Underground cities in Turkey

Konya Travel Blog

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Yesterday we drove from Syria to Turkey. Turkey probably has the longest modern history in Europe, with cities in Turkey for over 9000 years, which were ruled as city states until united by the Hittites (2000 BCE to 1200 BCE). After the Hittite Empire splintered up, Turkey remained seperate cities until it was united by the Greek and Roman empires. The Roman Emperor Constantine founded a new city at Bysantium, later named Constantinople, then Istanbul, in 330 CE, which became the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and the centre of the Byzantine Empire for 1000 years. The Christian Byzantine Empire was reduced in size with the Seljuk Turks gaining land in Turkey in 1071, and then the Fourth Crusade (‘the Crusade that went wrong’, as if the others didn’t) plundered Constantinople and the Mongol invasion by Ghengis Khan destroyed the Seljuks. Osman (1258-1326 CE) founded the Ottoman Empire which took over the entire country will the fall of Constantinople in 1452, expanded throughout Eastern Europe and the Middle East. The Ottoman Empire was reduced in size by the independence movements started by the French Revolution (giving seperate states in Eastern Europe), and was reduced to Turkey after defeat in WWI (would have been absorbed into Greece except Mustafa Kemal lead a War of Independence, finished in 1923) and became a Republic.


We spent today in Cappadocia, a region of Anatolia (Asian Turkey). Cappadocia has really interesting geology, tufta (very soft pre-sandstone rock) with coloured clays, limestone and basalt. The uneven erosian has given a bizzare landscape, with natural minarets, cones, spires and fairy chimneys up to 20m high, all crowded together to look like domed rooves of a crowded city. We camped in Urgup, which is very close to some ancient villages in the Göreme Valley (which have been occupied for at least 5000 years). The different houses are carved straight into the rock (it is so soft to cut out). We walked in one valley, beautiful with the apricot and walnut trees in bloom for the beginning of spring, with windows and doors cut into the walls of the valley, 100m straight up the rock face. We climbed up to a ground floor set of rooms, with a shared kitchen for the community. From the kitchen led several family rooms, and a narrow chimney leading up to the second floor, with hand-foot holes carved in the chimney so we could climb up (Michelle was very happy at all the climbing). The view from the top rooms was amazing. We also walked through a low tunnel to come out in another valley, having walked straight through the mountain. It was very impressive. The area was Christian after the 4thcentury, so there are more than 400 churches, hermitages and small monasteries in the area, all carved into the rock.

After sipping a beautiful Tukish lemon tea, we visited a pottery factory, and watched them make pottery in the old Hittite style and the Ottoman style.

Next we visited Kaymakli. Kaymakli is a huge underground city that was carved into the tufta by the villagers, so they would have somewhere to hide when war came to them (which it did often, being surrounded by Hittites). The city was started over 5000 years ago, and had been continually added to. There are eight underground cities in the region, all linked by kilometres of tunnels, with escape holes to the various villages. Over 5000 people could live in the underground cities for months on end, with the stores of grains and oils, wine presses, bread ovens, fresh water piped in, and 100m deep ventilation tunnels to bring fresh air to the deepest parts of the city. It really was amazing, an entire city inside the mountain, which could only be accessed by climbing down the 100m ventilation shafts, or walking crouched through the long enterance tunnels (only 1m high), which could be sealed off from the inside with large stone wheels. It really was staggering (and so much fun to explore), and I never had any idea the place even existed before this. It is also nice that unlike a castle, which can be used to protect and to dominate, this was simply a retreat of the peaceful away from war :)

According to Herodotus, in the desert near here, round the city of Caspatyrus and in the country of Pactyica, the tribes have a novel way of finding gold. They go out into the sandy desert where there is a kind of ant of great size, bigger than a fox, though not so big as a dog. These creates as they burrow underground through up the sand in heaps, accumulating the gold. Unfortunately the ants smell intruders, and at once give chase; nothing in the world can touch these ants for speed. So the trick is to ride in with three camels, a male on either side, and the gold collector in the middle on a female who has just given birth. They come in during the morning, when (unlike the rest of the world) the sun is hottest, collect the gold and escape as fast as they can. The male camels get tired and are left behind, but the female camel keeps going hard by the memory of her young who were left at home, and thus a great lead is achieved before the ants muster their forces. Oddly enough, this is thought to be true, which the key mistake being that the Persian word for “mountain ant” is very close to “marmot”, and the local marmots do indeed bring up to the surface sand rich in gold dust. We saw lots of marmot holes in the ground in the Göreme Valley, but no piles of gold :)


Tonight we are going to Konya, for a cultural dinner. Konya was the capital of the Seljuk Turks, and is where the Whirling Dervishes where founded in the 13thcentury by Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi. He believed that an ecstatic trancelike state of universal love could by induced by whirling around and around (like the universe). So with our mezze dinner (which includes all you can drink), we have whirling dervishes and belly dancers.


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photo by: herman_munster