Moving out of the crowded but cosmopolitan bubble that is Istanbul, I next headed to the interior of Turkey; specifically, to a region known as Cappadocia. Whereas the name literally translates to “The Land of the Beautiful Horses,” it is the alien-like landscapes, the underground cities, and the virtually-uncountable “fairy chimneys” that attract visitors today.
The peak of Mount Erciyes, a previously active volcano, is visible on the horizon from virtually any perspective in the Cappadocia region: a solemn reminder of how the distinctive features of the region were originally formed. As the volcano erupted various times throughout its millenia of existence, striated layers of soft rock were formed — one on top of the next — and then subsequently eroded away over the course of hundreds of thousands of years by wind and water. The result is the remaining caverns, valleys, cliffs, and rock formations that give this region its peculiar vistas. The most notable features on the landscape are tall ant-hill-shaped columns in which previous occupants have carved out the interiors and created living spaces to shelter themselves from the hot summers and harsh winters outside. So if you were were a traveler happening upon the area many years ago, you’d likely be a bit taken aback by these structures — some stretching over a hundred feet tall — but each with a trail of smoke being emitted from the peak (from the cooking fires inside). Picturing this sight and the confusion as to how these structures came into existence, it isn’t hard to ascertain where the name “fairy chimney” originated. I chose the small town of Goreme as my jumping-off point for exploring the area, but finding a tour or guide in any of the surrounding towns is quite easy.
Another one of the most popular attractions in the region is the network of underground tunnels that, much like the layout of an ant farm, form entire cities below ground (though these are made to house humans, not ants, of course). The sophistication of the caves, which date back to 7th and 8th century B.C., was absolutely astounding, as included among the amentities were grain storage rooms, wineries, kitchens, ventilations shafts, chapels, and even stables for horses. I visited the Derinkuyu Underground city, which reaches depths of 85 meters, consists of at least 11 floors (which have been excavated so far), and could supposedly house a staggering 35,000-50,000 people for months at a time without venturing back to the outside world above — though admittedly, it probably never achieved those lofty population goals. Given the difficult lighting conditions below ground, however, most of my pictures didn’t turn out too well, so I’ve only got two to show you. But rest assured, it is quite and experience to crawl through these tunnels and chambers (though anyone even remotely clausterphobic should avoid this site like the plague):
Although I do enjoy the convenience of taking guided tours of the various sites in the area (the easiest way to everything, as the various tourist sites are a bit spread out over the region), I was still yearning to explore the surrounding environment by a more personal means. Available options include walking paths, bicycle rentals, motorbike tours, and even various guided tours on horseback — but personally, I allowed my inner-adrenaline junkie to guide me toward the All Terrain Vehicles (woo hoo!).
As a final note, my time in Turkey will mark the end of the European leg of my journey (though most of Turkey is, in fact, on the continent of Asia). I’m far from finished with my voyage (4 months into what could stretch into a 2+ year adventure), bur regardless, I’ve decided to take a short break from travelling to visit my family and friends back in the USA for a few weeks. Although I hadn’t initially planned on breaking up the continuity of the trip this early, it comes at a perfect time for me, as I’ve been seeing the early symptoms of travel burnout setting in (due to the relative expense, one has to travel quickly through Europe so as to not decimate the ole budget), the holiday season is fast approaching where I’ll be able to see all of my friends and family, and it’ll give me a nice chance to recharge my batteries before tackling the vast continent of Asia.
As of now, the plan is to lay low for the next few weeks, and then take off again once the New Year has passed (to either India or Southeast Asia, I haven’t yet decided, though both will hit my itinerary at some point). And I won’t be disappearing completely, as I’ve got a few “Thoughts Along the Way” posts that I’ll have ready in the interim. Until then, Sagliginiza from Cappadocia!