Friday 13-3-2015. Days 205.
Fairy Chimneys, Rock Caves, Rock Doves
As much as we were enjoying Istanbul, we couldn't pass up the chance to check out the region known as Cappadocia in central Turkey, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But first, we had to get through the airport.
At Turkish airports, there are two security screenings. The first happens when you enter the airport. It's the full deal, too, with X-ray machines, metal detectors, and pat downs. Then, after dropping off your baggage and getting your boarding pass, you go through the same thing a second time.
The flight from Istanbul to Kayseri was only about an hour. Our guide, a nice gent by the name of Turan from Euphrates Tours, met us at the airport and started us off on our tour of Cappadocia, which is a large region of central Turkey. Most of our time would be spent in and around Göreme National Park.
PaSHabaG and Dervent Valley
Our first stop was Paşabağ, or Monks Valley, which is where the fairy chimneys are found. Perched precariously on top of thin columns of volcanic rock, these mushroom-shaped towers are quite stunning. The rock in the region is a soft volcanic tuff (similar to the rock used for creating the giant heads on Easter Island), and covered by a harder, more dense layer of basalt.
The region of Cappadocia is home to many now-dormant volcanoes, and the fairy chimneys and the other rock formations found here are the result of centuries of volcanic activity and erosion. Over time, exposure to the seasons Turkey experiences resulted in these amazing structures. When exposed to the elements (especially rain), a layer of lichen grows on the exposed surfaces, helping to keep further erosion at bay by forming a crusty, protective shell. You can see this effect in the picture below; the dark gray shell covering the side of the towers is lichen.
You can also see the other amazing feature of Monks Valley—homes carved right into the rock. As we saw on Easter Island, volcanic tuff is easily carved with harder rocks, like basalt. So the monks who settled in the area (hence Monks Valley) hollowed out these fairy chimneys, creating rooms, living areas, and even fully functioning wineries inside the rocks.
One of the more striking rock dwellings here is St. Simon's Monastery, an unusual (even for this area) three-capped formation dedicated to the reclusive healer St. Simeon Stylites the Elder (who is best known for living on top of a pillar near Aleppo for most of his monastic life).
Like their namesake, the monks of Paşabağ lived in seclusion and carved elaborate tunnels inside the fairy chimneys that allowed them to escape from the intruding eyes of any visitors to the valley.
We climbed a nearby hill to get a better view of the surrounding area. Crazy cool rock formation stretched out to the horizon as far as we could see. The sight was nothing short of awesome.
When we'd finished ogling the formations of Paşabağ, we drove a short distance to another set of amazing structures in the Dervent Valley, where there are still more amazing rock formations with a slightly different look than at Monks Valley. It's been called a lunarscape, and it did have an otherworldly feel as we walked along a short trail, spotting all sorts of unusual pillars, many of which look like other things, like a seal balancing a ball, couples kissing, crocodiles, dinosaurs, a man's head, a camel, and a lot more.
As we toured, it was threatening rain, and we could see the dark clouds rolling in from the valley, especially when we stopped at the Göreme Panorama to look out over the town of Göreme to the east.
In the past, Uchisar Castle was used a a defensive fortress. It is the highest point in the area (you can't miss it; you can see it reaching into the sky for miles around), and it makes for an impressive sight. It's entire exterior is covered with windows carved out of the rock. Inside it's filled with room after room and stairs that climb all the way to the top, which one can imagine offers amazing views.
You can go inside the castle and climb to the top, but we didn't have that option on our visit. The interior is subject to erosion and could be dangerous. Turan explained that eventually, the caves will give in to erosion and collapse in on themselves.
Right now, many of the rooms on the castle's north side are used as pigeon houses. We saw these (and plenty of pigeons) all over the valley. Pigeon droppings are highly prized by farmers in the area, as they helps to enrich the otherwise nutrient-poor soil.
We even stopped at one place called Pigeon Outlook (or something) where we saw quite literally, thousands of pigeons. It was fun to feed them and watch huge flocks of them fly out over the valley and back.
After a brief tour of Ömürlü Seramik, where the girls got to try their hand at making pottery on the wheel (and we ended up buying a souvenir—budget be damned!), night was settling in, so we headed off to check in to our hotel in Uchisar (the region, not the castle).
Gamirasu Cave Hotel
Yes, we stayed inside a cave at Gamirasu Cave Hotel. It was even better than you think sleeping in a cave would be.
Our tour was an all-inclusive (airfare, meals [except dinner], and hotel). Turan was one of the best tour guides we've had (certainly in the top three) . If you're thinking about a trip to experience the amazing sights this region offers, consider Euphrates Tours/Cappadocia Tours.