Story By Barbara Penny Angelakis
Photography by Barbara Penny Angelakis and Manos Angelakis
Few things are worth rising at 4 A.M. to see; perhaps a full Lunar Eclipse, or Halley’s Comet passing by every 75 years, or a hot air balloon ride over the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia… yeah that qualifies.
Cappadocia is in the center of Turkish Anatolia - renowned for its unique landscape.
Hot air balloon rides in Cappadocia are big business and by the time that we arrived at the lift site, there were balloons in various stages of inflation almost as far as the eye could see in the pre-dawn light. Our balloon company was Ürgüp Balloons and we were deposited at our brightly colored balloon with alternating stripes of blue, red, yellow, purple and green. We were greeted by Captain Ersoy Ugar, a certified flyer with many years of experience. The handlers assisted us in climbing aboard our 10 person basket, Captain Ersoy briefed us on how to position ourselves for landing, and with a blast of the burners we smoothly lifted off to greet the rising sun.
The weather had been cool and overcast every morning for weeks with the sun not breaking through until mid-day but Mother Nature was smiling on us because this morning the sun rose with the balloons to give us a spectacular spectacle. At first there was little wind and we seemed to hang suspended silently in space, like a bird floating on a current of air. After a few moments of balancing between heaven and earth, a breeze caught the balloon and we began to move towards the stone formations stoically awaiting our visit. And visit them we did; we got so close to some of the fairy chimneys it was easy to reach out and touch them from our perch in the sky. There were dozens of balloons in the air, at times it seemed as if we would bounce off each other, sometimes we were above, other times below other balloons, but all the while Captan Ersoy kept in touch with the other Captains via walkie-talkie to insure the safety of our flight.
This spectacular landscape was created by three now extinct volcanoes that triangulate the area known as Cappadocia. Erciyes in the east, is the highest at close to 13,000 feet, then Hasandağ in the southwest at almost 11,000 feet and finally Güllüdağ in the northwest at a modest 7,000 feet. Millions of years ago the volcanoes were very active and spewed volumes of volcanic ash, mud and lava, over the Nevşehir plateau, blanketing the ground with mountains of debris. Wind and water slowly sculpted the soft porous pumice into elongated shapes, cones and pillars, while leaving the harder lava (basalt) rocks balanced precariously on top. The process continues to this day and you can see new fairy chimneys being shaped while ancient ones are ever so slowly crumbling away. The name “fairy chimney” was given to the conical stone shapes by early man who believed spirits created and inhabited the stones and when the wind whistled through the porous rock they could hear the fairies talk.
By the time man appeared on the scene, the valley was rich for cultivation and the soft volcanic stone provided perfect cave-shelters that were cool in the summer and warm in the winter and offered protection from wild animals. As civilization and trading developed, the valley became a strategic crossroad and a prime target for waves of marauding hoards that periodically overran the area. This forced the inhabitants to carve deep hiding places out of the soft tufa and as the population grew, so did the multi-level underground cities. It is believed the caves and underground cities were originally fashioned by Hittites, as early as 5000 years ago. To insure their survival for long periods of time underground, first holes were bored to find the water table and once a good source was secured, subterranean tunnels and ventilation holes were carved from which families could connect their individual dwelling places like bees in a hive. Eventually the cities would house thousands including their animals, with public spaces for temples, grave hollows, group kitchens, wineries, granaries, and even smelters. Today you can visit several, but the most frequented is Kaymakli with its 7 levels of narrow, winding, labyrinthine passageways. The one glitch, Manos at 6’2 and 250 lbs. got stuck in one of the tiny passages around the 4th level making continuing impossible and to our chagrin we had to back out by climbing over the dozens of tourists behind us that were anxious to move on.
By the first century Christians seeking religious freedom and fleeing from Roman persecution moved further east into Cappadocia and finding the tufa relatively easy to carve, they created chapels, churches and monasteries in great profusion. The remarkable Göreme Open Air Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a massive monastic city carved out of rock. Göreme was a religious and educational center from the 4th to the 13th centuries, where priests and nuns lived their separate lives in large monasteries each housing dozens. They carved in the rock more then 400 churches, many whose brightly colored frescos can still be seen decorating the walls and ceilings. We were fortunate to be escorted through this maze of caves by Özkan Güleç, the owner of Peerless Travel, and an expert on his home region of Cappadocia. Not only did I appreciate Özkan’s knowledge and humor, but his perfect English made the complex history of the region come alive.
There was so much to see that our exploration continued the following days with guides Ersin Görkem and Fatih Ayas, both with Euphrates Tours, another English speaking expert travel company in Cappadocia.
But least you think Cappadocia is all mystical and monastic, think again. Cappadocia is a serious shopper’s paradise that continues to produce high quality luxury goods for which Turkey has been revered. Özkan took us to the town of Avanos, situated at the edge of the Red River, which has a tradition of pottery making that dates back to the Hittites and their invention of the kick wheel. As you cross the river into town there are piles of jugs and pots collected in caches that clearly indicate what the town is renowned for. But for top of the line pottery art we went to Ömürlü Ceramic and met with Hasan Bilgin whose family has been making pottery for over 200 years. Ömürlü’s production and showrooms are housed in a 700 year old building which Hasan enthusiastically took us through. We got to see the process that makes a lump of white river clay into a piece of fine art. To watch the master painter take a brush of just a few fine hairs and create freehand a design of intricate complexity was breathtaking. Many of the shapes and patterns are traditional or family designs although they also make modern pieces and accept commissions for special patterns or colors. www.omurlu.com
Hand-crafted jewelry is also a fine art in Turkey with a profusion of colored stones, intricate designs and the 20 to 22 caret gold that is de rigueur. Agad Jewelry by Kircilar has production and showrooms in Avanos with everything from antique jewelry to modern abstract designs, from semi-precious stones to precious colored gems, sterling silver and gold.
Turkish carpets have been coveted for their beauty, quality and longevity since the Ottoman Empire and a perfect location to view the best of the best is BAZAAR 54, a kind of co-op venture for showcasing carpets from different areas of Cappadocia. We spoke to Sales Manager, Elifsu Turizm, a charming and extremely knowledgeable spokesperson. Elifsu explained that BAZAAR 54 not only has on display for sale a vast array of product, they are also dedicated to continuing the tradition of carpet weaving by training local girls who when ready, loom carpets at home in a far reaching cottage industry. The weavers are compensated for their labor and when their products sell, they share in the profit. Also located in Avanos, this is a go-to carpet store whether you are interested in a silk prayer rug or a wool-on-wool living room area rug. As with the other shops we visited in Avanos shipping is free so you don’t have to carry your purchases with you or break the bank sending them home. Email: email@example.com
We have viewed the breathtaking natural wonder of Cappadocia’s fairy chimneys hanging from the bright blue sky in a multi-colored balloon. We have squeezed through the man-made underground cities of ancient peoples deep inside the earth; and explored early mans search for religious freedom and the expression of his devotion in brightly colored frescos that have stood the test of time. We have met the people of Cappadocia and heard their pride in continuing the traditions of their forefathers in the works of art they create.
Cappadocia is indeed a wonderland and spring is an exceptionally lovely time to visit. In spring the normally dry arid landscape is softened by the profusion of wild flowers and trees showering the sandy colored countryside with patches of lilac, gold, pink, and orange.
Turkish Airlines - Türk Hava Yollari
Peerless Turkey Designers,
Istiklal Cad. No 41/1
Tel: (90.384) 3416970
Fax: (90.384) 3416560
Euphrates Cappadocia Tours and Travel Turkey (ASTA member)
Istiklal Cad. 59/9
Tel: (90.384) 3417485
Fax: (90.384) 3417487
Yeni Camii Mah.
Isticlal Cad. No 52
Tel: (90.384) 3415636
Fax: (90.384) 3415226
Istanbul Office Tel: (90.212) 5186570
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