In Central Anatolia lies a land that looks like it comes from The Lord of the Rings- Cappadocia. Even the name has the ring of a fairy tale Kingdom.
“I, Sir Vago of the Kingdom of Cappadocia, do ride forth to seek out new lands and great fortunes.” – or something like that, though Cappadocia was never a kingdom of its own and in fact was a place of troglodyte refuge for Christian outcasts and societal misfits.
The landscape of massive stone chimneys (wistfully called fairy chimneys) and dream like rock formations are the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. It was a poor place though from the 4th to the 11th Century a community of Christian refugees carved an unbelievable number of churches from the stones. Houses were also carved and the traditional livelihood was agriculture until the 1980’s when a tourist boom started. A new friend we met in Goreme, Cemil, has lived there since that time and he remembers when there were only three hotels in Goreme. Now there are literally hundreds and as I detailed in my last post, when we arrived, they were almost all full. No need to tell you what the number one industry is now. Many people come to Goreme just so they can enjoy Cappadocia Balloon Tours. I hear that there is nothing quite like floating over the fairy chimneys as the sun comes up.
Still, Goreme is a magical place and filled with charm. An interesting fact from Lonely Planet is that in Goreme, it used to be that if a man didn’t own a pigeon house, he wouldn’t be able to get married. These days there must not be many marriages, though more likely is that that particular tradition was tossed aside with agriculture when tourism became so lucrative.
Virtually everything in Goreme is directed at tourists from the hot air balloons to the travel companies, tour companies, restaurants, and tourist shops. Unlike Fethiye though, the prices seem reasonable and the people don’t seem so hungry for the hunt.
It’s one of the things that really makes me sick about tourist places is that the people who work in tourism tend to forget that the clients or customers are real people, instead they become prey. It’s the same for criminals, people become prey and they are something to be hunted. I went through it myself as a tout and as a stock broker, if people simply become a means to an ends, life becomes much less magical and satisfying. While we did encounter quite a few people who were on the hunt in Goreme, it was less than Fethiye or Fez and the hunt itself was less in your face than either place as well.
We had a very nice breakfast with our friend Cemil at the Blue Moon Hotel before heading out to the Goreme Open Air Museum. this is an astounding place, though no more than Goreme itself. The big draw at the Open Air Museum are the rock cut Byzantine churches and the painting and frescos they contain. Admission was 15 lira each.
Despite me explaining why flash photos weren’t allowed and several guides telling her not to take photos (they say the flash destroys the color of the old paintings) Hanane kept taking photos on the sly, her reasoning was that since everyone else was doing it, why shouldn’t she be allowed to? And in fact, everyone else was doing it.
The rock cut churches had interesting pews and tables carved in them, graves which had been robbed or excavated in the floors, and of course the paintings. This was a monastic community and then became a pilgrimage site for Christians in the 17th Century.
Hanane was not overly impressed with the paintings, in particular the Red Ochre made very little impression on her. “I could get up there and paint the same thing right now. They’re fake.” By this point, we were laughing each time she called something fake but I still think she was partly serious. Once again we opted to skip the extra fee, this time 8 lira each to see the frescoes in the Karanlik Kilise. I feel no regrets over that. I really hate to pay an entrance fee only to be faced with another entrance fee.
We exited feeling that we had both seen enough churches. While we didn’t have the time this visit to go to the underground cities, it was a nice thing to whet our appetite with the rural charms and comedic tourist hunting that takes place there. As examples of how the hunt is conducted in Goreme you can look at the names of the Pesions. Flintstones Pension, Bedrock Cave Hostel, Ufuk Pension, Shoestring Cave Pension and more. We were recommended to try the Peri Cave Hotel, though as I wrote previously, we were very fortunate to be staying in the Moonlight Cave Suites.
We strolled through the Rose Valley and then went back to Goreme village where we had an unremarkable, actually it was bad dinner, at Cappadocia Pide Salonu. Not recommended.
From there we hiked up to the highest point in Goreme and watched the sun go down and the lights of the fairy chimneys flicker on in Goreme. A bottle of wine would have made it perfect.
From there it was back to our cave to enjoy the hot tub, king size bed, and overall luxury of the Moonlight Cave Suites.