Another long day took us to Ürgüp and Göreme in Cappadocia, the land of strange erosion formations in the center of Southern Anatolia. The true attractions are the numerous caves in the area painted by early Christians who sought refuge or meditational quiet there.


 "Fairy" towers, chimneys, and castles near Göreme



 At this time of the year we were almost the only foreign tourists and easily found a room in a traditional "cave hotel" in the center of the small village: cold water, no heat, but clean - the rooms were hewn into the rock, which kept us warm....

The "Göreme Open-Air Museum" was within walking distance. On the way we met the locals.



Spring-plowing in the fields between the "fairy" chimneys...



 ...and a Mother and her two children on their all-terrain mule.


"Göreme Museum." Like in other Islamic countries, one meets intimate boy friends everywhere and from all levels of society. Woman, except for one's wife, is unavailable.

Saint Onophre, who was a transvestite, his breasts are obvious, his sex is modestly hidden behind a bush. As a man heaven was assured him.... (Yinlanli Kilise-Church of the Serpent)



 In the morning we rented the only car of a local rental office - the places of interest are scattered across an area close to 100 by 100 km..... Our first circle took us to Çavusin (pronounced Dja-vou-shen), Zelve, and Ürgüp. Admiring the wild landscape we sat under this tree for a while. When we got back to our car a farmer came running to ask us for a ride home. He and his wife had tended their vines. They were nice people who invited us to their home in Ürgüp.


To blend into the local dress-code Barbara wore a pair of baggy pants. "Oh," said the man to Barbara, "you are such a kind lady, let us dress you as a proper Turkish woman." His wife took Barbara into their bedroom, from where she emerged disguised as a married Turkish woman. - "Now you have to feed her better," said the man. to me. "She is much too thin. Turkish men like their wives plump." There was much laughter.

Later their daughter joined us — in jeans. As a teacher she spoke quite passable English...



 .. and reluctantly allowed me to photograph her too.


Zelve and  Çavusin

The village of Zelve has been moved elsewhere because the rock caves had become too unstable. They rise like a broken honeycomb in several stories. By way of internal stairs and tunnels one can still wander, at one's own risk, through the abandoned rooms and chapels.  



 Some of the better preserved rooms have elaborate widows and ornamentation carved directly from the soft, standing rock.

We had lunch in an outdoor restaurant and this is out rental car



 In Çavusin lives only one family and the guardian of the church, the frescoes of which are among the most extensive and best preserved in Cappadocia. The church was dedicated in 969 by Nikephoros Phokas who also founded the Great Lavra, the oldest monastery on Athos (962). He was a very successful admiral and by the grace of the Empress for a brief time Emperor of Byzantium (963-69) — before she had him killed by his successor in her bed, the Armenian Tsimiskes (969-76).... The apogee of Byzantine history.....

Hewn from the rock the cave church is very dark and photographing difficult (absolutely no flash!). The only reason to preserve the frescoes of the 10th to 12th century is for the tourist. Neither the locals nor the government has much interest in these Christian paintings. - A Last Supper above the entrance door - much like in Khintsvisi in Georgia.

In the vault Christ is being elevated by four angels. The close relationship between Georgian and Cappadocia frescoes is noticeable everywhere.  

 Christ flanked by the twelve apostles and two other saints attended by angels in a, for me unidentifiable, scene.



On the following day we drove south from Ürgüp along a lovely valley to Archangelos, a former Greek monastery.

 The Apple trees were blooming everywhere.


An entrance on the backside of the rock formation led into an abandoned church.

 Apparently it had been burnt out by a fire, the walls were blackened by soot.    

Tombs in the floor and a geometric, "Iconoclast" ceiling. Precipitated by the Islamic drive for purity all figurative religious painting was forbidden between 725-843 AD by imperial decree.

Graffiti are very common and often very old in the churches of the East. As this example shows they were not always ordinary vandalism, but often prayers for protection by the local saints.


 Soganli Valley 

 Soganli is a secluded valley at the southern border of Cappadocia.


Kubelli Kilesi-Domed Church a two-storied rock "carving" housing two churches from the 10th century. — One source suggested that the four churches at Soganli were once occupied by Armenian monks, and the isolation of the valley makes this conceivable. — At the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD the Armenian church was excommunicated because of its insistence on monophysite teachings (Christ only Man, not God). A deep chasm developed between the Byzantine and the Armenian Churches, which has never been healed. They have their own autokephalos patriarch (for historical reasons there were originally two, one in Konstantinopolis, another in Jerusalem) now in Etchmiazin, Republic of Armenia. Adding to the confusion is that some of the Armenians in Cilicia reverted to Western Catholicism (Rome) in 1742.


Derinkuyu - Magarasi, the Underground City

 There are a number of large underground cities in Cappadocia which have only been opened to the public during the 1960s. Three to eight stories deep, equipped with elaborate ventilation shafts and internal wells, they could house from several thousand to 20'000 people. It is not clear who started them and why — some were mentioned already by Roman histographers. Their origins may go back to Urartian times (10th century BC). They were certainly used as refuges during the Roman campaigns in Asia Minor, during the Persian incursions, and again by the Christians hiding from the Selçuk advances.

Magarasi is easily accessible through a nondescript kiosk in the center of Derinkuyu about 35 km south of Ürgüp. It is only of moderate size - three levels - and one can visit it by oneself without fear of getting lost in the maze of tunnels.... One of the more ingenious feature are doors like this one: a big millstone could be rolled across the tunnel to securely isolate parts of the complex from unwanted intruders.

Ilhara Valley

The Ilhara Valley, also known by its Greek name Peristrema, lies on the western most fringe of Cappadocia. We drove there from Derinkuyu through very lonely country, across a 1900-meter pass between two mighty vulcanos.

And then it began to snow!

Soon Cappadocia was white and cold.


 We found a miserable hoteli in the village of Ilhara - unheated, of course. When I asked for some hot water the hotel owner ordered a young boy to take us to the hamam — the Turkish bath house. It was an unattended dark hole under a dome with a single light-hole in its center. We were the only guests. The water in the four hand-basins on its periphery was warm - not hot. It was a sign of our desperation that Barbara agreed to strip, and I poured warm water over her. After which she did the same to me.... And then we discovered the boy and two of his friends spying at us through the hole in the dome..... This was my, our first experience with the institution of the hamam - the second one happened a few days later....  

 And here you see Barbara in bed reading me excerpts from the New Testament about St. Paul's travels in these parts....


 The Ilhara Valley is a deep canyon cutting the Cappadocian plateau. You have to climb down 365 steps on stairs.... Barbara walking through the mushy snow.

 It was blissfully quiet, and very beautiful with the first green on the trees against the reddish walls of the canyon and the snow. There are supposedly twenty-five chapels and churches hidden in caves in the rock walls. We could find only three, but they were very special. The paintings in the Sumbullu Kilise - the Church of the Hyacinth must be the oldest frescoes I have seen outside of China (Dunhuang in Gansu).

This "Elevation of Christ" must predate the Iconoclast Period — i.e., go back to the early eight century. Different from the Elevation at Djvari-Mtskheta in Georgia where Christ is represented only by a cross, Christ here actually appears, floating on a Greek cross, wonderfully naïve and carried by four lovely angels.

 The frescoes in the vault of another church are obviously from the Iconoclast Period (early 9th century). Interesting the "mudra" of the blessing hand: thumb and ring finger of the right hand are co-joined. The meaning and origin of this gesture I don't know.



Göreme, one Last Time

On our return to Göreme we found ourselves a more luxurious tourist hotel where the rooms were heated and a bathtub of hot water waited for us. We even had a decent dinner in their dining room!

One finds many dovecotes in the rock formations. Sometimes the old churches have been walled off with hollow stonework to serve this purpose. — In Persia and Central Asia large dove towers are used to this day. The dove droppings are used as fertilizer. — All of which appears to indicate that the dovecotes originated in late, Islamic times.... 

"The blooming trees in my father's garden," as it is said in One-thousand-and-one Night.... 



East to Diyabakir

Our next destination was the walled city of Diyabakir, a day's bus ride through the heartland of Anatolia: Kaiseri below another extinct vulcano, Malatya surrounded by blooming apricot trees. We did not stay.....


 As you see we found a decent hotel that night — and were immediately "discovered" by the young, English-speaking son of its manager, who offered to guide us around town. I had my doubts about the flamboyant young snob, thanked him profusely — and found him next day guiding a couple of young foreign ladies, why and where to we would only learn a few days later....

 Well, finding our way was not so easy in the maze of crowded narrow lanes of the old town, which is enclosed by massive, impressively black porphyry walls dating at least from the early centuries of our era,. We were followed by aggressively jeering crowds of — Kurdish children....

 While Barbara is getting instructed by a young lady how to find the Syrian-Orthodox church, I barely fended off the children. Next day surrounded by another mob of youngsters I suddenly felt someone's little hand in my pocket trying to steal my purse.... I ran after him and chased him off and was greeted by the exuberant cheers of his companions. Before this incident ended our explorations of Diyabakir we had a few other adventures

 The lady Barbara had asked for directions took us around several corners where she was joined by a young woman carrying her daughter, who invited us to her house, where she begged us to photograph of herself and her daughters.

 She firmly locked the gate to their courtyard - but as in biblical times two urchins climbed the roof to watch the show. To preserve decorum Barbara agreed to be the photographer. The young woman went to her room, took off her scarf, loosened her copious hair, and put on some lipstick.... And here she is with her three dark-eyed daughters, unsmiling — the father of her children was out of work....

 The Heroes of the Kurdish Nation milling on Main Street.... And every fifteen minutes another American military jet screamed overhead....

 The usual occupation of the men, if not bragging then they are smoking and having a chat at the local coffee-tea house.


Kurdish women from the surrounding villages selling yogurt - which was excellent.


The square in front of Ulu Camii - not one woman in sight....



 Architecturally Ulu Camii, the Great Mosque of Diyabakir is a close relative of the Great Mosque of Damascus and probably only a little younger (9th century?).

Two old Hadji at the mosque - one looks like Robert Forrest...!



Barbara admiring the yellow wall of the main hamam



 And finally we found the Syrian Church behind a high wall and a thrice looked gate, which upon our banging was opened by a suspicious pale young man who showed the Americans around — it turned out to serve a Syrian Catholic community of now only fifty families.... And I had to continue searching for the mysterious Syrian Monophysites..



 We had to look nearer to the Syrian border to find the elusive Monophysites. A public bus took us to Mardin, a dusty, ancient near-eastern town whose houses crowd a conical hill overlooking the Syrian plains to the south. From there we took a taxi to Deir-el-Zaffaran the Saffron Monastery of the Monophysites, once the seat of their Syrian Patriarch - who because of the harassment of the Christian minorities by the Turkish government, had long decamped to Damascus...



 The courtyard of el Zaffaran


 The altar area was hidden behind a modern appliqué curtain. The Bible on the stand in front of it was written in Aramaic(!) the church language of the Syrian Orthodox.


 Barbara and the charming, intelligent young student at the monastery's seminary who took us around.