Part two of our Turkey chronicles showcases one of our favorite portions of the trip – Cappadocia. To understand this post, you need the historical and geographic run down: The Cappadocia region is part of Central Anatolia, one of the only landlocked regions of Turkey. The lunar-like landscape of Cappadocia began with a volcanic eruption 30 million years ago that blanketed the area’s hard volcanic rock in volcanic ash, or tuff. The now extinct volcano, Mount Erciyes, still watches over the region. Erosion of the ash from wind, water, and temperature changes in the last 10 million years is credited with the creation of what are known as “fairy chimneys.”
The tuff is so easy to excavate, it’s been carved out to create dwellings and churches resulting in underground cities, particularly for early Christians avoiding persecution to hide within beginning in the 4th century AD. We spent time exploring the valleys of the region, and visited the Gӧreme Open Air Museum in the Gӧreme Valley where more than 30 churches were built amongst the volcanic ash. Gorgeous early Byzantine frescoes are mostly intact, except in churches that were later home to Muslim residents; those frescoes feature defaced Christian figures because the churches were later used for Muslim worship and many Muslims fear human depiction and it’s relationship to idolatry, which is forbidden in the Qur’an. (Turkey was integral to early Christian history; today the population is over 98% Muslim.) The valley is also still home to a number of cave-dwelling residents.
We kick this post off with the early morning we spent participating in the region’s classic tourist experience – a hot air balloon ride. The view and the experience was absolutely worth the 5am wake-up and the crazy conversation at the tourism office with the still-drunk Turkish woman who wanted to practice her English with us. (Her English was a hundred times better than our Turkish.) We were the only Americans in our balloon basket of about 20 (some of those baskets hold nearly 40 people!) and it was so fun to hear the universal oohs and aahs as we floated over the valleys and fertile agricultural fields of Cappadocia. Our balloon operator was so skilled, he was able to land the basket directly on the bed of the truck that functioned as our chase vehicle. Per the air-ballooning tradition of the French, we celebrated our landing with a champagne toast. I don’t remember what speech our operator had prepared but I found this online when I was thinking about this tradition and I think it perfectly embodies our feelings that morning:
The winds have welcomed you with softness
The sun has blessed you with its warm hands
You have flown so high and so well
That God has joined you in your laughter
and set you gently back into the loving arms of mother earth.