October 16, 2014

I want to be a Troglodyte. The Cave houses of Cappadocia

View from an abandoned Cave house looking towards Pink Valley
Volcanic eruptions two million years ago caused the region of Cappadocia to be covered by thick ash, which became soft rock (or in geological terms,Tuff). Erosion over time left only the harder remnants of the Tuff, which has been shaped by the elements into amazing formations; towers, chimneys, mushrooms, and rocks that appear to have been sculpted by Henry Moore. The soft rock also enabled the inhabitants to carve out their cave homes in these towers, and to go underground at times of danger.

I headed to Goreme, which is in the heart of Cappadocia. Booking into the Shoestring Cave House I was given a cave room. It was quiet, cool in the heat of summer, and gave me a great nights sleep. Admittedly I had come from the craziness of Istanbul where I had been attempting to sleep next to a mosque, but there was something very cosy and sleep inducing about being in a cave.

A large pinnacle with caves in Uchisar

Its remote location caused Cappadocia to become a refuge for Christians fleeing the Romans in the early Byzantine era. As well as building homes they built places of worship. Goreme was one of the religious centres and has many monasteries, nunneries and churches in one small area which is easily visited, the Goreme open air museum.

The museum is packed with tourists, and has many restrictions on where you can go, and what you can photograph. A lot of it is for health and safety reasons, losing a tourist from falling out of an upper level of a monastery is also poor for business. But if you walk in the hills behind the museum, and then on towards the Rose Valley, you can find many other cave dwellings and churches, which to me were just as interesting, and sometimes better that those contained in the museum. 

Many of the buildings were inaccessible, but some you could enter and then clamber fairly easily upwards to explore the many places where the inhabitants lived. The continued erosion over centuries by wind and rain has revealed the honeycomb of inter-connecting rooms that had been dug out inside the rock. Some of the views were stunning, as in the first photo above, taken out of the window of an upper story of a small house looking out towards the Rose valley. Bring a torch, and obviously take care, as there are no safety ropes to prevent you falling out, and the erosion makes the edges of the higher levels particularly dangerous.

A Monastery in the Rose Valley
In Uchisar, five kilometres from Goreme, a huge rock was converted into a Castle, which is the highest point in Cappadocia. The Castle can be climbed fairly easily by climbing 120 steps, mostly on the outside of the rock, as most of the rooms, and the internal stairs are closed to tourists. It does provide great views across the region and is an alternative if you do no want to go up in a hot air balloon. The Castle was one of the last places the Roman army held onto in Anatolia until finally being over run by the Ottoman forces. Do buy a drink from the entrepreneurial boy on the top, he climbs up with all his drinks, cools them in ice, and charges the same as the shops in the square below. You can walk down from the Castle and into the Pigeon valley below and have a great hike back to Goreme, although do not get lost.

Uchisar Castle
Today many of the Cave houses have been converted and expanded into hotels for tourists, and has this has pushed the price up to 400,000 Euros or more for them in the major towns such as Goreme. Outside of the tourist areas they can still be purchased by the locals at much more reasonable prices, and families still prefer to live in them due to their natural insulation giving constant temperatures all year round, and lets be honest, because they are such great places to live. Adding solar energy and satellite tv, as the owners have done to their home below (click the photo to enlarge), makes me want to become a troglodyte!

A Cave home with all mod cons

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