It has come to my attention that for some obscure reasons I totally failed at posting an account of our small tour of Cappadocia three years ago. Okay, I am being polite to myself here, the reasons aren’t all that obscure, I was just being lazy, which is something I really excel at. Nevertheless, in a sorting and arranging frenzy which sometimes overtakes me to compensate for that previously mentioned, ahem, quality of mine, I chanced upon the pictures I took on that trip and thus remembered what a grand time we’d had. Travelling to Turkey these days is of course fraught with some adversities- which is one gigantic crying shame, really, because the country is a huge treasure trove of eye candies, hidden gems and anecdotes.
We’d set off to Cappadocia from Ankara, which was of course shaped to be the capital city of the modern Turkish state, counterbalancing the ponderous giant that was, and still is, Istanbul, with all the intricate historical luggage that involves. You don’t simply counterbalance Istanbul, of course- before visiting it, Ankara, alongside Brasilia and Bern, was more of a silly administrative quirk and mean quiz question trap than an actual city. Once there, you can’t not admire the will which propelled it into being, yet the eerie feeling of something being just a bit off persists- this sprawling, pulsating yet not particularly attractive city in the middle of a vast plain (and the heart of present day Turkey, as opposed to Istanbul teetering on the Western edge) doesn’t, cannot, will never have the romance of Istanbul, especially not to a foreign visitor. Said visitor can, let’s say, indulge in the idea of the old city, for, at least three years ago, the place wasn’t being preserved with the intensity you’d expect for the oldest hub of a capital. The castle area was pretty much an accident waiting to happen, narrow walls and walkways with the occasional crumbling stone and dislodged parapet- since no horrific incident made it to the news, and foreigners are rare in the area, I would day that the good citizens of Ankara are all nimble superhumans with goat and spiderlike qualities. The other pleasant snippet of entertainment was the history museum hosting a wondrous Hittite love in- since I’m a complete sucker for mysterious civilizations and languages, this was probably the most exciting part of my stay, and I drove everyone crazy by carefully reading all the explanations attached to the exhibits.
For anyone travelling to Cappadocia from Ankara, a small detour by Lake Tuz is a must. Turkey’s second biggest lake, it’s hypersaline and, like much of this region, looks like the landscape on one of the planets the crew of the Star Trek visits during it’s voyages. It’s also the home of a large colony of flamingos, which I was blissfully unaware of at the time of the visit, thus sparing my companions of a wild flamingo chase. After dreamily staring into the horizon for hours- which is actually only half a joke, the shiny surface of the lake melting seamlessly into the sky is totally wondrous and captivating, and, should Turkish people be slow TV fiends like the Norwegians, would probably make perfect continous watching-you might consider buying some of the salt based cosmetics on sale in several stores by the shore. For once, a tourist souvenir which is both appropriate and very useful, and allows me to make a foray into the exciting world of beauty blogging- salt based cream for silky skin, top tip of the day.
I always associate with Star Trek when it comes to space travel and alien landscapes, because old trekkies never die, they just make allusions to ever more obscure episodes, but the area’s urban, or I should perhaps say rural, legends have it that parts of the Star Wars movies were filmed here- which is actually incorrect, though some extra camera work might have been done here. Though frankly, there is really no need for Hollywood franchises to boost this area, as it looks pretty otherworldly as it is.
Before getting to Cappadocia proper, allow me to wax lyrical first on the absolutely excellent food we found in the most unassuming of restaurants in Aksaray, of which I do not know the name, nor do I really want to, because I am somehow convinced that, should I return, the experience would not be quite as spectacular as the first time around. Secondly, I must confess my love for the Anatolian plain- it’s a bad pun and I know it, but I am pretty much a plain girl. Two plain related tidbits stuck particularly well during my school years- first, that Romania has two major plains, the Baragan in the south, and the Western plain, that is, my plain and about that I felt pretty smug. And Lucian Blaga’s theory about how plain people are thinkers and dreamers, because there are no obstacles to their vision up to the horizon, whereas mountain people are more practical and set in their ways, given the limitations the landscape imposes on them. While this feel pretty generalizing, in my experience it is also often true. Driving through the Anatolian plateau is probably the closest you can get to that feeling of unlimited possibility of American highways- I was about to write the closest you can get in Europe, though geographically Anatolia is of course already in Asia, yet for me Turkey is firmly located in Europe and there it will always be- this is what happens to you when you build your imaginary landscapes based on Eurovision and Euro qualifiers.
Still before Cappadocia proper (as I said, much is happening around this area of the world) we also got a sneak peak of the Western Taurus range and Mount Erciyes of the Anti-Taurus range, which occasionally had an eerie Mount Fuji like quality to it, with clouds hovering silently over the mountain top. Speaking of lost ancient people, Anatolia is festering with them- among the first inhabitants of the Taurus area were the Hurrites, who founded the kingdom of Mitanni, spoke and ergative-agglutinative language isolate and were great lovers of storm gods- most likely as the area is prone to spectacular thunderstorms.
Since I’m obviously in the mood for it, I might as well unleash the historical-linguistic trivia right in the beginning: the name Cappadocia might come from the Ancient Persian Katpatuka, possibly meaning the land of beautiful horses, or from the Luwian word for low country. The region has a rather adventurous past, having been first a part of the Hittite kingdom, then of the Roman and Byzantine empires, then of course the Ottoman empire before becoming a province of present day Turkey. Since I was silly enough not to read into the history of the place before getting there, there was something bending my mind into a pretzel at the beginning of my stay: many small details of the area look much more like Greece than Turkey, and sure enough, the area was populated mostly by Greeks up to 1923, when the two countries swapped populations. The version of Greek which developed in this area, Cappadocian Greek, was considered to be extinct by the 1960s, but studies found fluent speakers as late as 2005.
Possibly the most typical image of Cappadocia is that of fairy chimneys, or hoodoos, sedimentary rock eroded into pillars of varying shape and height. The soft rocks incidentally landed in the area around Göreme after an eruption of Mount Erciyes (told you about that Fuji connection) and anchorite communities started using the formations as homes and churches as of the 4th century. As the region was pretty secluded, and many churches date back to the iconoclastic period, their decoration is often pretty idiosyncratic. In case investigating strange churches is not necessarily one’s cup of tea, you can simply go up to Göreme’s highest point to indulge in one of those ridiculously postcard perfect sunsets that hardly feel real. There is of course a lot of hot air ballooning occurring in the area, but we shunned such overhyped activities for a visit to the underground city of Derinkuyu- which served as a retreat for mostly Greek speaking Christian populations from several invading hordes, such as the Mongolians led by Tamerlane. The system of tunnels and rooms could host up to 20 000 people and was equipped with all the amenities needed for daily life- and it also helped me discover that I might be slightly claustrophobic after all. Mount Erciyes did further great work in the area, by preparing the ground for the formation of the Ihlara valley, a 16 kilometre long gorge along the Melendiz stream, which again provides a host of quirky churches and devastatingly picturesque streamside restaurants. Yup, we’ve seen none of the churches, but I can confirm that the food was yet again splendid.
If you happen to be in this area of Turkey, you might as well visit the town of Hacıbektaş and the Haji Bektash Veli complex, which dates back to the 13th century, as a tekke founded by the Sufi mystic Haji Bektash Veli. Because I never miss the opportunity of some exciting trivia, you’ll now find out that Gül Baba, whose türbe is to be found in a picturesque corner of Buda, was a Bektashi dervish poet, who is wrongly believed to have brought roses to Hungary- his name is most likely derived from the metaphorical meaning of the rose in Turkish, describing the dervish’s status derived from his mystical knowledge of Allah. And yes there were rorses aplenty in the inner courtyard of the complex, which seemed altogether pretty charming even to my rather stony secular heart.
And to end on a high, Cappadocia is also the backdrop of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Palme d’Or winning Winter Sleep- and since I’d been there prior to the film’s release I could happily squeal when recognizing familiar sights, though my favourite Ceylan movie must be Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, which as you might have noticed lends its title to this delayed yet hopefully informative travel account.