Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Day one in Turkey - the wonderland of Capodoccia

It was an early morning start to tour the Capadoccia area in Central Anatolia. We were amazed to see our first fairy chimneys or conical rocky outcrops dotting the landscape, that were created by erosion of the original volcanoes. Some of these chimneys reach a height of forty metres. The photographs capture just how beautiful they are.

Our first stop was the Goreme Open Air museum, a concentration of rock-cut chapels and monasteries. We climbed very narrow stairways to get a glimpse of the second century chapels cut into the rock by early Christians. It was here that religious education started when ascetic monks were encouraged to form groups. There were some frescoes in these early churches but they didn't compare to the beautiful blues of the Byzantine frescoes dating from the ninth century in some of the other churches.

The southern end of the valley is honeycombed with tiny cells once occupied by monks. The site is vast and is like looking over a fairy wonderland. There are over thirty churches carved into the rock.

Our next stop was the underground city of Oz Konak  that goes 40 meters below the ground. It too is carved out of the soft volcanic tuff  that was easy to excavate in order to create dwellings. At first we could stand up in the small communal room then we crouched to go through a tunnel into other rooms. The one I liked best was the room where they made the wine. Grapes came through a chute in the ceiling into a spot where they were crushed. The juice was then collected and placed in giant amphorae that still stand in the room today.

There were a series of tunnels that became lower and lower and  were very narrow. These were not for the faint of heart. Each tunnel connected to another room such as living quarters, wells and storage rooms. In one area there were giant millstones that were pulled across the entrances to block invaders. These cities could be kept quite secret. To visit them and walk around certainly makes you appreciate the engineering feat in these ancient times.

We had a roadside stop before reaching our next destination, Avanos. These stops were excellent as far as snacking was concerned. We bought almonds or hazelnuts, apricots, raisins, dates and figs. It was really good to have a stash of healthy food. My favourite thing to have was the freshly squeezed beautiful, ruby coloured pomegranate juice. So delicious, although the juice could be quite tart depending on the pomegranates.

Just south of Avanos we stopped at Sanhan, a caravanserai built in Seljuk or Ottoman times to protect merchants traveling the caravan routes that crossed Anatolia on the Roman-Byzantine road system. A central gate provided the only entrance to the well fortified structure. Inside the central courtyard surrounded by arcades provided shelter from the hot sun and contained apartments and a hamman, Turkish bath, to revive weary travelers. There was also a covered hall where trade goods could be safely stored. It was very interesting visiting this site imagining that perhaps even Marco Polo or his contemporaries visited here.

Finally, we returned to our hotel for a quick dinner before heading off to see the whirling dervishes.

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