Suitcase and World: Cappadocia. Day 3 - Uçhisar and Kaymaklı Underground City.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Cappadocia. Day 3 - Uçhisar and Kaymaklı Underground City.

'll explain this odd looking picture later. Let's wind the clock back about 4 hours. It's the start of our last day in Cappadocia before heading off to Fethiye. Lei and I were booked go on an all day tour of the region. Before leaving though, we had to pack our bags, check out of the Kelebek Pension, put our bags in storage and grab breakfast. Normally, I'm really excited about getting going on the day but not today. Not only did I have very little idea of exactly where we were going (except that the day would end with a 2 hour hike through the Rose Valley) but I was still trying to wake up. We had been out late the night before. I admit, I was only half awake when I got into the mini-van.

Our guide for the day was a lovely Turkish woman named Dalya (phonetic spelling) who, as we would come to appreciate, a very well trained tour guide. Our tour companions were Bill and Terry, a retired couple from Seattle Washington who have sold all their worldly possessions to travel the world and Heather, who is a retired Aussie living in Geelong (near Melbourne). Heather was visiting her son who is living and working in Istanbul. It was nice to have a small group. Less chatter to disturb my slow wake up process.

We hit the road going towards Uçhisar ("Oo-chee-sar"). I had no idea what was there to see in Uçhisar. On the way, we saw a bit of the agriculture landscape of Cappadocia. Apricots and grapes are commonly grown here.

We then pulled over into a parking lot and got out of the van. There was a smattering of souvenir vendors. My heart sank. I did not want to start my day with seeing more souvenirs. Then, Dahlia led us to the ledge of plateau we were standing on. In front of us was a spectacular view of the Rose Valley and the awe inspiring landscape of Cappadocia. My senses perked up. Happy again.

...and then I noticed it out of the corner of my eye. Uçhisar means "Pointed Castle" and so it is: a natural castle of volcanic tuff, hollowed out and used as a fortress for centuries. It's the highest point in the region and stands as a landmark.

A few minutes doing the obligatory walk through of souvenir stalls and we were all back into the van. Next stop. Kaymaklı ("Kai-mahk-luh") Underground City.

According to some estimates, there are 36 underground cities in Cappadocia and Kaymaklı is the largest of the underground cities that have been excavated. Discovered in 1964, four of its eight levels are open to the public.

Extracted from the Lonely Planet guidebook on Turkey
Some archeologists date the earliest portions of these undergound cities back 4000 years to Hittite times, but they were certainly occupied by the 7th century BC.

In times of peace the people of this region lived and farmed above ground, but when invaders threatened they took to their troglodyte dwellings where they could live safely fo up to six months at a time.

As you go down inside the cities, it's as if you've entered a huge complex Swiss chesse: holes here, holes there, windows from room to room, paths going this way and that and more levels of rooms above and below.

The van pulled into yet another parking lot and we got off. Dayla led us on a walkway flanked by souvenir stalls to a very nondescript entryway.

We descended into the city. The tunnel was low and narrow. Even for someone as "height challenged" (okay, okay, I'm short) as I am, there were times when the cave ceiling was so low that even I had to walk with my face pointed to the grown.

More from the Lonely Planet guidebook on Turkey
As you go down inside the cities, it's as if you've entered a huge complex Swiss chesse: holes here, holes there, windows from room to room, paths going this way and that and more levels of rooms above and below.

Signs of the troglodyte lifestyle are everywhere: storage jars for oil, wine and water; troughs for pressing grapes; communal kitchens blackened by smoke; stables with mangers; and incredibly deep walls.


Thank God for the description in the Lonely Planet guidebook because I was barely awake when I entered the caves. The low light and comfortable temperature just made me really want to just find a nook to crawl into and take nice, long nap. I walked from one room to next with very little recollection of what the heck I was looking at :-)

The rooms in Kaymaklı, were deliberately carved out to make the layout of the city very complicated to confuse enemies. Large galleries were often subdivided into smaller rooms. Rooms and passages are kept separate and are equipped with a veritcal ventilation shafts, living quarters, store-rooms and water cisterns. Communication between the living quarters was via a system of small holes in the walls.

The first floors of Kaymaklı served as stables for the domestic animals and the 2nd floor housed living quarters and a small Christian chapel. The third floor was carved into spaces for storage rooms and wineries. On the fourth floor there was a communal kitchen.

....and one last snippet from my beloved Lonely Planet guidebook on Turkey
The troglodyte dwellings functioned as fortresses as well - look for the huge rolling-stone doors, often with a hole in the centre for attacking the enemy, and for holes in the ceilings through which hot oil could be poured.

The opening photo for this posting is of one of those stone doors. After checking out four levels of the city, we backtracked and headed out.

Back above ground, it took a few minutes to adjust my eyes to the bright sunshine. Dayla gave us a few minutes to check out the souvenir vendors before we had to pile back into the car. Next stop. Lunch. Woohoo!!