Goreme, Turkey – November 15 – 18
After hanging out in Fethiye for two weeks trying to catch up on school work, it was time to catch our bus and continue further on our tour of Turkey. Another overnight bus…. man, I really hate overnight buses. People say they are great, someone else drives while you sleep and as a bonus you don’t have to pay for accommodations. I would gladly pay for accommodations because no one really sleeps on an overnight bus, except the man close to me who loudly snores all night, quickly wakes up when the bus stops, jumps out to have a smoke and then returns just before the bus is ready to pull out. Then he’s back to sleep and snoring again. I did not sleep a wink. After 12 hours on the bus, we arrive at Goreme shortly after 7am. As we pull into Goreme it is impossible to miss all the hot air balloons overhead. It was so exciting that for a few moments I had forgotten about how tired I was. We pull into town and get dropped off in at “…the bus station… ”. There really isn’t a bus station in Goreme, it’s just a row of small offices for many different bus companies (each with room for 4 to 6 customers at a time and nowhere to put your bags or sit/wait) but by this time in our travels, we are used to that. We telephone the hotel and the owner comes to pick us up in his 1980’s 4 door compact, “ride the clutch, rev up high so you don’t stall”, squeaky brakes, with loose front end parts, automobile. We were excited to see our accommodations as we were staying in a cave hotel. Unfortunately, since we arrived so early in the morning our room was still occupied. Wanting to get some sleep, we decided to take two double rooms as suggested by the hotel manager. Unfortunately, the rooms were not as nice as the one we were originally to have, but we took it as our home for the next few days.
Goreme is what fairy tales are made of. Cave houses, cave churches, monasteries and underground cities all make Goreme and Cappadocia area so beautiful and unique. It is a magical place where we were spending three days. We easily filled our time with hiking in the spectacularly scenic valley, hiking further on to the Open Air Museum, the pigeon houses, and the churches and other caves in the valley.
Hiking in Cappadocia
Our first day of hiking took us through a valley and up to where some churches were carved out of the rock. We had intended to walk to the Open Air Museum, but got a little sidetracked and began following a path up a hill. I love following unknown trails and the adventures that they lead us to… we never know what we are going to find. Because the signage isn’t great we really didn’t know where we were going, we just kept following a rough path that finally lead us to a church made out of a rock formation. We walked around a little, not knowing what to do next, because we were the only people there, and we were not sure if we could even go in or if there was a fee. We finally approached an older man who had a rough tarp booth set up and a very friendly guard dog. Turns out he was looking after the site and he also sold tickets to go into the church. We paid our $2 CAD, (the kids were free) and climbed the steep stairs into the church. As we were the only ones there we were allowed to take photos inside (usually it is not permitted).
The church was small inside, no more than a hand full of people could fit in it at any given time. This small rock church and others like it were built by Christians in the area, some of who lived as hermits. The walls and ceiling were painted. Beautiful frescos of Christ and the Virgin Mary can still be seen and remain on the walls and ceilings. We especially enjoyed our time at this little rock church because of the older man who served as our unofficial guide and because of his friendly dog, who just wanted to play. This man worked there collecting ticket money and he just kind of took on the role of a guide and began to show us around inside the church and surrounding area. I think he really enjoyed his job and was happy to be able to share his knowledge of the church and the area’s history. He told us details about the frescoes inside the church and then led us up to the pigeon houses.
The pigeon houses were once used as homes for carrier pigeons and then in later times they were used to make and store wine. Pigeons were important not only for sending and receiving messages, but their eggs shells were used for making plaster, and their poo was used in the fresco painting process. We had so much fun exploring that that the man told us if we returned the following day that he would take us to, and show us another church, which was in the process of restoration. Unfortunately, our time didn’t permit a return visit to the same area. When it was time to leave, the friendly dog walked beside and ahead of us, showing us the way out of the valley. Once we were close to the main highway, the pooch turned and ran off. We felt special to have been escorted out by this friendly canine, and took a few pictures of him as he “watched over” and led us out.
Not getting to the Open Air Museum that day and spontaneously following that unknown trail turned into one of the special adventures of our trip. We will each will remember it in our own special way. We could have spent days wandering the hills of Cappadocia and never gotten bored. We noticed only a few other people hiking in the valley and felt it a shame. Everyone just goes straight to the Open Air Museum and forgets about the trails, which are free of charge and so worth the walk. I am so glad we had to time to enjoy the hills and valley.
Open Air Museum
From our hotel we walked the half hour or so to the Open Air Museum which is a UNESCO world heritage site. There has been a Christian community in the Cappadocia area since the end of the 2nd century AD and some Saints have lived in the Cappadocia area. The museum is a site full of churches (some in honor of local Saints), a monastery, a convent, chapels and other associated rooms (kitchens, dining areas, storage rooms, pigeon houses) which are carved into the rock. There were even a few private cave homes in and around the Open Air Museum in which descendants still live. Inside the churches were tombs and most had well preserved religious frescoes on the walls and ceilings. Photography is not permitted inside the churches, but one thing you would see when looking at the frescoes is that many of the eyes of the people have been scratched out. It is a bit eerie looking at these frescoes. I have read that the reason for this is that Muslims believed that by looking at the eyes of these Christians that they would be converted. Since we could not take photos of the incredible frescoes and interiors at the museum, we bought a book with some photos, description and history.
We spent a number of hours walking through the museum. The kids enjoyed running around a little, while we sat at a picnic table watching the hordes of tour groups come and go. Overall, we enjoyed our time at the museum and would recommend doing it on your own without a tour, so you can go at your own pace.
Lessons learned: Don’t bother purchasing the audio guide as the information in the guide is the same information provided on the signs at the entrance of each church. However, if you are interested in interpretive and artistic details about the frescoes and churches, intermixed with some Christian history then rent the audio guide. For us, the audio guide was a bit of information overload. Go early in the day to avoid the afternoon heat and take water or other drinks with you (too expensive to buy on site). It is a busy place so be prepared to wait in line to get into many of the churches as they limit the number of people who can enter at a time. If you want to buy souvenirs or other items, check the prices in the shops off the grounds and in Goreme, they are only a portion of the cost compared to in the museum store.
For our last day in Goreme area we were back on tour with a group, on the “Green Tour” as they call it. We decided to re-join the tour here because the attractions in the Green Tour are further away and we felt we needed transportation and a little more guided information on them.
Our tour started with a stop at one of the many underground cities. Derinkuyu Underground City is just one of the 200 or so underground cities in the area. It also believed to be largest underground city. It was built by the Phrygians between the 7th and 8th century BC, then enlarged by the Byzantines between the 5th and 10th centuries AD. The massive Christian city has 8 levels (but it is believed that there are 3 or more levels stills to be unearthed). Up to 20,000 people lived there. There was also room for animals too. You will find stables for animals, chapels, a temporary cemetery, wine and oil presses, storage rooms, schools and living spaces. There are ventilation holes throughout the city. A 55m shaft was used for ventilation and water. On the lowest level is a crucifix-shaped church. It is difficult to describe just how big this city is. It is filled it nooks and crannies. Some of the tunnels are so small that at times you need to crawl on all fours. Definitely not a place to go if you are claustrophobic. This massive underground city is well worth the trip and was a highlight of our day.
Oh back to nature. The Ihlara Valley is the longest and deepest gorge in Cappadocia and home to some of the oldest rock cut churches and homes in the area. After we walked down the 300 plus steps we walked about 4 km along the floor of the gorge. The scenery is remarkable. A beautiful and relaxing walk, passing by more churches and houses carved into the hills, many of which had sheer cliffs by the entrances. Why? It was apparently for safety and protection from predatory animals (lions, bears, wolves) and “high up” safety from Christian persecutors. Early Christians were certainly good rock climbers. Wished we had more time there to see the scenery and hear the history (our guide was too busy flirting with another one of the guides, to bother guiding our hike).
Selime Monastery is another out of this world beautiful area. Monks in the 13th century built the monastery that includes a kitchen, dining area (with intact dining rock table/benches), church, living dwellings and wine making area. An amazing feat. Some of the paths are so narrow and V-shaped they are barely wide enough for one foot. It is such an amazing place to explore. Later in history the monastery was taken over by a Muslim population, and it became a strategic castle, for defense. The scenery is like the Red Planet in many ways, so it is not hard to understand why this area was used as a backdrop for one of the Star Wars movies. Noah and Aurora enjoyed re-enacting a few Jedi Light saber moves in the perfect location.
Our last stop on the tour was to see the Uchisar Castle and the surrounding Pigeon Valley. It was a very quick stop, just long enough to take a few pictures then back into the van.
The mix of self-guided and guided tours was perfect for us. Only wished we could have spent more time exploring this amazing part of the world.