This is a guest post by Aaron Myers. Aaron is the writer behind the blog, The Everyday Language Learner and the creator of the EDLL Guide Series. He also does individual coaching to “help regular people have more fun learning another language”. He and his family currently live in South Dakota, USA. They lived in Turkey for 4 years before moving back to American in 2012.
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Istanbul is a giant city of nearly 15 million people.
It is a grand city, great in both history and modernity and for the last four years, my family and I have called it our home.
But Istanbul is also dense, a concrete jungle of poor planning and claustrophobic neighborhoods aching for clean air and open space.
Majestic Hasan Dağ volcano towers above Aksaray in Cappadocia
And so when our kids’ spring break came up the first week of April, our first inclination was to get out. Turkey is blanketed by both natural and man-made wonders and in central Turkey, in a place known as Cappadocia, these wonders combine in a surreal soliloquy of stone and the ingenuity of the ancients.
Using Duke’s writing at Captivating Cappadocia as our main guide, we headed across Turkey’s western plains toward Ankara, south to Nevşehir and then into the heart of the region, to the small town of Göreme.
DRIVING FROM ISTANBUL TO CAPPADOCIA
The drive itself was one surprise after another.
The trip was only about eight hours – we expected more like twelve. The snow covered Hasan Dağ Volcano grew out of the horizon to greet us. Somehow we had missed that one in the guidebooks. And the landscape of the region beyond Nevşehir is like few other places on earth. In America we have The Badlands in South Dakota and Mesa Verde in Colorado, and if you could somehow combine those two, you would get something similar to Cappadocia.
Duke does a wonderful job telling the story of the history and the landscape and the attractions of the area, and so I’ll leave the details to his pen. What I can do is tell our story, an adventure really, of exploring two of Cappadocia’s lesser known sites.
IHLARA VALLEY: HIDDEN LABRYNTH
The first is the Ihlara Valley, an hours drive south and west from Göreme next to the small village of Belisırma that has done little to capitalize on the tourism that their canyon might create.
Down over 300 steps from the small snack stand at the top, the canyon floor is a narrow wedge of quaint vineyards and rock strewn floodplain. The Melendiz River cuts through the gorge, cascading over rocks and down drops and in April was swollen with snowmelt.
We headed downstream and deeper into the canyon whose walls began quickly to rise above us and to show the pockmarked signs of life lived centuries before. There are dozens of churches to be found in the canyon walls and hundreds of other dwellings.
As Aaron’s family found out, some tunnels are small…
It is an amazing feeling to be walking through an abandoned civilization. We were excited to explore, and ventured up to every doorway in the rock wall we could find to see where it led. Most were just small rooms, but eventually we came to one doorway that opened into a large room, a room with other doorways that led into narrow dark passageways.
We had made one fairly important oversight in our coming. We had forgotten a flashlight. When you are climbing from one man-made cave house to another through pitchblack tunnels which host occasional left turns, a flashlight can be handy. The kids were undeterred though and so, using the little red-eye reduction light on our camera, we pressed on into the dark.
Each of the rooms had openings to the valley and thus, had light, but we would enter each new tunnel in the groping manner of a man gone blind. I would crawl ahead, the kids would stumble along behind me, and my wife brought up the rear.
Some of the tunnels were so small that even my eight year old had to stoop. Up and down, back and forth and on and on. We explored over 100 yards of the interconnected cliff face dwellings and eventually came to the end of the line – a giant room with vaulted ceiling that could hold perhaps fifty people.
…and others are tall.
Running out of daylight, we turned back leaving much of the canyon unexplored. We had received a taste of an amazing adventure waiting to happen and agreed as a family that we would one day return.
ÖZKONAK UNDERGROUND CITY: HIDDEN GEM
Our second outing was less adventuresome but equally interesting. We headed north of Göreme to the Özkonak Underground City. The whole region is underlain with hundreds of underground cities but only a few are open to the public. To give you some perspective, imagine a city that was dug into the rock eleven stories under the ground, had ventilation and water systems, a winery and at one time hosted a population of up to 50,000 residents. That is the underground city of Derinkuyu to the south.
Özkonak is similar. Far less has been excavated but it does have all the major features of the popular underground cities. Like most of these structures, exploring this city is not for the weak of back. There are many long tunnels that never reach a height of more than four feet. But unlike our adventure in the canyon, Özkonak is an actual historic site with handrails, electric lights and informative signs throughout its depths.
The real adventure for us though occurred after we came back up from the city. We had wandered over to the souvenir stands and found ourselves talking with 80ish year-old Latif Acar, an imam who in the late 1960’s was curious as to where his water was disappearing in his fields and discovered a large underground room. He had discovered Özkonak Underground City, a city that was perhaps 2,000 years old and had lain hidden for hundreds of years.
The imam who discovered Özkonak underground city
In an age when there seems no place left to explore and where everything seems to have been discovered, it was exciting to be talking with the man who had discovered this subterranean world.
Cappadocia is an amazing place. For our family, it was just the vacation we needed to get out and explore and have our own little adventure. We’ll come back one day. Cappadocia is just too spectacular not to come back to.
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