An Underground City & A Hike Through The Ihlara Valley

Ihlara Travel Blog

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Balloon over Cappadocia

I booked a tour through the pension that included a visit to the panorama viewpoint, the Derinkuyu underground city, a hike in the Ihlara valley, the Selime cathedral and Uçhisar onyx shop all for 50 YTL. I had planned to just go to Derinkuyu by public transportation but that alone would have cost nearly 25 so it was worth it to join the tour. We left Göreme at 9:30 and in total there were 13 tourists, mostly from Korea but a few Japanese and one Turkish. The first stop was a viewing point near the place I'd visited on my first day here but because it was morning the scenery was different.

The Underground City in Derinkuyu
Also our guide, Denis, explained how the unusual landscape was formed. Essentially the valley was formed by erosion of volcanic layers of porous material. He also explained that the area has historical significance due to the location on major trade routes like the Silk Road. While he was talking a hot air balloon soared above us, at one point completely blocking the sunlight.

From the panorama plateau near Uçhisar we drove to the village of Derinkuyu where we visited the large underground city. Actually the cavernous rooms were used more as a place of worship, meditation and shelter during wartime than actual residences, but it was a fascinating journey. Denis explained that there were really two separate layers: the first being that of the Coptic Christians and the other of the Hittites.

Hakan volcano, one of two in the area
These two were not connected, but for touristic purposes they had been. The deepest we could go was 55 meters but the carved out rooms went as deep as 150 meters. We saw the ventilation system, tandoori kitchen, chapel and other chambers, all carved out of the rock underground. Some of the passageways leading to the different rooms were very narrow, and we had to squat and walk through the corridors. It was not always easy to do! Near the chapel room was a pillar with two notches at the top that Denis indicated were used for torture. There was also a meditation chamber near this where priests would escape to reflect and think before speaking about certain subjects. We really only visited a small portion of what existed, but it made for a worthwhile trip, especially to hear the history.
Me at Ihlara canyon
Denis told us that the Hittites were very clever engineers and built several "decoy" tunnels to confuse their enemies during times of conflict. They also had special ways to close off the passages to outsiders but could easily open them from the inside. They also had a system of being able to see the enemy, kind of like an early version of peepholes or surveillance.

After Derinkuyu we drove 52 kilometers to a point along the 60-kilometer long Ihlara Valley. The valley is actually a canyon carved out by a relatively small stream, revealing layers of rock columns along the side and stunning views. There were also Coptic civilizations who had carved out their dwellings and churches along the former banks. The higher the dwelling location today, the older it was due to the continual erosion of the valley.

En route to Yaprakhisar
We hiked about 45 minutes along the stream at the bottom, in a few points passing under narrow rock crevices. I met a Korean guy living in New Zealand whose name was Jonathan and we chatted during the hike. The weather was chilly but sunny and quite comfortable for a hike. It was an easy hike and at the end we had lunch near the village of Belisırma. Lunch was also included in the tour, and was very tasty. We had our choice of chicken, beef or fish cooked in a special clay plate and also had some spicy mercimek. It was a very filling meal and then we headed on to the next place.

We drove through Yaprakhisar where Star Wars was filmed, and just past that was the Selime Cathedral, a large series of carved fairy chimneys utilized as a monastery. We had about 25 minutes to climb and explore the myriad chambers and nooks.

Selime Cathedral
Actually this formation had more rooms than any of the other rock formations I had seen thus far. It would have been worth further exploration, but it was impressive to be able to see it, as I had forgotten it was part of the tour and didn't know much about it. Apparently the government had relocated all the people living in the rocks nearby to new housing in the village for historical preservation purposes, but there were still a few dwellings near the cathedral.

From there we had a long drive back to Uçhisar and most people fell asleep. It was getting near dusk by the time we arrived at another entrance to the Pigeon Valley and directly across from the Göreme Onyx shop. After viewing the sunset off Pigeon Valley and the biggest brightest full moon on my journey, we went across to the onyx shop.

Full moon over Pigeon Valley
We saw a demonstration on how the raw onyx is ground and polished. We then saw some other minerals native to the area, such as meerschaum and turquoise. I answered a question correctly about turquoise being one of Turkey's famous gems and I was given the piece of polished onyx from the demonstration. It's heavy but a good souvenir I guess. Then we were taken to a jewelry showroom where everything was on sale. It was a good advertising scheme and the jewelry was quite beautiful but as I had no need for it I just looked around and waited for the others.

Back in Göreme after the tour, I agreed to meet up with Jonathan for dinner and we met at 7:15 at Meeting Place Cafe. I ordered beef saute, which was very spicy. An adorable puppy chewed on my jacket sleeve. I noticed there were more pets here than in other places in Turkey. Sure there were cats everywhere in Turkey, inside and out, but here the pet ownership percentage seems higher. Jonathan and I chatted for awhile but he was still suffering jet lag and wanted to go back, so I wandered around silent Göreme for awhile. The temperature is crisp and cold, the moon is full but partially obscured by thin clouds. It is my last weekend in Turkey. I am a little sad but excited to be back, and possibly a little trepidacious about the economic situation but I don't regret a thing. Three more days in Turkey and I plan to make the most of them!

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Balloon over Cappadocia
Balloon over Cappadocia
The Underground City in Derinkuyu
The Underground City in Derinkuyu
Hakan volcano, one of two in the a…
Hakan volcano, one of two in the …
Me at Ihlara canyon
Me at Ihlara canyon
En route to Yaprakhisar
En route to Yaprakhisar
Selime Cathedral
Selime Cathedral
Full moon over Pigeon Valley
Full moon over Pigeon Valley
Ihlara
photo by: Auditarchi