard in about 2 days. People liked to live in them because these caves offered them relief from the hot summer heat, and also because this region had no big trees that could provide them wood as building materials. Nowadays most of them have moved out from them to live in rock and cement houses, but a small number of them are still occupied. On top of that, a few centuries ago, they also took advantage of the soft rocks to build at least two underground, huge settlements that have more than 10 levels of caves (like inverted high-rises) that the whole village could live in, to escape from invaders that came often. Inside them are water wells, communication channels between levels, doors to stop and traps or other devices to kill if the invaders tried to come in, kitchens with chimneys, air shafts, even grave yards, all designed to let the villagers to stay inside for extended periods until the enemies gave up and went away.

We stayed in the region for 4 days. We visited one underground city, Derinkuyu, with a guide, and walked a few valleys to look at the weird landscapes, the eerie white bamboo shoots, some of them caped by a piece of hard rock (which protects them from erosion) that make them look like giant mushrooms. The valleys have a lot of pigeons too, which, in the old times, were raised by villagers for communication purposes – mainly to send out warnings about invasions. They were so popular that around and above most caves there are holes for them to live in.

We also toured an open-air-museum, which is a group of churches and monasteries in caves, built between 2nd and 13th centuries, when most of the residents here were Christians. In fact this was a major center of the religion back then and quite a few saints were born and lived here, until the Muslims came and they gradually moved away. All of the valleys that we walked inevitably have cave churches with ancient murals.

Walking was the best way to see everything. The region is about 3000 feet high, so its temperature was much cooler than the coastal region that we just left, good for easy hiking. The area has a lot of fruit trees too, and I had a lot of fun picking and eating them while walking in the valleys. They are mostly apricots and white mulberry trees that produce the sweetest fruits that I have ever tasted (but I wished the apricots were juicier). They grow in the wild, but we came across orchards too, and in one of them a kind old man urged us to pick and try his fruits, for free, and even gave us a plastic bag to take some away.

So those were days that we enjoyed sightseeing, history, and friendly people. Just a pity the food and wine here are nothing to write home about. We tried one of those slow-cooking clay pot dishes that Lonely Planet mentions but were not impressed.

I hope you enjoy this entry. I also have a very nice Powerpoint presentation concerning the underground city, sent to me by one of my friends (thanks, Ruth). I will email to all of u later since I could not include it here.
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