Wednesday, April 30, 2008

On the Road to Cappadocia, Turkey (April 20-22, 2008)

We spent three days driving northwest from the Syrian border to Cappadocia, a region roughly in the middle of Turkey. The Turkish countryside was lovely: small towns - always with a minaret crowning the skyline - nestled amongst green rolling hills dotted with bright red poppies. In the distance, snow still dusted the peaks of craggy mountains.

Cappadocia is known for its unique volcanic landscape. Over the years, the hard lava that settled on top of Cappadocia's soft bedrock has eroded in bizarre patterns, leaving entire valleys of 50m high cones ("fairy chimneys"), mushrooms and other unusual shapes. Hittites and then Christians (hiding from marauding Arabs) carved their homes and churches directly into the soft rock, and the remains of those homes are visible all around the region. In fact, some structures are still inhabited today, although the modern abode includes newer comforts such as paned windows.

Cappadocia also has a number of ancient multi-storey underground cities that could house up to 30,000 people. The cities had ventilation shafts and complex networks of passageways joining homes, schools, churches, wine cellars and even stables! We visited one underground city that went seven storeys down, but it was difficult to get a good photo.

The nearby Ihlara Valley is a great hiking destination, with many rock-cut churches featuring frescoes.

A view from the road: snowy Turkish peaks
The Gumusler Monastery in Antakya is one of Cappadocia's largest and best preserved monasteries. It was designed around an open courtyard; here´s the view looking down on the monastery from above the courtyard.
Here I am peeking out from a second storey door
The murals in the monastery church are dated to the 11th-12th centuries AD
Springtime in Turkey

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