Thursday, June 11, 2015

Turkey Tour - Part 5: The Caves of Cappadocia, Day 1

Thursday, April 2, 2015

I knew from our pre-tour research that Cappadocia had caves.  What I didn't understand is that the caves are everywhere.  If there was a cliff, hill, or tower of rock in view, then you could safely place your bet that it had caves carved into it.  The caves were used as storage rooms, stables, entire homes, beautiful carved churches, and even huge underground cities!  And many of these man-made curiosities are carved into geological wonders - "fairy chimneys," towers of stone topped with mushroom shaped caps.
Some of the Fairy Chimneys of Cappadocia
Let's start with a quick geology and history lesson to explain how this remarkable landscape came to be.  Cappadocia is a region in central western Turkey which sits on a high plateau.  Just to the south are a string of tall volcanoes, including Mount Erciyes and Mount Hasan, which we could see, still covered with snow, from our bus as we approached.
Mount Hasan on the right seen from through out bus window.
These ancient volcanoes were responsible for the unique geography of Cappadocia.
During a period of about six million years, (from 9 to 3 million years ago), these volcanoes covered the region with thick layers of ash and volcanic deposits that hardened into a soft sedimentary rock called tufa.  Later eruptions laid down a covering of harder basalt rock.  Over the centuries, wind and water worked their erosion magic and the softest earth was washed away, leaving a landscape of canyons and towers of tufa, still wearing their tough basalt caps.

The inhabitants of this region have been carving dwellings into these soft stones since pre-historic times.  The Hittites had their capital in this region from about 1600 to 1100 B.C.  During the years of the Roman empire, Cappadocia enjoyed status as an independent tributary nation, until becoming a province of Rome under Tiberius in 17 A.D.  Cappadocia's caves served as hiding places for early Christians during the years of Roman prosecution, but when Emperor Constantine established Christianity as the religion of the Byzantine Empire, the caves became the perfect ready-made spots for early churches.

The happy result of this geography and history created a unique and fascinating corner of the world that quickly became one of my favorite destinations in all of our travels.  The excitement I felt seemed to flow through the entire group as we piled out of the bus to snap our first photos of the cave dwellings and valleys below.
Our tour group gets our first look at the caves of Cappadocia
Ancient cave dwellings sit side by side with the newer towns.
The town below is almost invisible where it nestles in between the towers of tufa rock.

A good omen for our visit to Cappadocia!
No evil thoughts could penetrate this barrier of nazar boncugu!
The excitement continued when we saw our rooms in the Cappadocia Estates hotel in the little town of Mustafapasa.  There are many cave hotels in this region, but Cappadocia Estates is the newest, and certainly one of the most luxurious.
Cappadocia Estates hotel - our cave home for the next three nights.
Rob at the entrance to our room.
Although our room was carved into the rock of the cliffs, it was fitted with every amenity, including a huge whirlpool bathtub and radiant heating under the bathroom floor, which kept the entire apartment warm. Much of the stone carving was ornamental, but there were also practical little cubby holes cut into the walls to hold our belongings.  The cave homes are especially practical in this region, as it experiences hot summers and cold winters.  The temperature in the cave homes remains cool but constant no matter what the weather is outside.
Rob in the sitting room of our hotel.
Joan enjoys the luxurious furnishings of the room...
And the huge spa tub!
A light fixture hangs from the carved stone.
We arrived quite late in the afternoon after our long bus ride from Ankara, so it was soon time for dinner in another lovely hotel at the bottom of our driveway, The Old Greek House.
Sharon and Ben in the entrance of the Old Greek House.
Balcony over the entrance.  Photo by Susan Earley.
It was here that we learned about another chapter in Turkish history, the Greek-Turkish population exchange.  To recount the complex history completely would take another big post, so to quote Inigo Montoya, "No, there is too much.  Let me sum up."  Prior to and during WWI, there were many Greek Orthodox Christians living in Turkey and a substantial number of Muslims in Greece.  From 1919 to 1922, the Greeks and Turkey were at war, as the Allies promised the Greeks large portions of the Anatolian Peninsula upon the defeat of the Ottoman Empire.  After the success of Ataturk in the War of Turkish Independence, many Greeks fled back to Greece, and the decision was made to hasten the exodus with a mandatory population exchange.  Because there were so many more Greeks leaving than Turks arriving, there were many abandoned homes, and the little village with the Greek name of Sinasos became the town of Mustafapasa.

The Old Greek House was built as a home in the 1800's by a Greek artist, but was purchased by the current family in 1938.  It has been a hotel since the 1990's.  It is still owned by the family that purchased it when the Greek-Turkish exchange took place, and the wife, Emine, does the cooking for the restaurant.  We enjoyed a bountiful dinner and good conversation under the brightly painted ceilings of the restaurant, then headed up the hill to our cozy cave.
Jim and Jane
Allen, Patty, and Susan
Peng, Bobby, Dave, Cindy, Nancy, Jean, and Matthew
The mascot of The Old Greek House greeted us at every visit.
Naturally, my animal-loving husband made friends!

Our real Cappadocia adventures would start tomorrow - but it was already clear that we were in for an amazing few days!

1 comment:

Kate said...

That is one location we didn't visit while in Turkey. Looks amazing!!