I joined an organized tour today to explore the region.

I caved in to see some caves.  Through Ehson at the hotel I booked an organized tour today to explore the area around Goreme.  I despise the idea of going with 30 other people,  being whistled into the car when the time for exploration is over, being forced to have (and pay for) lunch, which I usually skip, and to finish the tour at a big souvenir store where the obvious idea is to entice at least some of us to buy stuff.  But it was a matter of time and so I did it; and I survived.  Not to mention how impossible it is to get a single picture without anyone crowding the space when you travel like this…

But… I saw one of the famous underground cities of the area, Yeralti Sehri.  According to our guide, there used to be over 35 of them, of which about 9 are still intact. They had everything:  From gathering areas, churches, burial areas, living areas, spaces for their animals to wine making facilities, wells, ventilation shafts, communication shafts, and escape tunnels.  The one we saw was eight stories or 55 meters below ground!  The oldest parts, first and second levels, go back to the Hittites.  The last few stories were carved by the Christians in the 7th century.  Why?  I have no clue.  I could not have the question answered why Christians would see the need to hide as late as the 7th Century.  But they obviously did!

I saw a rural church, Agacalti Kilisesi, carved into the rock, full of frescoes of which there use to be over 100; only 15 survived.  The fresco style was endearingly provincial.  Christians, again, seem to have preferred quiet and hidden places for their houses of worship.  The church we saw dated to the 11th Century if I can trust the guide.  The region was important to Christians and used to have over 1000 churches all together.  About 200 survived.  What we saw today were only churches carved along an impressive canyon called Ihlara Valley.  Many of them literally were buried by falling and breaking rocks.

We hiked for a couple of kilometers through that wonderful canyon, and learned about the use of pigeons in this area for communication.   Some of the “dwellings” I observed yesterday were actually pigeon houses.  Many caves were carved as home-pigeon stalls.  The pigeons were used to deliver mail between two points and were specifically raised for that purpose by the thousands.  The waste they produced was carefully collected as fertilizer.  Today, this tradition has died out; the pigeon stalls are empty and the waste, if there is any, remains uncollected.

Our final stop (before the souvenir trap), was a rock-cave monastery which had also doubled up as a caravanserai:  Selime Cathedral.  Even thought it is now in a very rough and worn state, one can still sense the enormity of the complex.  It is impressive to see with how much care churches were carved way up into these mountains resembling stone architecture with vaults, pillars, arches, and all.  The soot from the candles and the linseed oil lamps has darkened the ceilings beyond recognition, but the fresco decoration in there must once have been as bright as in the canyon churches.

Among the 30 tourists, there were four Spanish, one New Zealander, and one British guy.  All others were Koreans and Japanese.  It must be their high prime travel season.  The Brit and I had a beer after the trip before his bus left for the Mediterranean coast.  He is a habitual traveler who at 45 has already seen nearly 70 countries, who has more money than he knows what to do with, yet he seemed adrift.   It’s too bad how opportunities and potentials and making the most of it all do not always go hand in hand.

This is it, folks.  I have to do laundry and I am exhausted from this whole day excursion.

Good night.

2 comments so far

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  1. Elisabeth,
    What ancient sites would 11th century tourists visit? While that’s somewhat a rhetorical question, I wonder what the wealthy of say Constantinople would consider must-see sites in the region. I assume pilgrimages to religious sites would be top on their list. Granted they’re more likely to stay put than risk life and limb on the road. But your curious British wanderer got me thinking. I just pictured a load of well-dressed merchants hopping out of a carriage in pursuit of the historic sites of their time and wondered what they might find interesting. It’s another overcast day in southeast Michigan. Perfect for a wandering mind. —Janet

  2. WOW! This past Saturday I went with Jean to the Kelsey Museum for a class Field trip. The special exhibit is the second part of the Vaults of Heaven: Visions of Byzantine series of photograhs by Ahmet Ertug, which feature images from his book on this area, “Cappadocia”. It was beautiful and I was going to ask you if you were heading there. And so here you are. If anyone is reading this who lives in the Ann Arbor area check out the Kelsey, you will be happy you did.
    Glad the Pantheon is helping you along, Miss I could have broken a leg. That’s not scarry to hear at all!