Zelve, Kaymakli Underground City, Rug Workroom, Making Grape Molasses, Lunch at Aravan Evi, Sobesos, Taskinpasa, Keshlik monastery
09.25.2013 - 09.25.2013
Our sight-seeing today starts at the ruins of Zelve, a World Heritage site which is spread over three valleys (connected by high tunnels) and includes monasteries, churches, houses, a mill, and even a cave mosque (the first we have seen). It's not known when the valleys were first inhabited, but the most important developments here took place between the 9th and 13th centuries when the first seminaries for priests were established. Interestingly, Christians and Muslims lived here together in peace and harmony, protected by the surrounding mountains. People lived in the valley as recently at 1950, but at that point the government relocated the residents to the nearby town of Aktepe due to the high risk posed by collapsing overhangs.
Here's one of the churches:
It gets its name, the Grape Church, from the wall decorations.
The sun glints off of my camera lens while making this photo, creating the sign of the cross in the lower left corner. Coincidence?
Next we head to one of Cappadocia's underground cities, of which there are several. The one we are visiting, Kaymakli, is not the largest, but it is usually not as crowded as the others. I think that makes it a good choice; being underground AND crowded is a recipe for claustrophobia in my book. Kaymakli is 8 stories deep, but only 4 stories are open to the public.
There are approximately 100 known underground cities in Cappadocia, and many more probably exist undiscovered. No one knows for sure when they were developed, but the first mention of them is in the 4th century BC. The underground cities were developed as a defensive mechanism to protect Anatolians from attacking Persian or Arab armies. They were used extensively by Christians in the 6th and 7th century to escape persecution and vary greatly in size: for instance, Derinkuyu housed approximately 10,000 people, whereas Kaymakli is thought to have accommodated around 3,000 people. The cities lacked nothing, and residents could survive for months underground without detection. Everything they needed was there: a water supply, food stores, livestock, granaries, living spaces, churches, and even burial sites. Sophisticated ventilation shafts provided fresh air and dispersed smoke from chimneys so that it could not be detected by invaders. It is believed that long tunnels existed that connected the various separate cities, but this has not been confirmed.
I have to confess I'm a little apprehensive as I enter this underground city. I'm not normally claustrophobic, but all this talk of earthquakes and collapsing overhangs has me a wee bit concerned. What if Turkey has a major earthquake today, while I'm down there? I decide to just play a mental game with myself and pretend that I'm not really going 4 STORIES BELOW GROUND (yikes!) as I tour the city.
Fortunately, everything is well lit so I don't really have the sensation of being in a cave. But I can hardly imagine how spooky it must have been for early residents who sought refuge in these underground cities, only illuminated by candles or oil lamps.
The area through the large wall opening in the room below is where the grapes were crushed for wine making. Grape juice was collected in the trough on the lower left.
Giant millstones were carved and rolled into place to block passage ways if the underground city was detected by invaders. When not needed, the millstones could be rolled back out of the way.
This is one of the ventilation shafts:
Most of the passageways are not very tall; it's necessary to stoop over when walking through them.
We resisted all of the sales pitches of rug merchants in Istanbul, but now we're in Cappadocia, we wouldn't mind seeing a brief demonstration of the rug weaving process. Ramazan calls ahead and lines up someone at Bazaar 54 to to give us a brief tour and demonstration. We go in saying we don't need any rugs and won't buy anything. And yes, like the majority of tourists in Turkey, we end up buying a rug. Sigh. (At least it was a small, inexpensive wool one.)
Rug buying completed, we head to lunch in a nearby village. It's early fall in Cappadocia, which means harvest time. There are acres, upon acres of pumpkins EVERYWHERE. This country must produce enough pumpkins to supply all of Europe. Actually they're quite pretty, looking like yellow and orange flowers sitting in the fields waiting to be harvested. Frank and Ramazan make fun of me as I ask Tuncay to stop the van so I can get photos of the pumpkin fields, and thus I am christened "the crazy pumpkin lady."
As we continue down the road we suddenly pass a group of women in front of their house stirring a big vat of something over an open fire. I really want a photo of them, but don't want to be a rude or thoughtless person snapping pictures without asking. Thankfully, Ramazan intercedes on my behalf. He explains to the women that he is from the neighboring village, that he is showing us around, and that we're interested in the grape molasses that they're making. They were delightfully accommodating, letting us taste the grape molasses (which taste a lot like maple syrup or honey), and posed afterwards for pictures. Thank you ladies!!
Lunch today is at Aravan Evi in Ayvali village, and Frank and I think this might be the best lunch yet (they've all been awfully good). Although I normally like hummus anyway, the hummus here in Turkey is so much better than any I've eaten back home. And the same goes for the stuffed grape leaves. So delicious! Perhaps the beautiful setting and the fact we're on vacation is entering into the equation.
After lunch we return to ancient sites by visiting the recently discovered site of Sobesos. This site was first discovered by a farmer working his fields (of pumpkins, of course!) who uncovered pots, mosaics, and Doric columns. After trying for decades to get the attention of government authorities, excavations were finally undertaken on the site. Thus far elaborate mosaics, a Roman meeting hall, an elaborate Roman bath complex, graves, and a Christian chapel have been unearthed. Sadly, lack of funds has stopped excavations for the time being, but some experts believe that what is eventually uncovered there may change our understanding of the history of Turkey in the 4th and 5th century AD.
We take a brief stop in Taskinpasa to see the typical Seljuk architecture and visit a mosque before our last stop of the day, the Keshlik Monastery. This monastery which at one time had 200 monks, includes two cave churches, a refectory, winery and other facilities. Unfortunately, most of the frescoes in the main church have been severely damaged by soot and graffiti. What a shame...
All too soon it is time to bid farewell to Ramazan and Tuncay, and thank them for their incredible tour of Cappadocia. We shall never forget them and this fascinating part of the world.