CAPPADOCIA - FARUK PEKİN


The extraordinary landscape makes Cappadocia a singularly fascinating place. An amalgam of col¬ors and shapes, shaped by thou¬sands of years of storms and wind, of settlers and invaders, Cappadocia remains today as an irreplacea¬ble cultural treasure. 

It is an ideal spot for those who want to discover new places, for those seeking unique landscapes, for photographers, amateur historians, art historians, Byzantinists and hikers. 

Cappadocia is the name given in old times to the rectangular region encompassed by Aksaray, Kırşehir, Kayseri and Niğde. According to Herodotus, Katpatukya derives from the Persian word meaning "the land of beautiful horses." 

Today Cappadocia is the region in Turkey which most interests Turkish and foreign tourists not on¬ly for its natural rock formations, churches, precious frescoes and un¬derground cities, but for the Seljuk and Ottoman mosques, caravan¬saries and tombs the area contains. 

The region is covered with an average of 100 meters of volcanic ash, the result of eruptions of the three big volcanoes of Anatolia - Hasandağ (3266 m), Mekndiz Dağı (2963 m) and Erciyes Dağı (3917 m) - as well as other smaller ones over millions of years. Volcanic activity continued intermittently on Hasandağ as late as 2000 years ago. 

Rivers like the Kızılırmak in the north, the Melendiz in the southwest and the Mavrucan in the southeast mark the region's hydrographic structure. Small springç wear away the layers of volcanic rock to form streams which feed these rivers.

Over time, rain, floods, rivers, winds and extreme heat eroded the porous volcanic rock into an amazing variety of shapes. Today, nar¬row and deep valleys, sharply pointed hillocks, rock cones and columns characterize the region. Topping many of these columns are precariously balanced scull-caps, called "fairy chimneys" by the locals. The height of some of these rock cones rises to 40-45 meters. The fairy chimneys are a natural wonder seen no where else in the world. 

The porous stone of the region, called tufa, is easily worked and maintains its shape after carving. This peculiarity provided settlers with a wonderful building material. Inhabitants hollowed out two and three storey houses, churches, mosques, underground cities, birdhouses and cold storage depots. These structures kept out the dampness and humidity, protecting against the heat of summer and the cold of winter at the same they pro-vided refuge for hostile invaders. Large communities of Christians settled here, retreating to their caves and underground cities when the Arab armies poured through in the7th century.

Though barren at first sight, the continuously inhabited region is extremely fertile. Apples, apricots, pears, onions and potatoes grow side by side with the grapes from which Cappadocian wines are made. Cappadocia has long been a center of wine production and visitors should make sure to sample some of the local bottles. 

Pigeon fertilizer, obtained ly hollowing dovecotes out of the rock, is used by local farmers to make the land more productive. The dovecotes are often surrounded with white in order to attract pigeons. 

The history of Cappadocia stretches back to the Middle Paleo¬lithic Period. Several obsidian fragments have been found on the east slope of Mt. Melendiz. Aşıklı Höyük, close to İğdeli Çeşme, and five separate settlements within the boundaries of Niğde have been dated to the to Neolithic period. Real settlement of the region began with the Hittites and Assyrians. Acemhöyük to the northwest of Aksaray was settled in the 3rd century B. C. during the Bronze Age. Excavations in Sulucakarahöyük (Hacıbeklaş) have uncovered remains from the Hittite, Phrygian, Roman and Byzantine era white objects dating from the Old and Middle Hittite  periods have been found al Topaklı Höyüğü in Avanos. 

In the first century B. C. the Aegean city-states exercised influence over the central Anatolian province. In 17 AD Cappodocia formally became a part of the Roman Empire, and fell under the hegemony of Byzantium, in 395. During the 8th and 9th centuries, waves Arabic invaders passed through the region, al¬though they did not settle. Later it was ruled by the Anatolian Seljuks and various local lords until it came under the sway of the Ottoman Empire in 1466.

Cappadocia was one of the important monastic centers of the Byzantine Empire. Here St. Basil and St.Gregory developed monastic communities based on a creed of love' and brotherhood, communal production and sharing, rather than individual seclusion. From 726-843 the iconoclastic controversy raged throughout the Byzantine Empire with the iconoclasts demanding the destruction religious images. In later centuries, when the pro-iconists is returned to power, the walls of the Cappodacian churches were once decorated with frescoes.

The 9th to 12th century fres¬coes, while sometimes crudely executed, have and  extraordinary emotional power and sometimes achieve moving beauty. 

Under the Seljuks and Ottomans, Christian and Jewish communities flourished in this land that is also the home of the famous mystic poet Mevlana, who preached a philosophy of tolerance and brotherly love. Over time, the Orthodox communities even forgot their own language. Speaking Turkish and writing it in Greek letters. This peace was shat-tered by World War I and the Turkish War of Independence. According to the terms of the 1924 Lau¬sanne Agreement, an exchange of populations took place where by the Greek communities of Cappadocia were resettled in Greece. 

Today, the process of geological erosion and population shifts con¬tinues. New fairy chimneys are being formed even as others lose their shape. Thousands of visitors from Europe, America and Asia come to Cappadocia each year to explore its marvels and many new tourist facil¬ities have been constructed. Desig¬nated by UNESCO as a World Cul¬tural Heritage site, Cappadocia de¬serves preservation, for it is far too precious a place to be spoiled.

WHAT YOU SHOULD SEE? 

The major sights of Cappadocia are delineated by the Nevşehir¬ Ürgüp-Avanos triangle. Of central interest is the Göreme Open Air Museum with its multitude of carved-out churches, the picturesque villages of Uçhisar and Ortahisar, and the amazing underground cit¬ies of Kaymaklı and Derinkuyu. It is possible to tour most of these sights in as little as one and a half days. 

But Cappadocia has more to offer than a quick tour can accommodate. Without seeing the whole of the area, it is impossible to form an accurate picture of this endlessly fascinating region.


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