The Magical Land of Cappadocia

It's impossible to over-hype Cappadocia. Jacob can attest to that - I have told him about this wonderful place for years. But all the pictures, nostalgic stories, and foaming at the mouth still can't over-exaggerate the majesty of Cappadocia.

I'm going to apologize now for uber-enthusiastic descriptions, and pictures that barely do the landscape justice. Jacob and I left behind a sizable chunk of our hearts.

Our trip to Cappadocia started off pretty rocky. We had an 8 am flight from the airport in Izmir, which meant an early 5 am morning. We responsibly dragged ourselves out of bed, got everything loaded in the car, and dropped off at the airport. Once in the airport, we panicked. There was no check-in desk for our flight anywhere in the airport, and we didn't have much time to waste. In desperation I went over to the airline office and asked about our flight.

"Ma'am, that flight doesn't exist."

Uhhhh. What? Yes it does, I insisted, I have the confirmation and everything.

"Oh. That flight is tomorrow morning."

No it's not! It's today - Oct. 29th! I showed him my phone as proof, which clearly read that the date was October 29th.

"Today is the 28th." He pointed to the calendar on his wall, then showed me the date on his phone for confirmation. I thanked him, and sheepishly asked if I could use his land line to call Frances, wondering all the while why my phone had betrayed me. And for how long had it been doing this? We will never know.

Frances graciously picked us up from the airport, and we repeated the entire process the next morning. We arrived in Cappadocia, an hour-long flight into central Turkey, excited that our hotel had arranged private transportation for us to our destination. For once, getting somewhere was going to be easy. We were going to be one of those people who had a chauffer holding a sign with our names on it.

We left the baggage claim area, looking around expectantly for our names on a sign. No one. Half and hour later, still no one. After a long and arduous process of locating an internet signal, finding the hotel phone number, borrowing a phone, calling the wrong hotel, arguing with the receptionist on the phone, calling the right hotel, borrowing another phone, and calling back, we found out the truth. Our transportation had forgotten about us.

Our hotel kicked some butts for us, and two hours later, our shuttle finally arrived. We arrived in Cappadocia and quickly forgot all of our troubles.

Here is why:

Cappadocia is an area of central Turkey that is surrounded by three volcanos. Volcanic activity over the ages has left massive deposits of a soft and porous stone that is easily shaped by rain, wind, and erosion. The result is a surreal landscape with riddled with "fairy chimneys". 

This is a fairy chimney:

And yes, that is a door in the bottom of the fairy chimney. Because the stone is so malleable, it has been used for thousands of years as natural housing. Rather than people constructing their home on the land, they constructed their homes in the land. The stone provided natural insulation, and most of all - protection.

This area was famously settled by vast Christian communities. The evidences of their occupancy lie everywhere. They built hundreds of churches, they built cities, they built monasteries. But the Christians in this area had a long history of persecution, so they built their churches, cities, and monasteries in secret, hidden places.

As you climb around the landscape, you can see holes and windows punched into the stone, often too high up to access safely. (We tried as much as we possibly could). If you can manage to get up to them however, and slip through what is often just a crack in the rock, often you will find yourself in a church.

Some of the churches are elaborately painted with murals of Jesus' life and the saints and apostles. Many of these caves were discovered at one point or another by the persecutors who creepily vandalized the paintings by scratching out the eyes of Jesus and the saints and angels.

The Christians also made incredible hidden cities for themselves that exist entirely underground. We visited one of these cities - it extends 10 levels underground, with capacity for 10,000 people including livestock, to live for one month. The cities were used primarily in times of crisis - if in desperate times, the entire population could disappear over night, literally sliding a rock behind them to cover the entrance. There are underground streets, schools, wine presses, stables, churches, graveyards, wells, and ventilation shafts. There are even tunnels that extend as far as 13 km, connecting city to city.

It is mind boggling. And to think the entire city was built and carved out by hand.

Needless to say, we loved our time exploring Cappadocia. It was like being the Indiana Jones of Christian history.

Here is some more scenery from our explorations.

Reading inside of a cave house we climbed into
I'm saving the best picture for last.

Our hotel sat in a valley, the houses built up, in, and around the fairy chimneys of the town of Goreme. Cappadocia is a popular place for hot air ballooning (can you imagine why?), and most of the balloons take off near to where we were staying. One morning we got up for sunrise to watch the balloons take off. Even before we were outside we could hear the balloons, nearly silent except for the shot of flames which propel the balloon up. It sounded like crashing waves.

We left Cappadocia reluctantly, promising ourselves we would be back.