cabbages which took two to pick and carry a piece. There is something in the soil of Ürgüp, a three-hour drive from Nevşehir airport, which makes vegetables here so huge and almost otherworldly.
Those who come to Turkey and leave, just doing Istanbul, are missing the real thing if they haven’t done the small rocky region of Cappadocia, which witnessed volcanoes
about 10 million years ago. Cappadocia was our trip’s surprise packet. Known for its super-sized vegetables, Cappadocia throws up surprises like king-sized cabbages, weighing around 20kgs!
Cappadocia comes from Persian word Katpatuka meaning the ‘land of the well-bred horses’ and was known throughout the ancient world for its horses, horse-breeding farms, and tradition of gifting horses. It’s said that when Cappadocia was captured by the Assyrian King Ashurbanipal (668-626 B.C.), the king of Tabal (as Cappadocia was then known) sent his daughter and other gifts as tribute. Ashurbanipal, however, declined these gracious offerings and asked instead for the famous Cappadocian horses. History also records that when Alexander fought the Persians in the battle at Granicus, Cappadocian horsemen were among his troop. The fame of the Cappadocian horses and horse-breeding farms continued through Roman and Byzantine times but nowadays you’re unlikely to come across one. Tourists come here to view the rockcut ancient cities, which have been sculpted by wind and rain and had once sheltered around 50,000 people! The Europeans discovered these at the beginning of the 18th century.
We witnessed churches, chapels and dining halls carved into every block of stone at Göreme, 10kms from Ürgüp, in an area crossed by valleys in the Nevşehir-Ürgüp-Avanos triangle. This region was a centre of monastic life from the 4th to 13th centuries. Together with the fairy chimneys, this centuries-old repository of natural and cultural riches is listed among the UNESCO World Heritage sites. Even if you’ve been all over the world, your memories are likely to fade into oblivion when you set foot here, where the voices of ancient civilizations are carried on the wind. Like hats made of stone, the fairy chimneys have a conical shaped body with boulder on top of it and stand proud in the sun and greet you before morphing into phantasmagoric shapes at dusk.
Another characteristic feature is the sweeping curve and pattern
on the sides of the valleys, formed by rainwater. Each valley has a different shade of colour, thanks to the heat of the lava layers when they formed. What you may see during sunrise is completely opposite at sunset – same place but different worlds.
||Cappadocia is known as the original home of the monastic education system, and the open air museum that opened in 1960 includes ten such monasteries. Besides the Rahipler or Priests’ Monastery, which will be the first to greet you, other structures worth a visit in this giant open air museum include the Kızlar ve Erkekler, or Girls’ and Boys’ Monastery, the Church of the Serpent, the Chapel of St. Basil, Elmalı or Apple Church, Tokalı Church and the Church of St. Barbara.
Next on our agenda was a tour of the subterranean world of Kaymakli. Said Filiz, “The underground cities carved from the soft, volcanic rock of the region were the work of Phryigians, who lived here from the 8th-7th centuries B.C.E. Later these were greatly enlarged in the Byzantine era and perhaps sheltered the early Christians from Roman persecution. In the 6th and 7th centuries C.E., Christians, fearing Arab raiders, used them as well.”
More than 200 underground cities, many connected through miles of tunnels, have been discovered between the towns of Kayseri and Nevşehir. Only a few are excavated and open to tourists.
The Kaymakli underground city is a labyrinth of rooms. Stables, passageways, kitchens, wine cellars, air vents and churches extend to eight erratic levels below the surface. Only four levels are currently open. The city is cleverly excavated to allow airflow from the surface. Smoke from the cooking fires was absorbed by the soft rock, hindering detection. Up to 3,000 people took refuge for months at a time here.
Another nearby underground city, Derinkuyu, an eleven level complex, is believed to have housed as many as 50,000! Like the chawls of South Mumbai—people lived here in cramped quarters, which were uncomfortable and hardly afforded any privacy. Kaymaklı is noteworthy not only for its underground set-tlement but also for its architectural monuments, such as the Kurşunlu or ‘Leaded’ Mosque and the Church of the Virgin Mary. But one thing no visitor to Kaymaklı can leave without trying is its famous dried ‘kaymak’ or clotted cream, after which the area is named. It is served either spread with honey or poured into thick fruit syrup after having been reconstituted with a little lukewarm water. From Kaymaklı we moved to Derinkuyu, literally ‘Deep Well’, which takes its name from the depth of the water wells here. Inching through the narrow corridors of this settlement may take your breath away for an instant. But
the flawless ventilation system ensures an abundant supply of oxygen between the stories. Inside the ‘well’ are stables, cellars, dining halls, churches and storage areas.
We thought we have had enough of Cappadocia and wanted to return to our Seljuk era hotel but Filiz insisted we do Avanos on our way back. The town set on the banks of the Kizilirmak, the Red River, gets its name from the clay that it deposits. As you enter the city you’re greeted by a sculpture of a potter on a wheel. Avanos is famed for its pottery and the town is still dominated by this industry. Master potters here knead life into clay with their hands working on kick wheels. We visited one such workshop, Firca, a 700-year-old historical underground handicrafts centre, carved by hand in rocks. Besides the usual pots, jugs, jars and practical kitchen vessels, there were also gift items featuring the shapes and forms of ancient Anatolia.
Like most others we too left with our Cappadocian memories and souvenirs like ground spices, handwoven fabrics, cloth dolls, model fairy chimneys, Avanos crockery, and copper items. And yes, pumpkin seeds double roasted in milk, a specialty much in demand in Turkey.