Where are all the Whos?

Trip Start Oct 15, 2007
Trip End Dec 20, 2007

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Flag of Turkey  ,
Sunday, December 16, 2007

A big day of checking out Cappadoccia...it's a region of central Turkey with some pretty unique landforms.  Looks like Who-ville in the Grinch..  But there are no Whos inside anymore... There's all these rock cones called faerie chimneys that people have lived inside for centuries.   I guess volcanic eruptions left a deep layer of ash, called tufa, it solidified, and then weathered into the oddest shaped landforms.  And since it was not the hardest solid in the world, people scraped away at the insides of the rock and lived in there.  Now this was especially useful when being invaded...whether it was the Hittites or the Huns, the locals just went underground and pulled these big rocks across the openings.  In fact people still live in some of them...there are lots of hostels right there in the caves...although, as erosion continues and the area evolves, many are unstable.
We visit this one underground city - and there are over 30 in the area - that is eight stories deep.  The earliest levels were built around 1000-2000 BC while the deeper ones were built later, into the 1300s.  The ceilings are low, the pathways narrow...it's pretty creepy to think of living in here...like why would you ever want to sequester yourself in here...to me it'd be a hellish existence...seems you'd stand a much better chance of fleeing the enemy above ground. ...I keep thinking this would be a great place to run an episode of Survivor.  I think it'd be really tough to hang in for the 39 days here.  You'd have to give the contestants maybe one hour of time above ground every day to find food and water.  Even though I'm a total Survivor wanna-be, I think I'd drop out the minute I looked at the location.  After about an hour down there, I'm more than ready to see daylight...but the very existence of this place is undoubtedly very cool.
So Cappadoccia has been described as a moonscape or the setting for Star Wars...the erosion of all the tufa has resulted in peaks and cliffs...it's like a Grand Canyon above ground...or the steeply peaked surface of a lemon meringue pie....you have to look at the photos...but I've never seen anything quite like it.   The hotel we're in, Nomad Caves Hotel, is built right into the rock...it's in the side of the mountain... so all the interior walls and ceiling are rock...just like a square cave.   I keep wondering, with all this rock, where does the sewage go? 
I just got back from eating Turkish pizza...it's not like American pizza...but still a staple around here....and cheap.  Big conversation with Mustafa, a local guy we connected with.  He's outlining the history of the Ottoman Empire - that is, after the conversation about why on earth we don't smoke and drink....he's somewhat appalled by that concept.    Anyway, it always surprises me to talk to people who know so much about the details of their history.  Apparently the Ottoman was one big bad empire...lots of land/people under its control...Mustafa goes into great detail about some 12 year old leader? who kicked out the bad guys from the Istanbul area and is a Turkish hero (name is something like Fatma Sultan Mehmet).  He talks about Atiturk who I believe I mentioned...he's the biggest hero in Turkey, no doubt...the guy that has his picture and his statue everywhere.  (Mustafa says) he told the Turks...don't just fight for your country...go out and die for your country (roughly paraphrased)...and they did.  Mustafa says that in WWI they lost like 2/3 of the population?  Anyway after WWI, Atiturk was in charge, he was the first leader of the Republic of Turkey, and he brought Turkey into the 20th century...he is credited for creating Turkey as we know it today.  He reformed everything about the country...people refer to it as a revolution...he took religion out of education - more or less - he modernized the written language to using letters as in our alphabet, and he created a whole bunch of social reforms, including behaviors and dress, that made Turkey a more "modern" type place.  People just love that Atiturk.  Except there are those more strongly religious who did not necessarily appreciate his separation of religion... His picture / statues of him are everywhere.  He's even on the money. 
Anyway, after WWI, in 1922, they had the big "people exchange" that everyone still talks about today.  The borders between Greece and Turkey were reworked...Greece got a lot of islands that used to belong to the Ottomans...and they told all the Greek people living in Turkey to get on back to Greece...the same for the Turks...if you were living in what was now Greece, you had to get back to Turkey.  This affected about one million people...some thought they were being temporarily relocated but they were never allowed back.  There's still ill feeling between Greece and Turkey over the borders and history.  Although Panos was saying that there was a big earthquake in Turkey in 2002 and Greece was the first to send in aid...so that softened the relationship a bit.  Good thing because Greece then had an earthquake shortly after that and Turkey helped them out in return.  But it's still near impossible to get a flight between the two countries...we're told that's because of the bad history.  When you walk along the shore of Lesvos, there's a huge fortress and active military installations all along the coast (a narrow bit of water separates it from Turkey).  And when you walk along the shores of Ayvalik, Turkey, right across the sea, again you see active military installations protecting their shores from the Greeks.  It's very clear that each has a historically-based strong feeling about their neighbor. 
There's no doubt about the geologic beauty of Cappadoccia...since it's not tourist season, you can walk alone among the carved out rock caves and the giant, pointed termite mound-looking structures, and feel the people that lived there for centuries...it's almost eerie...and it's definitely magnificent in all directions...but it's time to move on...to Istanbul...the last stop for me in Eastern Europe...from vacated cave dwellings to a city that's growing at half a million each year....

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