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x0x Dovecotes of Cappadocia

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  • Turkish Radio San Francisco
    x0x Dovecotes of Cappadocia By Murat Gulyaz The fascinating landscape of Cappadocia with its rock hewn churches, monasteries and underground cities has another
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 29, 2000
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      x0x Dovecotes of Cappadocia

      By Murat Gulyaz


      The fascinating landscape of Cappadocia with its rock hewn churches,
      monasteries and underground cities has another feature which few
      visitors are aware of. These are the dovecotes carved into the rock
      pinnacles and high valley sides.

      In ancient Greek mythology the dove represented Aphrodite, goddess of
      beauty and love, and figures in the holy books of the major
      monotheistic religions. The earliest reference is in the Old Testament,
      where Noah releases a dove to seek land, and it returns with an olive
      branch showing that life had been restored following the deluge. From
      then on the olive branch and the dove became symbols of friendship and
      peace. In the New Testament, when Jesus is being baptised, the Holy
      Ghost alights on his head in the form of a white dove, which is why in
      Christian iconography the dove represents the Holy Ghost. In the Koran,
      when Mohammed is fleeing from the Qureysh, he hides in a cave. Spiders
      weave webs over the entrance and a dove makes her nest, so his pursuers
      do not bother to look inside and he is saved. In consequence, the
      generality of Muslims regard pigeons and doves as sacred and do not
      hunt or eat them. From the same motive buildings in Islam countries
      often incorporate dovecotes.

      The earliest examples of nesting houses for birds in Turkey date from
      the 16th century and can be seen in mosques, bridges, libraries, and
      other public buildings in Istanbul, Edirne, Amasya, Konya, Kayseri,
      Nigde and Nevsehir.

      Since doves and pigeons need to drink water frequently in order to
      digest the grains with which they fill their crops, dovecotes were
      usually built near sources of water, and the birds themselves were
      regarded as protectors of springs.

      In Cappadocia the dovecotes carved into the upper parts of cliffs or
      pinnacles almost always face east or south across the valleys. Most of
      them date from the late 19th or early 20th century, although there are
      a few from the 18th century. From the point of view of the art
      historian they are interesting for the rare examples of Turkish folk
      painting which usually decorate the faade.

      Cappadocian dovecotes attracted the attention of western travellers to
      the region from the 18th century onwards, and there are engravings of
      them in the travel accounts of Charles Texier and William Hamilton.

      They consist of a carved chamber with one row of three or four
      apertures, or two rows of three apertures by which the birds enter. The
      chamber measures from 5 to 10 square metres with four or five rows of
      niches for the birds to perch and nest in, and sometimes wooden perches
      fitted across. Where the faades have collapsed this interior
      arrangement is clearly visible. Even the smallest dovecotes could
      accommodate over one hundred birds. The largest dovecotes in Cappadocia
      are to be seen in the Ozengi Valley and at Soganli, where there are
      sometimes seven or eight dovecotes one above another.

      In some cases the entrances and windows of Byzantine period rock
      monasteries or churches were closed up to form dovecotes, the best
      examples of this type being the Cavusin (Nicephorus Phocas) and John the
      Baptist churches near Cavusin, the Kiliclar (Kusluk) Church of the Virgin
      Mary in Goreme, the Durmus Kadir and Yusuf Koc churches in the Karsibucak
      Valley, and Halla Monastery in Ortahisar.

      Free standing dovecotes made of cut stone are also seen in some places.
      Architecturally no different from the local one or two-storey cottages,
      such dovecotes are common in the Guvercinlik Valley near the town of
      Uchisar and in the Ozengi Valley near Urgup.

      Local people did not go to the trouble of building dovecotes merely out
      of respect for their sacred character however. The dovecotes provided a
      source of fertiliser, almost as rich in nitrogen as guano, consisting
      of 20-25% organic substances, 1-2% nitrogen, and 0.50-1.5% phosphoric
      acid. Fertiliser was much needed in this region where farming land was
      scarce, so as to obtain maximum harvests from fields, vineyards and
      orchards. To collect the accumulated droppings access to the dovecotes
      was provided by narrow tunnels carved down from the cliff top or doors
      reached by ladders from the valley floor.

      Dovecote facades were usually painted by local artists using pigments
      obtained from trees, flowers, roots, earth containing ferrous oxide,
      and a local red earth known as yosa. Walnut shells and leaves provided
      four tones of green, buckthorn yellow, raisins dark red, onions pink,
      pennyroyal tones of grey, and Tussilago farfara and alder bark brown;
      while cows urine lent gloss to the colours.

      Local people explain that a mixture of plaster and egg white spread on
      the faades makes it harder for animals like martens, foxes and weasels
      to get a grip and climb into the dovecotes. But more often tin or zinc
      sheets have been nailed beneath them to serve the same purpose. In the
      Soganli Valley almost all the dovecotes have been decorated in white
      only, since it is believed that the pigeons are attracted to white and
      find their way back to roost more easily.

      Sunray motifs in red ochre are mostly found in the valleys of Ortahisar
      where farming is not intensive.

      While the most common designs are kilim motifs or figurative motifs
      executed in brown or black on a white ground, we also find many floral
      and abstract motifs. They are sometimes placed randomly and sometimes
      form a symmetrical pattern.

      Figurative motifs are to be seen in the greatest numbers in Kizilcukur
      where the Ortahisar and Cavusin valleys meet. Figures dancing the sword
      and shield dance are a reminder that this folk dance was once performed
      here, although it has been entirely forgotten in Ortahisar today.
      Stylised pictures of people riding or hunting on camels or horses are
      also significant documents for the historian.

      As well as the motifs described above, some of the dovecotes bear
      inscriptions in old Turkish, giving the date, formulas like
      Masallah-Allah (May God protect), or verses from the Koran used to give
      protection from the evil eye, and in some rare cases the name and
      occupation of the owner.

      The places to see the most dovecotes in Cappadocia are the valleys
      around Uchisar, the valleys of Kiliclar and Gulludere in Goreme, the Ozengi
      Valley in Urgup, the Balkan river and Kizilcukur Valley at Ortahisar, the
      Cat Valley near Nevsehir, and at Gesi and the Soganli Valley in the
      province of Kayseri.

      * Murat Gulyaz, archaeologist.
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