On August 18th 1978 I was in Urgup in Cappadocia in Central Turkey. The area is famous for its thin sandstone which has been eroded into fantastical shapes. The soft rock has long been carved out by humans as well as water, for underground cities, churches and monasteries, and for everyday houses many of which are still lived in.
In the afternoon I walked out into the country to try to record something of that unusual scenery:
Have walked a little way out towards Goreme to try to break a siesta somnolence while the people of the hotel cleaned the room. The partially clouded weather and the breeze continue to make it fairly cool to sit here in the full sunshine. The scenery is almost indescribable. I'm on a rock-spur looking out northwest, the higher outcrops of the pink rock to the left and the outskirts of Urgup to the right. There are green trees following the river and a road slopes from right to centre at a steep angle. Below are several little valleys of deeply eroded white sandstone striped with an ochre-yellow, and green trees in the valleys. Paths winding around the dozens of contours and the little fields and the "chimney" outcrops. Fields are mainly grapes, with some quinces, loquats, apples, melons, nicely kept. An old couple are picking some fruit in one field just to my left. She with white headscarf and bent over back, he just rode in on a grey donkey with normal wooden saddle and a pair of white woven cotton donkey-bags. Straight in front is one of the toadstool shaped rocks with a square-shaped hole cut one third of the way up. To the right is a sort of house by a large field of vines where I saw a man working earlier. House of stone blocks, look unmortared and a couple of arches, with a downstairs built into the rock and opening on a little garden. Shrikes clicking and occasionally screaming from the little almond-trees, nuthatches, warblers, doves. And so - down a little into the biggest valley which is all tiered into little terraces, though only actively used this far down. The rocks are so soft they crumble to the touch, but the dust is quite fertile. Walnut trees, olives, tomatoes, peppers. I frightened the wits out of a tortoise. A beautiful male golden oriole. A rufous-backed bush-chat. Birds here are truly different. A little arched bridge over a water-course. A chimney hollowed out like a church with many little niches, and collapsed above, but I think it was quite recent. Rocks carved out for a water-course.
I stayed in a cheap hotel in the centre of town which was picturesquely part of an old han or mediaeval inn. Next door was a tea-house where old men congregated which was also ancient and may well have been part of the han. I liked to go there in the evening and play backgammon; the first time I played with one of the locals, he beat me ten games in a row. I wrote in my notebook:
A tea-house evening, post eating. The men sit around, watch the TV, it's the news now, just had the ads for banks, the usual Western lifestyle. Here it's mainly the old men, with their cloth caps or the woollen tasselled type, grizzled grey beards, jackets sober with wide-hipped narrow-bottomed trousers, greys, blacks, black dusty shoes, shirts buttoned right up but no tie. One old man with a stick has a straight cigarette-holder with which he smokes his roll-ups right to the bottom, he sits cross-legged on his chair. Curtains on the windows, the painting of Ataturk on the wall, the traditional rug-weavings of two peacocks facing each other. Little tables and chairs, but we sit on a bench, there is a kilim along one wall of the room next door. Strip lighting, blue and white above washed walls, concrete floor, tea-making area separated off.
In the following days I made the effort to get out to some of the sites. As the transport was haphazard I chose to hitch. First I went to Kaymakli, an underground city hollowed out hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years ago. Several layers of tunnels were open for tourists with others being studied by archaeologists below. Several of these underground cities have been discovered and, although they were used by mediaeval Christians fleeing persecution, they are much older. It was good to have been able to visit one of these, despite the flocks of German and Italian tourists seething through its nether regions.
Another day I hitched to Zelve where there are churches and monasteries, lacking the frescoes of nearby Goreme (which I had seen in 1972). I wrote this up in my journal that night:
Hitching again this time to Zelve, and spending a couple of hours sitting around the deserted village, and poking around the caves, trying to climb up the two little gorges behind one of the two main valleys. Quite an interesting place, the varied good scenery. Did walk quite a bit near Goreme and away from Zelve, then got a lift from a friendly family from Istanbul, the lady spoke English, who took me to Avanos, which was a quieter and less speedy place than Urgup, though a bit larger and more modern. Lift back the direct road, one of the nicest of the whole region, climbing until you can look down on both Avanos and Urgup, then crossing one of the prettiest canyons, little visited, in pink sandstone.
|Zelve, 2007: Picture by Noumenon, CC|
|Kaymakli, 2006: Picture by Stephen Hill, CC|
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