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Aug 232013


The Silk Road conjures images of caravans and exotic spices. The months long journey between China and Europe passed over a network with several branches focusing travel through the Anatolian Peninsula to Constantinople and the Black Sea and Aegean coasts.

During the Seljuk empire, 1077-1307 CE, 250 Caravansaries were built to facilitate trade. For three days, travelers received free food, water, shelter and fodder. Built a day’s camel journey apart, some still exist and have been restored. The Sultanhan Aksaray, along the highway we’re traveling from the coastal city of Kuşadası to the other-worldly landscape of Cappodocia, is a beautiful example.

Built in 1229, its imposing stone walls, elaborately decorated portal and massive gates would have signaled that within lay security and hospitality.

Caravansaries operated year-round. The interior courtyard and surrounding storerooms accommodated fair-weather travelers while the enormous enclosed space behind provided shelter for winter.

Sultanhan Akasaray

Sultanhan Akasary Turkey

Sultanhan Akasaray Turkey

With humans and animals housed within, the stench must have been incredible. Still, it beat the open spaces of this high, windy plateau. On the day we visit, dust, blown by a strong, southerly wind makes things a bit unpleasant.

Traveling farther east, the tawny plains give rise to rolling hills dominated by a snow-capped volcanic peak. This volcano is one source of the soft volcanic tuff that eroded into the other-worldly landscape for which Cappodocia is famous.

Goreme Cappodocia

Weaving Turkish carpet Cappodocia Turkey

  The Cappodocia region is the primary source for high-quality hand-woven Turkish carpets.

Goreme Cappodicia


For thousands of years, people have carved their homes, stables and churches into the fantastic hills and canyons of the region. During the 9th century, they excavated entire underground cities which could shelter as many as 50,000 people from the marauding armies of the time.

Our travels this day take us to the city of Nevşhehir and into the unforeseen warmth and hospitality of a resident of the tiny village of Nar.

Nar, Nevshahir

We planned to first wander the streets of this ancient village of cave houses and later to explore a valley near the famous outdoor museum of rock-hewn churches in Göreme.

As we walk the twisting lanes, people invariably greet us. A women sorting home-dried raisins, offers us a handful.  A man leaving a tiny mosque motions us to follow him. Leading us to an opening, he shows us an ancient mill where donkeys had driven the huge grinding stone for generations.

Nar Cappodocia

Nar Cappodocia Mehmet's Neighbor

Nar Mosque Camii

Nar Cappodocia

Nar Nevshahir Cappodocia Cave House

Leading us further, he points out various things but our non-existent Turkish inhibits understanding. Then, coming up the street, he introduces us to Mehmet, a colorfully dressed gentleman with salt and pepper hair and an infectious laugh. We quickly find we can communicate in German and our plans for the day evaporate.

Mehmet is a retired art teacher. Born in Nar, he returned after retirement to buy the cave house he grew up in to turn it into an artist’s retreat. He invites us to visit and without hesitation, we accept.

Mehmet of Nar

Entering a hand-carved wooden door reveals a series of hand-hewn caves set in the cliff,  some are ancient, others not. He has excavated 2,500 pickup loads of rock to date. There are multi-room caves, two-story caves with hand-made wooden floors, stairs and cabinets. This is a labor of love.

Mehmet of Nar Cave House

Climbing the cliff reveals more caves, one half-filled with rubble yet to be hauled away, and another former stable with stone feed troughs and hitches in tact. How many generations have lived here?

Mehmet plys us with tea and homemade bread as we sit on his terrace  overlooking the town. Here is a truly happy man, building his dream.

Mehmet's Cave Garage Cappodocia

 Mehmet’s Garage

Nar Cappodocia

Nar Cappodocia Mehmet's Neighbors

Nar Cappodocia Turkey

 Mehmet and I with some of the locals.

Mehmet's Neighbors Nar Cappodocia

He invites us to go hiking. Soon we’re leaving the town behind, walking through a narrow valley of small farms. Purple blossoming almond trees shelter people planting potatoes while earlier crops poke through the ground.

Husband and Wife farming outside of Nar Cappodocia

Unprepared, after several miles, we’re thirsty, and hungry. There is no town or market.

Mehmet makes a call, leads us across a field and into a small dwelling where we’re greeted by his friends, a retired commissar and his wife.

Mehmet's Friends Nar Cappodocia

She prepares tea and produces bowls of nuts, dried fruits and cookies. It’s difficult to communicate but there are thank you’s and smiles and they know we appreciate their hospitality.

A different way back leads over hills, through vineyards and past an old Ottoman cemetery. We say our goodbyes, thanking Mehmet for a memorable day, once again, blown away by the graciousness of Turks, a culture of hospitality that extends far back in time.

Ottoman Cemetery Tombstone Cappodocia

Plastic bag trash Nevsheshir Turkey

Plastic bags are sadly a scourge seen all to frequently around Turkey.

Rainbow over Nevşehir, TurkeyNevşehir, Turkey

Cappodocia Turkey

An old women in Nar chopping grape vines for kindling, used to flavor grilled meats.

Copyright 2013 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging


Also check out my photography tutorials at:  http://dreamcatcherimaging.blogspot.com

Nov 092010

Next on the agenda is the incredible, in the truest sense of the word, fairytale landscape of Cappodocia. First though, on the road from Nigde to Cappodocia, a tour of the subterranean world of Kamakli.

The town above Ramakli

According to the Turkish Department of Culture, the Phrygians began the complex of underground cities, carving them from the soft, volcanic rock of the region in the 8th-7th centuries B.C.E.. They 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 Arabs 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 Nevsehir. Only a few are excavated and open to tourists.

Casey and David photographing inside what was the church.

One of the stone doors which was rolled into place in times of danger. The hole in it’s center allowed the defenders to shoot arrows at the attackers.

The Kamakli underground city is a labyrinth of rooms. Stables, passageways, kitchens, wine cellars, air vents and churches extend 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.

Another nearby underground city, Derinkuyu, an eleven level complex, is believed to have housed as many as 50,000! It must have been a cramped, uncomfortable and desperate existence with little privacy.

Selling carpets outside the underground city

A short drive takes us to Göreme where, even though prepared, I am astounded by the amazing honeycombed, rock pinnacles of the small towns. Doors, windows and porches of homes are sculpted into the volcanic tuft. Signs adorn the bizarre formations as small shops are carved into the stone.

One of the towns in the Cappodocia region

I yearn to stop as we drive by one amazing town after another. Finally, the bus pulls up in front of a large complex of stalls selling every conceivable trinket and rug. Walking between them takes us to a long cliff overlooking a panorama the like of which I have only seen in a few of America’s western national parks and monuments.

The valley stretching beneath is a complex panoply of erosion sculpted white and gray hoodoos. The hulking pyramid of an extinct volcano, the likely source of all this tuft, lurks in the distance beneath a bright, blue sky. Interspersed amidst this bizarre landscape are houses, shops, mosques and large hotels. Homes have been hewn from most of the rock formations. I can only imagine their interiors. Many pinnacles are hotels. Rooms can be had for a little as $50 a night with rooms in the higher-end hotels going for hundreds of dollars a night.

A hotel set within the valley

Thousands of prayers adorn the skeleton of a tree at the valley rim

We are allowed an all to brief stop and sadly, no chance to descend and walk amongst the incredible formations of this fairyland-like town.

Reluctantly climbing aboard the small bus, we head to our next destination, a restaurant for lunch. And once again, nothing could have prepared us for what we are to experience.

As we pull into into the large parking lot, little is seen but a brown ridge covered with dried grasses and low bushes. It is fall after all. Rounding a corner, we encounter a spacious, stone courtyard flanked by two stone eagles leading to the finely carved, columned entrance to Uranos Sarikaya, where we are to eat.

The waiting room near the entrance

A wide, dimly lit hallway perhaps fifty yards long leads deep into the hillside. Passing through the archway at its end we enter a high, round chamber, the restaurant itself, beautifully carved from the living rock. A lone musician plays the zither in the subdued light at the very center of the circular mosaic floor, sitting within concentric circles of elaborate design. Five chambers, each with stone six tables seating ten diners extend like spokes of a wheel from the mosaic hub. Everything, the tables, benches, railings, columns and doorways are carved in place from the stone of the mountain; truly beautiful craftsmanship. This must provide a taste of what the homes and hotels must be like.

The cooks arrive with once again, too much delicious food and any frustration over the short time spent viewing the valley is forgotten.

The zither player serenades us at our tables with traditional songs

The kitchen off the entry hallway

The kitchen off the entry hallway

Following lunch we return to the area of Göreme for what, according to the guide books, is an imperative; the Göreme Open-Air Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The museum is a monastic complex of Byzantine refectories and churches carved into the rock between the 9th and 12th centuries C.E..

Crowds waiting to enter one of the churches

Once again, fantastic shapes abound. We have time to enter only a few of the eleven or so tiny, 12th century churches. Vivid, colorful frescoes, most in exceptional condition, adorn the walls and ceilings. The love, talent and stupendous time and effort is humbling and awe-inspiring.

Unfortunately, again, I am not allowed to photograph inside the churches. Even though with my cameras, I wouldn’t need to use flash, it is understandable. If allowed, thousands of flashes would go off every day. This continual assault would degrade these thousand year-old treasures in no time. Here are links to some photos of the frescos taken without flash. It gives a taste of the beauty of the work as well as more history: http://www.goreme.com/goreme-open-air-museum.php and http://www.sacred-destinations.com/turkey/cappadocia-goreme-cave-churches

Sadly, our itinerary doesn’t include a night here. We have another several hour drive to Ankara, Turkey’s capital, to catch a night flight back to Istanbul for our final few days with this amazing group of new and extremely interesting friends. I have to be satisfied with a morsel of what Cappodocia offers. Truly, this region of Turkey is so phenomenally otherworldly that I must return and spend days wandering its valleys, exploring its ancient wonders and photographing its bizarre, fairytale formations.

The traditional Turkish amulet used to ward off wishes of bad intent or the “evil eye”

Copyright 2010 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging