Drip Castles and Fairy Chimneys

by Anna

Cappadocia, “Land of the Beautiful Horses,” is unlike any place I’ve ever seen. Johnny and I were constantly in jaw-drop positions as we explored this other-wordly landscape, rich and unique both in its history and geology. Cappadocia’s terrain resulted from volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. Over time, the lava was eroded by weather, exposing the soft tuff left beneath the harder rocks above, thus leaving behind the phallic looking formations, dubbed “fairy chimneys” that stud the area. Also left behind were the amazing valleys and drip castle-esque rock formations that served as cave dwellings for prehistoric settlers, Byzantines, Christians, and so on as one civilization built upon the work of its predecessor through the ages.

We based ourselves in the cool little village of Göreme, which is a scenic delight in itself with cave houses dotting the rocks and lively shops and restaurants nestled along a tree-lined canal. Göreme also topped the charts with the friendliest, warmest people ever. We were already impressed by how nice and helpful Osman and his nephew were in Selçuk, and our amazing host, Mustafa, at the Arch Palace Hotel picked up right where they left off. He went out of his way to make sure we had dinner plans, rides to and from wherever we needed to go, maps of the valleys, etc. During breakfast each morning as we admired the view from the rooftop, Mustafa would move from table to table talking with all his guests and making sure everyone was happy. Every other person in Göreme was the exact same way, always making us feel welcome. By the time we left, we felt like we had friends all over the village, many of whom thought Johnny looked either like Jesus or Jake Gyllenhaal. It was a toss up.

Cave houses just off the main road in Göreme
A delicious Börek meat filled pastry at Nazar Börek Cafe Nazar Börek Cafe in Göreme
Along the canal in Göreme

As soon as we arrived in Göreme, we bundled up since it was pretty frigid, and walked a small distance out of town to the Open Air Museum. This was our first opportunity to explore the cave dwellings and churches that date back to the Byzantine period and to take in the amazing landscape around us. We particularly enjoyed visiting the Karanlik Kilise, or “Dark Church,” which had the most beautifully preserved frescoes due to the lack of light over the centuries.

The view from our walk to the Göreme Open Air Museum, a Unesco World Heritage Site
 
Just passing a camel along the way…no big deal Rocks speckled with cave houses
Other-worldly
Doorway to a cave house Cave paintings
Karanlik Kilise Beautifully preserved cave frescoes
Inside the Open Air Museum

That night after enjoying the sunset from the roof terrace of our hotel, we sampled our first Testi kebap. Testi kebap, you say? At first glance this might sound like a dish involving the unmentionables of some animal, but quite to the contrary. It is actually a delicious mix of meat and vegetables cooked in a sealed clay pot over an open fire. The best part, besides being crock-pot style, melt-in-your-mouth delicious, is that you get to break open your clay pot with a hammer at the table (pretty sure I ate a few pieces of clay, but it was worth it!).

Up on the roof…
Easy does it Bam! steaming goodness is revealed
Yum

The next day we again put on our warmest layers and took a short bus ride to another Open Air Museum in Zelve. The three valleys which make up the museum blew us away with their colorfully streaked rock walls, crazy rock formations and multitude of cave dwellings and pigeon houses dating back to the 9th century and lived in up until 1952 when they were deemed too dangerous for villagers. Unlike the Göreme Open Air Museum, we were two of only a handful of people there, so it felt like we had these amazing canyons to ourselves.

From Zelve we veered along dirt paths past grapevines and sheep till we found Paşabağı, well known for its stunning array of fairy chimneys, some of which contained former monk cave dwellings and chapels. Our walk then took us to a small village called Çavuşin. We stopped at “Ayse & Mustafa’s Place” in the old part of the village for some çay (by this point I was developing a mild addiction to Turkish tea) and lunch. Çavuşin had an incredible, massive rock face filled with abandoned cave houses, and we got amazing views after scaling up the side of it.

It was just us and the sheep Autumn colors in the valley
The fairy chimneys also kind of look like mushrooms
More fairy chimneys
Cay in traditional tulip glasses Refueling at Ayse & Mustafa’s Place
Çavuşin cave houses
Climbing the rock face in Çavuşin…”Where’s Johnny?”

Next we headed to what would be the highlight of the day; the Red and Rose Valleys. We had heard that you sort of just “find your way” through these valleys, as they are not really marked, and the trails veer off in all directions. The lack of detailed maps or trail markers and the lack of people definitely made for a surreal adventure exploring these pink and rusty-hued valleys. Every twist and turn took us to an even more spectacular view than the last with shapes and colors that we had never seen before. And just when we felt like we were the only people walking through what felt like another planet, we’d stumble upon cave houses carved high in the rocks, a random tea shack or old man gathering pomegranates and pumpkins. Pomegranate trees, by the way, were everywhere, and on our way out of the Red Valley, we stopped at a small tea stand and had a fresh squeezed cup of pomegranate juice. When we finally cut through the hills on our way back to Göreme, in awe of the natural wonders we had seen that day, the call to prayer echoed across the valley from the spires of the mosques, reminding us how very far away from home we were.

That night we perused the small colorful shops in Göreme (and really started thinking about buying one of those magical Turkish carpets!) and unwound/dethawed at the cozy Red Red Wine Bar.

Carpets for days in Göreme
Bright hand-painted ceramics More carpets
Red Red Wine Bar Red Red Wine Bar
Nighttime in Göreme

The next morning we awoke to sunshine and hot air balloons floating through the blue skies. We decided for our last day to join a small tour, called the “Green Tour” in order to see more of the region. After checking out a panoramic point of Göreme, our first stop took us to the Derinkuyu Underground City. The deepest of 36 underground cities discovered in Cappadocia, it was first built by the Phrygians in the 8th to 7th centuries BC and was expanded upon and served as a hideout for Christians in the 6th and 7th centuries. We were able to visit 8 of the 16 floors deep beneath the earth. When we arrived down the extremely narrow and low passageway to the 8th floor, we were 85 meters below the surface (approximately an entire football field length beneath the ground!). I think Johnny turned a little green at a couple points when we had to literally bend over and almost crawl to get through the narrow tunnels, but it was well worth it. The intricacy of the city with stables, homes, churches, wells, baptism pools, air shafts and classrooms was amazing, and it was crazy to imagine 10,000 people living for months at a time in this way in order to evade enemies.

Hot air balloon rides are a hot ticket in Cappadocia
The passageways got even more narrow and low than this…not a happy place for claustrophobics!
Johnny’s so excited to be eight levels below the earth Deep and narrow stairwells
One tunnel went a distance of 15km, connecting to yet another underground city

Glad to have avoided any cave-ins, we emerged back into daylight and headed for Ihlara Valley, the 2nd largest canyon after the Grand Canyon (fun fact). We took a 4km walk through the valley in the Melendiz river canyon which was full of fall colors, more cave dwellings and churches, and some of the most enormous ducks I’ve ever seen – I think they might have been duck-geese hybrids.

Ihlara Valley Agacalti (under the tree) church in Ihlara
The colors were beautiful in the Melendiz river canyon
Cappadocia was also the land of cute puppies Cave dwellings along the walls of the canyon

After lunch in Belisirma, we drove to Yaprakhisar, an area which is well known for its landscape looking like the backdrop of Star Wars. We climbed around and explored the largest monastery (Selime) in the area which was really impressive both in size and intricate details within the rock caves.

Yaprakhisar
Inside the church at Selime Inside the church at Selime
Star Wars landscape Yaprakhisar

After one final panoramic look out point of Pigeon Valley, we got back to Göreme around 5:30pm, grabbed our luggage and headed to the very cool Safak Cafe that we had found the day before for some last minute wine and meze before boarding our overnight bus to Istanbul!

Erciyes Dagi volcano
Pigeon Valley (pigeons were considered sacred, and their droppings were used as manure)
We were sad to say goodbye to our main man Mustafa We loved the Arch Palace Hotel
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3 Responses to “Drip Castles and Fairy Chimneys”

  1. Wow…incredible!! Thanks for sharing this truly unique part of our planet (although some of it looked like scenes from another planet). Love you, miss you

  2. I have never heard of this place and now I know so much thanks to you! Amazing! Love On! -Moonie

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