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x0x Planet of the cones

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    x0x Planet of the cones In Turkey s Cappadocia, a landscape beyond lunar lies just outside your cave By Alan Solomon Tribune staff reporter Published February
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 28, 2002
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      x0x Planet of the cones

      In Turkey's Cappadocia, a landscape beyond lunar lies just outside your

      By Alan Solomon

      Tribune staff reporter

      Published February 24, 2002

      URGUP, Turkey -- It was mere minutes by minivan from the door of my cave
      hotel in Urgup (yes, my hotel room was a cave) to a viewpoint above the
      Devrent Valley. I was not prepared for what I saw.

      "The first thing I should tell you," said my guide, an amiable young man
      named Uzay, "is, you're on another planet."

      Below me and beside me in this desert land were landforms of a kind I'd
      never seen on my planet--tall cones the color of sand, clusters of them,
      some topped with a flat, dark rock but most just conical, like a village
      of very large, sometimes lumpy dunce caps.

      Volcanoes put them here, but as a plateau, not like this; wind and ice and
      water made them what they are.

      "Still, the erosion goes on," said my guide, in fluent guidespeak. "Most
      of the erosion takes place in the winter . . . "

      Some visitors moved in among the cones, along rough trails, to get a
      better feel; on the road below, disgorged busloads of tourists gazed up
      and snapped photos and gazed up again, trying to make sense of it all.

      I was 19 photos into my own roll of 36 exposures when I walked over to
      Uzay, who had let me wander on my own.

      "Should I be saving film for later?"

      He smiled.

      "This," replied Uzay, "is nothing."

      Then I smiled.

      Because this, my introduction to Cappadocia, was not "nothing."

      And four days later, after exploring much of it by van, foot and hot-air
      balloon--leaving the horses and bikes for the heartier among us--here's
      what I know:

      Cappadocia, folks, is really something. Bring lots of film.

      This place, at 1,500 square miles about the size of Rhode Island, is
      natural formations that simultaneously defy and invite description, some
      of that description inevitably and unapologetically ribald.

      It is cave homes that date to the Old Testament. It is cave churches that
      date to early Christianity and entire underground cities that hid those
      Christians from Roman and other legions.

      There are still full-color frescoes in those churches, from the time
      William the Conqueror was conquering in another world far, far away.

      It is living history: potters working with the same red clay and in the
      same style as Hittites did millennia ago; women baking delicious bread in
      crude ovens cut into the sides of canyon walls; weavers re-creating kilims
      and carpets that were currency on the old Silk Road that cuts through
      Cappadocia; shepherds with flocks and gatherers with berries and, of
      course, dealers in postcards and silly trinkets.

      Part museum and part today, man and nature in wondrous collusion, all set
      in a landscape that's beyond lunar--this is the region of Cappadocia. The
      wonder starts with the land. If these cones and spires and other weird
      formations had been in Utah instead of in the heart of Turkish Anatolia,
      it would've been one of our first national parks. This is amazing stuff,
      like the pinnacles at Bryce Canyon--but somehow more curious.

      The balloon ride--if you do get here, try not to miss the balloon
      ride--literally gave the overview. Kaili Kidner, an expatriate Brit who is
      one of two pilot-owners of Kapadokya Balloons, provided the narration and
      inspiration (and the steering) as we silently floated a couple of hundred
      feet above the village of Goreme.

      "That valley," she said, pointing, "is known locally as `Love Valley,' for
      obvious reasons."

      The formations were nothing if not graphically, with just a little
      imagination, um, obviously . . .

      "But there's another valley over there," she said, "and we call that
      `Penisville,' in case there's any confusion."

      The more vegetably oriented among you might describe these particular
      hoodoos as mushroomlike. Other forms in these and in neighboring
      groupings, from the proper angle, may look like Snoopy, a camel or
      Michelangelo's "Pieta"--or wherever the creative mind leads.

      In general, these formations are called "fairy chimneys." They are found
      in the Devrent Valley and at Goreme Open Air Museum and Zelve Open Air
      Museum and at Uchisar and Pasabagi and in places without names. All were
      created of essentially the same stuff and from the same process.

      Volcanoes (there is some disagreement about which did what and when, but
      that's someone else's problem) spewed spewage called tufa. Some of this
      material, for reasons volcanologists understand, is softer than the other.

      The result, a couple of million years later: The erosion wasn't uniform.
      So today, we have sloped conical, columnar and other standing formations
      of relatively soft rock (mainly pumice) sometimes topped by caps of harder
      rock (primarily basalt).

      We also have whole canyons, valleys and gorges (which are which doesn't
      seem to matter to mapmakers and sign-painters), explorable on foot or,
      some of them, on horseback.

      To name three: The Red Valley is a wow, especially when the light is right
      (late afternoon is really good). The Ihlara is cut by a stream jumping
      with trout. The Pigeon's walls are pocked pigeon holes first created by
      4th Century monks to collect guano for fertilizer, an enterprise that
      continued long after the monasteries were pretty well abandoned by the
      14th Century.

      Which introduces the human element.

      Carved into the soft-rock walls of those valleys, canyons and even some
      broader-based fairy chimneys, along with pigeon holes, are caves.
      Thousands of them.

      People did this using their hands and whatever tools were around, possibly
      as far back as the Old Testament Hittites; only two of today's existing
      caves, according to my guide, are fully natural--though it's likely some
      of the man-made ones began as natural dents and were enlarged. Eventually,
      entire cave-settlements were established (some in use into the 1940s--and
      some, significantly upgraded in most cases, converted into hotels you will
      love), as well as underground storage facilities and, in some cases,
      underground shelters for protection against invaders.

      When early Christians (we're talking early Christians here, like 1st
      Century), fled from Jerusalem and environs to Asia Minor to escape Roman
      persecution, many of them found refuge in those caves and underground
      shelters--some of which were expanded.

      They also, being Christians, designated some of the caves as churches.
      Over subsequent centuries, monastic and other Christians added pillars,
      alcoves and domes to these primitive chapels, and decorated them with

      Those original frescoes were covered over during 8th Century, lost to the
      iconoclasm of Byzantine Emperor Leo III, which banned depiction of
      biblical personages and scenes (and got him excommunicated by Rome). The
      movement didn't last much longer than Leo; by the 10th Century, the
      Cappadocian fresco-painters were back doing their thing--and today, it's
      those frescoes, most done in the 10th and 11th Centuries, that survive in
      Cappadocia's cave-churches. Some are rather primitive, even for their
      time. To compare the best of them, in workmanship and in condition, to the
      vivid, striking works that survive in, say, the tombs of ancient Egypt
      would be silly. This is mainly folk art, and scarred folk art at
      that--victimized by latter-day iconoclasts (primarily Muslims) and
      thoughtless graffitists (which, judging from their work and initials,
      cross national, ethnic and religious lines).

      Imperfect, to be sure. And yet . . .

      To walk into what is a cave, carved out and sculpted by skilled hands more
      than a thousand years ago, and look up into a dome, again carved out by
      hand, and see a still-clear image of Jesus surrounded by disciples is,
      certainly in the context of history, visually and emotionally stunning.

      Then there are the underground cities. The largest known city, Derinkuyu,
      is open for tours but still full of mystery; estimates of how many people
      could live there at any given time range from 6,000 to three times that.
      Archeologists have found eight levels, and some believe there may be
      another 12 below those.

      Those of you who had ant farms as kids can imagine the network of
      compartments of Derinkuyu and the other buried cities. Dead-end corridors,
      narrow passageways and rolling blockades kept the inhabitants (human and
      livestock) safe from soldiers and other enemies; sophisticated (for the
      time) systems of ventilation, water distribution and storage kept them
      breathing, quenched and fed.

      "No armies were brave enough to come here," said Uzay. "It was suicide."

      (It's still no picnic. Derinkuyu translates as "deep well"; for tourists,
      Derinkuyu means "watch your heads." Exploring these mazes requires a
      certain amount of bending and stooping, and the seriously claustrophobic
      might consider staying in the balloon.)

      Early Christians didn't create these cities--guesses suggest the
      labyrinths go back in one form or another to the Hittites (19th Century
      B.C.)--but during the first centuries after Christ and into the time of
      later Arab invasions they certainly used them to escape persecution. Once
      again, they built churches.

      And it's all here. Plus 14th Century mosques and tombs dating to the
      Seljuks, considered the first ethnic Turks to conquer Anatolia; ornate
      caravansaries that housed and protected traders who traveled the Silk
      Road; so much more to contemplate and absorb.

      But what stays with you, more than the churches and frescoes, is the
      nature of the place.

      One afternoon, Uzay and I hiked a couple of miles of the Ihlara Valley.
      Willows lined the trail along the stream, the Melendiz River, that runs
      through it. Wild berries were there for the tasting--which we did. Above
      us were pink canyon walls with their abandoned cave homes and yet more
      churches--350 churches in that valley alone--some of which we checked out,
      most of which we didn't.

      At one point, a girl on a donkey rode toward us on the narrow path. Behind
      her, goats were being urged along by another girl. The goats didn't say
      much, but the girls smiled as they passed. Soon after, the bank widened
      into a bright-green space, the rippling offering a promise of fresh trout.
      The far side of the canyon was aglow in the morning light.

      Here, said Uzay, is where, when he is not guiding, he spends time with his
      books and his thoughts and his dreams.

      "Here," he said, "it's possible for anyone to find himself. A different
      world from the city."

      A different world than just about any place you have ever seen.

      It is here, in Turkey, in Cappadocia.


      E-mail Alan Solomon: alsolly@...


      Location: Central Turkey, 170 road-miles southeast of Ankara.

      Region size: About 1,500 square miles, slightly larger than Long Island,

      Gateway city: Kayseri.

      Gateway city's original name: Caesarea.

      Number of cave churches (estimated): Maybe 1,000.

      Churches with surviving frescoes: About 150

      Number of underground cities (estimated): At least 40, and possibly
      hundreds. They're still finding them.

      Most famous king: Midas.

      Most famous tourists: Alexander the Great and Marco Polo.

      Most famous local saints: Basil and two key Gregorys. Maybe Paul.

      Tails, they lost: The Lydians, who ruled for a while, invented coins
      before being routed by the Persians in 547 B.C.

      Most famous thoroughfare: The Silk Road.


      Q. What's the proper pronunciation?

      A. Presuming the Turks have the right to determine correctness in their
      own land, it's Kap-uh-DOE-kya.

      Q. And what does it mean?

      A. Various sources define Cappadocia as "land of well-bred horses," "land
      of fine horses," "land of beautiful horses," "land of nice horses" or--if
      you believe the Babylonians--"great north region." Which is less heroic
      but works geographically, if you're in Babylon.

      The Turkish Ministry of Culture likes "land of fine horses."

      Q. How do you get here?

      A. First, fly into Istanbul. Turkish Airways will get you there non-stop
      from O'Hare, or other airlines will do it with a connection. De-lag in
      Istanbul, then catch another flight (it's less than an hour) to Kayseri.
      From Kayseri, if you haven't made private arrangements, frequent buses
      will get you to Urgup or other Cappadocian centers in less than two hours.

      Or you can drive the 440 miles from Istanbul, which isn't a terrible

      Q. What's the best time to come?

      A. April into mid-June, then September into mid-November. Winters can be
      snowy, even though it's a desert country, and summers can be torrid,
      because it's a desert country.

      Q. Do you have to have a guide?

      A. Not necessarily, particularly if you're mainly interested in hiking the
      terrain, exploring the villages and shopping for carpets, pottery and
      wine. But if you're into the history of the caves and the churches within
      them, at least one full day with a guide is a good idea.

      Q. How much is a guided tour?

      A. Anywhere from about $25 a day to $70, depending on the credentials of
      the guide, whether lunch and admissions are included, the number of people
      on the tour and, sometimes, your bargaining skills.

      Q. How do you find one?

      A. You can book ahead through an agency before you come, you can wait
      until you get here and have your hotel find one, or you can walk around
      your base town looking stupid and wait for a tour company to find
      you--which they will.

      Q. What's the ultimate?

      A. A hot-air balloon ride over the best parts. Kapadokya Balloons charges
      $230 for a dawn ride that will last more than an hour, plus champagne on
      landing. Worth every penny. Other outfits exist at negotiable rates.

      Q. Which town should be the base?

      A. Urgup, my choice, is kind of quiet, has some of the better hotels
      around (including a couple of cave hotels), good shopping for carpets and
      kilims, and a decent range of restaurants within either walking distance
      or a $2 (with tip) cab ride. Goreme is right next to some dazzling
      formations, is particularly popular with backpackers and is maybe a little
      livelier at night, if that's your taste. Uchisar has charm and a Club Med
      as well as simpler lodgings (including some cave rooms) that are kind of
      neat, if you can do without the designer toiletries. Nevsehir is for tour

      If you have your own transportation (people do rent cars, bikes and motor
      scooters here), you can find acceptable (though sometimes real basic)
      lodging in most towns and villages.

      Q. What's the price range?

      A. With private bath and reasonable comfort, expect to pay $30 up to about
      $150 a night for two. My hotel, the 10-room and in all ways wonderful
      Esbelli Evi, a cave hotel in Urgup, charges $90 for doubles, including
      breakfast, free Internet use, free drinks and free use of a washing
      machine. Larger (23 rooms) and more posh but still a cave hotel, the
      nearby Yunak Evleri has prices ranging from doubles at $110 to suites at

      Backpackers, as always, can find shelter for around $10.

      Q. What's a cave hotel?

      A. Just what it sounds like--a hotel with rooms in (or partially in) caves
      reminiscent of the ones people inhabited all over the region. Upgraded for
      you, of course.

      Q. English spoken?

      A. Wherever you need it.

      Q. How's the food?

      A. Lots of kebabs (lamb, chicken, some beef), salads, olives, yogurt,
      tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, potatoes and wondrous things done with
      eggplant. Also fresh fish (usually grilled whole), things cooked in
      earthenware casseroles and jugs, desserts dripping with honey and the
      occasional surprise. Like lamb brains.

      Q. Something to drink?

      A. Primarily tea (regular and apple), colas, Turkish coffee (thick and
      grainy, especially if you don't wait until it settles), juices, local
      wines (not bad), beer (Efes pilsner worked for me), a yogurt drink called
      ayran (it didn't work for me) and the local hooch, raki, an anise-tasting
      fluid mixed with water that wasn't nearly as bad as the guidebooks warned,
      if I remember it right.

      Q. Best way to work it all off?

      A. Hike and climb.

      Q. Which means the essential things to bring are?

      A. good, sturdy pair of hiking shoes that will grip sandstone. The kind
      you would bring to Bryce Canyon or Arches National Park in Utah.

      Q. Is this a Christian pilgrimage-type place?

      A. It's more of a secular "history of Christianity" place. There is
      evidence of early Christianity all over, and you don't have to be
      Christian to appreciate that.

      Scholars also suspect Cappadocia (and not Crete, as was once assumed) may
      be the biblical "Caphtor," home of Goliath and the Philistines (the giant
      and army, not the rock group).

      Q. Accessibility?

      A. Not great. Folks with problems getting around will be able to enjoy the
      amazing land formations and some of the carvings from a distance, but the
      underground cities and most of the cave churches require some dexterity to
      appreciate. (Cave hotels generally have lots of steps as well.)

      Anyone in reasonable health can do it--many tour groups appeared to have
      members in their 70s--but any aids beyond a walking stick just won't
      function here.

      Q. How many days will do it?

      A. Three, minimum. A week, if hiking is a main reason why you're here.

      A lifetime, if you want to know Cappadocia in all its moods and know all
      its secrets--and even that won't be enough.


      For more information on Cappadocia and the rest of Turkey, contact the
      Turkish Government Tourist Office in New York at 212-687-2195;

      Beyond Cappadocia

      It's worth it, but chances are U.S. tourists won't come all this way just
      to experience Cappadocia. Fortunately, there's more.

      1. Istanbul

      An incredible amount of history crammed into one city. Aya Sofia continues
      to awe as it did in the 6th Century, when it was a church; the Blue
      Mosque, nearly as awesome, is steps away; and so is Topkapi Palace, home
      of the sultans. That's just for starters.

      2. Ephesus

      One of Alexander the Great's generals got it going, but what's there today
      reflects the glory of Rome--much of it as it was (well, sort of) when
      Antony and Cleopatra, and later the apostles Paul and John, walked its
      marble streets. You can too.

      3. Pamukkale

      If you're drawn to mineral spas, you may share the Romans' attraction to
      the thermal waters here and the cotton-colored natural terraces that add
      to the draw. Plus more ruins, at Hierapolis and Aphrodisias.


      Off the usual tourist track, and that's too bad: Mevlana Museum, set in
      the former 13th Century mosque that's also his tomb, stands here as a
      tribute to a free-thinker and the whirling dervishes he inspired.

      The Northeast

      Those with a sense of adventure and a love of the trek will find what
      they're looking for, and more, around Dogubayazit, near the Iranian border
      and Mt. Ararat, by tradition resting place of Noah's Ark. More good stuff
      farther north.

      The Turkish Mediterranean

      The hub, and the development, is centered on Antalya, but the slickness
      hasn't reached all the little coves and villages along the sea. This is
      history and beaches, and a slower pace than coastal delights of Spain and
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