In my never ending attempt to give you conversation topics with which to engage Cappadocians, I have decided to do a semi-regular series featuring “relatively useless facts that make great dinner/tea conversation topics”.

By “semi” I mean whenever I get 10 of them, I will put them in a post. Almost all of these came from local friends; you cannot get most of this information on the web (well, you couldn’t before I posted this!)

I gathered this list over the past few months so do not hold your breath for the next installment!
Cappadocia1
Thus, without further adieu…

1. GÖREME’S THREE NAMES: Göreme has had three names. Originally it was called Avcılar which means Hunters. My sources could not tell me why (hint: great question for your hosts). This was changed to Maccan (the cc = jj). I could not find the meaning or reason for this name. Then around 30 years ago according to my friend who lives there, the name Göreme was given to this small town. I cannot confirm the timing, but apparently the name was better for tourism. The name means invisible or not seen. The town sits in something resembling a bowl and is difficult to see from even as close as Çavuşin, so it fits. Clearly I need to do more research on this one.

2. BOULDER HOTELS?: Older local Turks use the Turkish word “kaya” which translates to “boulder” in English for what we call Fairy Chimneys as well as for what is translated as cave. Younger Turks use the word Peri Bajası which translates to Fairy Chimney. This is now the official Turkish word for these strange geologic formations (either stone gnome hats or giant phallic symbols depending on which ones you are observing). Apparently they were called kaya by the locals but when that word was used outside of Cappadocia, it did not give an accurate picture. They needed a new word and someone decided on Fairy Chimney. No one I asked could tell me why that was chosen. Perhaps legend has it that fairies live in them and chimney works better than other more vulgar words?

Also, cave hotels are another translation oddity. The word kaya is used again. This would make the literal translation “boulder hotels” but that does not fit, of course. In this case the dynamic equivalent translation style works well as no one would be excited to stay in a boulder hotel but a cave hotel sounds really cool.

3. ALIENS?: Some Turks apparently think that Cappadocia’s geological formations are a mystery. One friend said that his Turkish teacher in Ankara told the class in all seriousness that the fairy chimneys were formed by aliens. She said that no one is sure how it happened. He told her about volcanoes and erosion, but she was skeptical.

4. EARLY WARNING SYSTEM: Many of the high places, like the upper and lower Çavuşin churches and the taller fairy chimneys, were used as part of an early warning signal system. If you saw Lord of the Rings you understand the concept; they lit the fires from Gondor to Rohan. The same happened here from high place to high place when armies invaded.

5. ARE YOU PAYING TOO MUCH?: This one will probably get me in trouble. When we first visited Cappadocia, we were told to go to a certain big pottery/ceramic shop and since the manager was a friend of a friend we would get a 50% discount. How could they do that?

The pottery shops have to pay a lot of fees to get groups to visit them. The competition is intense. The tour guide, tour company, hotel, bus company, and on and on gets a cut. This means that the shops get a significant mark-up for tour groups. Of course, if you are on a tour, you do not have much of a choice where you shop (do not tell them where you heard this). But if you are not connected to a tour, then expect to get a lower price, even as much as 75% off but at least 50%. If you are not with a tour, I recommend checking out the smaller shops in Avanos as they have quality products and need the business. You will find excellent pieces and should pay less. If you do not believe me and you have time and opportunity, check what someone on a tour paid for the same piece as you and report back what you find. The issue is that you need to be shopping when a tour is not present in the shop. I would love to be proven wrong.

6. CANCER VILLAGES: check out this link and this link and this BBC video– Apparently, a number of villages in this region have this problem. A tragically high percentage of the people have cancer. As the article says, they think it is Erionite in the local rocks that is causing Mesothelioma, cancer of the lining of the chest or abdomen. This may be an issue for “Cause Tourism” in Cappadocia.

7. PRIVATE PROPERTY, PLEASE TRESPASS: As you drive around Cappadocia, recognize that most of the land is private property. The government has bought the key tourist spots like the Open-Air Museum and Paşabağ and claims most of the fairy chimneys, but almost all the open space land is owned by locals. In spite of this you will notice the lack of fences. Be sure to be careful as you traipse about through vineyards and pumpkin patches on your way to that cave off the beaten path.

8. BEWARE OF FALLING ROCK: Enter Çavuşin village today and you will pass many houses as you ascend to the upper church or Swiss cheese rock as I like to call it. This was not always the case. Up until the early 1960’s everyone in the village lived at the top of the hill around the church. Then rocks started falling and killed three people (that is the way I heard it). Realizing the instability of the area the government relocated most of the villagers down the hill. I still lack details on how the land was divided up- something else for you to pursue.

9. TURKS IN GERMANY: As you probably know over three million Turks live in Germany. But did you know that people from the same area in Turkey generally move to the same area of Europe and continue to marry within their village families. Of course, this is not 100% but it is more common than you would probably guess. Many people from Çavuşin have moved near Dortmund, for instance. Our landlords showed us a picture of a wedding they attended in their hometown in Germany. The picture contained around 30 people whose families were originally from Çavuşin village. Our landlord made sure that his second son married a girl whose family is from Çavuşin. Both of them were born in Germany, but their grandparents grew up just down the street from each other in Cappadocia. This is fascinating to me.

10. FRIENDLY GULŞEHIR: Gulşehir may be the friendliest town in Cappadocia. Recently I visited this small town which is about 30 km from Avanos. Unlike the heart of the region, they do not get many tourists and were very eager to welcome us. I highly recommend a visit to this town if you have an extra day. They have a number of sites worth visiting including the Mushroom Rock, St. John’s cave church (800 years old with amazing paintings) and a hill full of caves with legends of buried treasure that involved the Italian Mafia.

What do you think? Can you add to or refute any of these facts?
Please add comments as you learn.


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Duke Dillard moved to Turkey with his wife and 6 children in 2007. He got an MBA at Bilkent University in Ankara, where they had their 7th child. After 4 years in Ankara the whole family moved to Cappadocia, and this blog was born. We love Cappadocia and Cappadocians and want to help visitors make the most of their time here. You can connect with Duke on Facebook, follow him on Twitter, and/or link circles on Google+. Click here to read more about Duke and his family.