January 7, 2016

Cappadocia – Churches and Camels and Fairy Chimneys, oh my!

Link to this post - http://wp.me/p1TROD-5U

We left the Mediterranean coast on an overnight bus, leaving my beloved sea and were dropped off at 5am in the dark and the freezing cold. When the sun rose, we were greeted with this sight.

Cappadocia

Literally it looks like we just stepped off the Starship Enterprise and onto a distant planet. It’s mesmerizing in its sheer uniqueness. I have never seen landscape like this before in my life.

cliff houses

Slight detour for a moment: As educated people in the age of technology, I think one of the many things we have sacrificed is the ability to be surprised. We can research anything we want to online. We can look up pictures of every single place we are going and read a thousand different blogs on the impressions of the people who travelled there before us. We are jaded when it comes to things taking our breaths away. (Maybe because we say shit like things take our breath away too often. Note to self.) I think back to travel in the early 1900s and how people would sketch their surroundings just to try to give the people at home some small taste of all of the beauty that exists in the world. I have kept the kids from looking up places on the internet just so I can preserve the element of surprise for them since I have over researched everything myself.

Anyway, I think we all just stood there with our mouths hanging open for a full minute until we got our collective shit together. That’s how crazy the landscape was.

We had come to the town of Goreme in Cappadocia on a whim. I had looked at it extensively before we left home and as our Turkey itinerary unfolded, it was pushed aside for other things. After the mountain, however, our plans changed a bit and we found ourselves with a handful of days to kill before our flight out of Istanbul and so we grabbed a bus and headed inland.

The “fairy chimneys” of Cappadocia were formed when volcanic ash covered the sandstone landscape. Time and the elements eroded away the bases, but the hardened ash on the top remained intact.

This can make the pillars appear to be….ummmmm…a little phallic in nature. Like great big open plains of penises. Or, you know, mushrooms, if you are less dirty minded than us, I guess.

phallic rocks

nature, you nasty

Rock cut churches:

Many houses, churches and monasteries were carved into the soft rock. We were able to visit a complex of these churches, dwellings and rectories that made up a monastic complex during the 4th century and we were just blown away by how beautifully detailed and well-preserved they are. St. Basil was Bishop here – well known for giving his wealth to the poor, as well as building poorhouses and hospitals.

We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the churches, but I highly suggest taking a look at them here, because they are so lovely.

church

There are several graves inside the churches and I was surprised to see perfectly preserved bodies inside graves in the ground covered in glass.

I had no idea this vast complex of early Christian churches existed here, or that they were overseen by such a well-known bishop. I had no idea when I walked into the first rock cut church that I was in for such a colorful and exquisitely suspended moment of time where I forgot where I was, forgot when I was and was just overtaken by the peace and history and devotion that these little churches held. What a gift to stumble into them and have my heart be moved.

I have said before that I belong to no religion and to all religions. My spiritual net is pretty wide and I can revel in the beauty of any sacred space without getting too caught up in the political details of religion that muddy and mar what is meant to elevate.

I am drawn to faith and devotion

and to the sacred places

of this vast and intensely gorgeous

spinning ball we live on.

In Turkey, we visited Pagan temples and shrines, Muslim mosques, Christian churches, Sufi Whirling Dervish ceremonies and places of land and sea that are holy in their mere existence by God’s hand and each and every one was moving to me in ways so different and yet so similar that it would take me a lifetime to try to put it all into words that would make any sort of sense.

If you asked me what I love most about Turkey, I would tell you that the sacred runs deep here, layer upon beautiful layer, sometimes replacing one another, sometimes co-existing. Sometimes in kindness and sometimes in war and cruelty, these faiths have imbued this place with so much mystery and magic. I have deep, deep respect for those who have honored and worshipped in these places.

Caravanseri:

It will come as no surprise to anyone reading this blog that I have a thing for history. Like a deep, dark, sexy, sordid thing for history.

And so you will understand how I had to go out of my way to hire a driver to take us to one of the coolest historical places I have ever been.

door

Cappadocia is in the middle of the Silk Road and many merchants transported their goods in camel caravans. The caravanseri (meaning “caravan palace”) became a way for merchants to protect their goods and animals from thieves on the roads at night. Caravanseris were places built along the travel routes where merchants could sleep for the night, have sick animals cared for, get dinner and a bath and replenish supplies before continuing on their way. They were roughly 40 km apart as it was calculated that this was approximately how far a camel could travel in 9 hours. The Sarihan Caravanseri was built in 1249 and has been restored and I was bound and determined to go there, sit inside and soak up all of the good historical juju.

caravansary exterior

Entrance to caravanseri

Our driver, Ahmet, picked us up and opened the door for me so I could sit in the front seat with him. He was a sweet man who told us about his sons and his hometown nearby and won my heart by calling me Lady every time he spoke to me (every time it reminded me of Fezig from The Princess Bride) and by serving us apple tea while we explored the massive caravan palace.

Caravanseris consisted of huge courtyards with fountains and tandoori grills for cooking and were surrounded by private baths and bedrooms. In addition, there was a prayer room, stables for animals and several services available including a blacksmith, veterinarian, a doctor and Imams to lead religious rituals.

more caravansary

This portico ran along one entire inside wall in the courtyard.

much camel place

more church

Prayer room inside the caravanseri.

caravansary

I was blown away by the sheer freaking awesomeness of this place. I mean, I know very little about the history of caravans or the Silk Road. It was no more than a fast blip on the radar of my education in World History. And that made it seem so exotic and otherworldly to stand in that courtyard and attempt to take in the significance of this place to trade in the ancient world. IT WAS SO FLIPPING COOL!!!

When we got back in the car, Ahmet pointed to the glove compartment and with a twinkle in his eye said “Lady, open.”

I opened it up to find six little apples he had picked for us in the tiny orchard behind the caravanseri.

a very cold groupie

There have only been two times on this trip where we have had to wear our jeans and fleeces. Goreme was one. (Darjeeling, India the other). It was super chilly in the mornings and evenings. But Goreme was charming. Every night restaurants would light fires on the sidewalks outside in order to make their signature clay pot meals, so the streets would be lined with people warming their hands while out shopping or looking for a place to eat dinner. Many of these places also served mulled wine. And so we would stroll after dinner, me sipping warm, spiced red wine until we found the tree lit up with thousands of tiny lights and we knew this was the turn to get back to the hotel. It was a lovely experience.

So, Cappadocia was a last minute decision, but a damn good one, if I do say so myself. It was special and unique and I am so glad that we hopped on that bus.