The very first time I saw a fairy chimney, it was at the end of an all day and all night journey from Istanbul involving hitch-hiking, trucks, cancelled trains, buses and helpful policemen. Tired as I was, I have never forgotten the awe inspiring view of the central Anatolian region called Cappadocia. As the early morning rays of the sun began to rise above an empty featureless plain, the road suddenly dropped away. As we wound down the steep slopes a wonderland filled with fantastically shaped rock formations and a palette of shimmering caramels, ochres, creams and pinks washed across the landscape. Tucked away in the middle, studded with the green of poplar trees, was a tiny village.
This was Göreme, and the magical rocks, the fairy chimneys known as peri bacı in Turkish, have been home to people for hundreds of years. The area has been inhabited by Christians, over-run by Arabs and farmed by Turks. Three volcanos form a ring around the area, and their particular geographical makeup resulted in a stone called tufa. Soft enough to carve yet hardening on exposure to the air, it enabled people to build dwellings, stables, churches and even tombs inside the fairy chimneys. Animals were usually housed on ground level, the family lived above them and at the top, in the small conical caps they kept pigeons. The droppings were used to fertilize the grapes which are still grown today and made into wine in the nearby towns of Üçhisar and Ürgüp.
When the invaders came in the 6th and 7th centuries, the locals went underground, digging down as many as eight and nine floors. At one point it’s believed up to 10,000 people lived under the earth, marrying, living, growing crops, tending their animals, and even being buried underground when they died. To this day the churches, chapels and frescoes remain.
I’ve walked through the valleys, seen them on horseback, drunk wine at sunset, visited Zelve and the Open Air Museum, plus all the surrounding villages and floated above it all in a hot air balloon. Yet each time I go back I am enticed anew as if by magic, just like the first time.[shareaholic app="share_buttons" id="14877614"]
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