By Antonio Malara
The visit to Cappadocia represents the fourth chapter of my trip to Turkey. This territory is famous for its characteristics, entire villages created over the centuries by particular climatic conditions. These mountains had been shaped in a particular way by erosion, then the tuff from the volcanoes had shaped the outside, creating a unique effect. The man favored by the "softness" of the some kind of rocks had managed to excavate it by creating houses inside the hills. In addition to visiting this unique landscape, there was also a lot of excitement in the group for the balloon ride that would have allowed us to visit those places from above. Precisely for this reason our visit to Cappadocia started early in the morning but unfortunately it did not go as we expected.
We arrived at the refuge at 5 AM, it was still dark and incredibly cold. The place was original because it too was carved into the rock, giving the impression of a cave due to the irregularity of the walls and roof. There they distributed the passes that were used to classify the teams divided for each balloon. Although apparently the weather conditions were normal, the tour guides weren't sure we'd be able to leave, they said the wind would pick up shortly. This led to a long wait, which they compensated for by offering us some hot tea which was also useful to fight the cold. When it started to dawn I went out more to trick the time than for anything else. Once outside, I was struck by the landscape that was not visible when we arrived because it was dark. With the light I could see the beauty of the typical landscape with beautiful mountains in the background and the colors made even more special by the dawn. I started taking pictures of that view but at a certain point I focused on a wagon that was right at the exit of the refuge and was used as a sign. I took a photo that I particularly care about, I put the wagon in the foreground with the mountains in the background. It was a perspective that no one noticed and a western-style photo came out but with the typical scenery of Cappadocia. After some time outside I went back inside where my sister and the others welcomed me with the bad news. Unfortunately, after a long wait, the tour organizers decided that there weren’t sufficient safety conditions to leave in a balloon, however our guide immediately took advantage of this unpleasant event and anticipated the next visit. Tour guides are basically obsessed with the concept of time.
The next trip took us to a destination unknown to me. If I remember correctly it was a visit scheduled for the day after which we anticipated thanks to the "promptness" of our guide. I don't know why but once we arrived at destination I was convinced that this was a superfluous visit, so initially I didn't pay much attention. We were in the city of Kaymakli and we were there to visit the Underground City. However, the area was a huge parking lot except for a small mountain that we faced. Although I didn’t see anything impressive around me, the guide began to specify that the visit was challenging but that still less able people could see the first part and then go back. This because from a certain point on, the path was one-way with points where the cave was very narrow and low. The difficulties listed by the guide arose immediately after the entrance, what looked like a cave was actually an infinite series of low and narrow tunnels, a long "tube" where some stretches had to be followed crouching. Even if the tunnels seemed infinite, then from nowhere we found ourselves inside the rooms, those tunnels began to look like secret passages and this thing amused me. We were surrounded by the brown color of the tuff, the element in which that city had been excavated. The rooms, which also had openings, like a sort of windows, relieved the sense of claustrophobia and in those points the guide gathered us to give us explanations. At a certain point of our underground journey we headed to a staircase that was indicated by a blue arrow, it was the climb that brought us back to the exit.
Even though the place was dark, exploring those caves was very fun and original, I don't remember ever being in such a place. The underground city, which in the end was an infinite series of tunnels and small rooms, was the preview of what would have been Cappadocia, a land shaped by nature in a very particular way that man then transformed into a visionary work born from the need. We left there around 8:30 AM and once again I had made a miscalculation based on nothing, I had underestimated a place before I even saw it.
Göreme Open Air Museum
On the way to Cappadocia's first real destination, the sceneries I saw from the bus were very distinctive. Mostly the hills had rounded shapes very different from what is usually seen. Everything reminded me of naive paintings and in any case the scenery looked more like a cartoon drawing than a real one.
The sensations never lie and when at about 9 AM we arrived at the “Göreme Open Air Museum”, I had a kind of “déjà vu” but different, I had the feeling that I would have liked that place because I already imagined it in a certain way just by seeing the entrance. Right there a sign informed that the place had been a UNESCO heritage site since 1985 and the great road in the middle of the green that led to the hills made me feel a bit like Dorothy in the world of Oz. This site was truly a fairytale place like you can see in a cartoon, although technically it was a park, it actually looked more like a village. Those houses that developed uphill, built in the tuff gave the feeling of an alien but positive place, like that of dreams or children's stories. The hills shaped in that way in fact created a unique harmony and sense of lightness. The route climbed slightly uphill, and was made in such a way that we never missed the best vantage points with the most beautiful views. Climbing the route, the hills all in the shape of a rounded point were always present, some low, others much higher and larger and the beauty of that place was also given by how the green broke with the clear color of the tuff. Obviously the place was a perfect setting for taking pictures, unique and always full of new perspectives. The path climbed up to a peak from which the whole valley was dominated, a privileged observation point from which we could also understand the extent of the park. In one of those viewpoints I noticed two blocks of mountains with the usual shape of two inverted cones. Precisely because they were very close, these two blocks were used as support by the people to climb as if they were two banks. Obviously seeing those people climbing, I had the reaction of a child, I couldn’t resist and I went to climb too. I asked my sister to take pictures of me from the vantage point we were in so that we could see the whole context. Once I got down at the foot of those two blocks, I climbed up with my feet on one side and leaning with my back on the other. In the end I found myself in a position as if I were lying on a sofa. Shortly after, while I was taking the same kind of photos to my sister, I fully perceived how Cappadocia, precisely because of its uniqueness, was not only beautiful but also fun. There the landscape was not just the background for a photo but it was something I could interact with in first person, there I could lie down, cling to or use a particular terrain as a bank to blend with it. It was like watching a cartoon and suddenly finding myself inside! I can't say I've ever really become an adult, but that place still gave me joys like those of childhood.
We left the park after a couple of hours, and at 12:20 AM we stopped at a place that purported to be a factory that produced handcrafted carpets. The location was very beautiful because it was on a plain surrounded by the typical hills but upon entering the so-called factory it was immediately clear that something was wrong. The gentleman who seemed to be the owner showed us many processing machinery but when we entered the room where the workers were, he lost synchronization. I mean that those girls had to pretend to use the machinery and had to start with the staging of a gesture from the owner, unfortunately for them I personally entered the room a few seconds before he made the gesture with the snap of his fingers. But the most beautiful thing was the presentation of the carpets in a dedicated room, there together with his collaborators, the owner began to show the goods with a lot of choreography. I must say that they were very skilled at taking every single rolled carpet and having it unrolled by skillfully throwing it from one side of the room to the other. There, however, some of the group began to ask for the prices of some carpets and once communicated them, I personally began to laugh. They were disproportionately high, prices that were no longer in the market, it was understood that there they were only trying to take advantage of customers that had a stronger currency than theirs. Despite this, at the end of the "representation" some of the group bought some carpets that costed as much as gold.
That day we had lunch in a very characteristic place, if I remember correctly it was a former convent or something like that then transformed into a restaurant. After lunch we went to a small town, a place along the road where there were souvenir shops. However, that was also an important vantage point, called Pigeon Valley, from there I could see a beautiful canyon, beyond which Erciyes Dağıun, a large snow-capped volcano, sprouted. But the best part was to the left of the road; on that side I could see the village of Uçhisar, with its characteristic pointed shape that extended up to the canyon. That place attracted me immediately so much so that I didn’t go to the souvenir shops but I spent all the time there photographing that beautiful landscape, there I also saw a tree totally covered with blue talismans, a simple tree but decorated in an original way. Around 4 PM we arrived at another characteristic point, this too was in a large green valley and there stood a large mountain covered with tuff where we could see artificial hollows even up to the top. This was another village similar to the park of Göreme much smaller and at the same time more free and wild. Despite this difference, I still had the impression of being in one of those Japanese cartoons. Compared to the Göreme park, there were smaller houses that could be explored one by one. Together with my sister, I launched into an exploration that always ended up looking for the original location for the photos. Climbing those little houses was a fairly simple task but more than once I found it difficult to descend because the external tuff part was very slippery. However, precisely for this reason the place was as I liked it because there was no type of protection.
After leaving that small park, the guide wanted to give a gift to those in the group who couldn't enjoy the Pigeon Valley view because they spent time inside the souvenir shops. With the bus he took us close to the Pigeon Valley but to another vantage point much higher. Except for the village of Uçhisar, everything else could be seen from there; the volcano in an even clearer way but above all there was an overview of the whole territory shaped in that particular way. Being higher than the Valley, there was an even wider view of a landscape that was already unique in itself.
Around 5 PM we arrived at another place of interest, this one, unlike what we were now used to seeing in Cappadocia, was in a plain rather than in the middle of the hills, so a little different from the rest. The scene that occurred upon arrival struck me but for several reasons. The place was full of many cylindrical towers of the same material present all over that territory. For some strange combination there were several towers that had a ledge right at the top, at one point there were three next to each other. Those towers were very characteristic but as a man I could not help but notice that those "cylinders" covered with tuff looked like huge erect penises, at that moment I would have liked to know what women thought in front of that view because I don't think I was the only one who noticed the similarity. However, that was another large village dug by man into that particular type of mineral. There we had time to wander and explore freely and calmly. One of the first things that struck me during the ride was a large very steep gorge, even there after having easily climbed almost to the top, then I had some difficulties in descending but always without falling. Some parts of the site were just like a village, with narrow streets and houses very close to each other, even there we spent time carefree playing literally like children. Between arches, caves and various climbs with my sister we did what everyone present there, adults and children, did. It was better than an amusement park and seeing that everyone was having fun made me think about how basically a human being wants to play and be carefree. I don't think the people around me were childish, but I can assure you they all enjoyed it. This leads me to think that it was the place to put this mood and it was a magical thing. That day, together with my sister, we went back to the bus last, with the others in the group who looked at us badly but not because we would have been late but because they would have liked to have a little more fun too.
It was not a pilgrimage without the celebration of a mass and after that visit the guide took us to another very special and original place as Cappadocia had accustomed us by now. After a long journey including a dirt road, we arrived outside a cave, the door was made up of iron gratings. It looked like a secret hiding place, one of those places where someone is held prisoner. Once inside, we saw the most characteristic church ever. Very small and carved into the rock, with only a small window next to the altar. There Don Valerio celebrated a mass, which was also attended by various people from the group with readings. It was a very beautiful moment of communion that I also appreciated even though I am not a pilgrim. We left the place after about an hour and went back to the hotel because that day which started very early also included a part of night entertainment. In fact, after dinner we had to go to see a very important show in Turkish culture, the dance of the Dervishes.
As usual, not only did I not know this type of dance but also because of the tiredness of that day I didn’t have the concentration enough to listen to what the guide explained as we went to the place to see the "show". What I realized was that these people were particularly devoted to this type of practice and that it took a lot of time, sacrifice and devotion to get to that point. In general I understood that it was a sacred thing, very important and that should be seen with the utmost respect. Entering the room, one of them explained some of the behaviors we had to have during the performance. To begin with it was not possible to take pictures or make videos during their dance, this was a very important thing for their concentration and it seems to me other spiritual reasons. However after the full performance, the dervishes would have performed a "light" version that was not official, in which we could have filmed them. Everything was ready for the beginning and in a maximum silence a person began to intone a music with the intonation of the lament. I don't know why, perhaps to release the tension of that day, perhaps because that intonation was too long but at a certain point I had to laugh. As I tried to contain it out of respect for the representation, I made a sound that made me laugh even more. A little out of shame because I felt that I was not respecting the dervishes I crouched down to avoid being noticed, however at least three people near me, including my sister, saw and were "infected" by my laughter. By some miracle we managed not to be discovered but it was a tragicomic experience that has nothing to do with what we were watching. As for the show, both the location with the round stage and the stands, like those of the theater, were very beautiful and welcoming. The dervish dance technique was then grandiose, at the limits of physics. They danced blindfolded and were able to rotate with their arms outstretched while remaining perfectly synchronized. In the end that technique had attracted me, like all things that don't seem human to me. I wanted a memory related to that dance and since there was a shop inside the structure that sold the accessories that the dervishes used, I bought a replica of the shoes they used for that dance.
That day, which began very early and lived in a place that had the magic of a cartoon, ended with a bus tour. The guide took us through a place where there was a very beautiful view of a town whose name I don't know. Together with others I went down to capture with my camera the nocturnal version of a land that I found to have its beauty more with the light of day. However, that night walk was our farewell to a magical place that we left not to go home but to continue the Turkish adventure.
Pictures: Antonio Malara
Camera: Nikon D800