The above image of the Cappadocian landscape is taken from the other side of Goreme and looks across this town towards the Uchisar ‘castle’ in the distance. It is only five kilometres from Goreme to Uchisar so our guide decided we would go and have a look at Uchisar and then have lunch before heading off to our last site for the day, the Kaymakli Underground City.
As mentioned in the previous blog, getting a clear sense of the history of human activity in Cappadocia is a bit of a struggle. For example, the town of Uchisar is first mentioned in written chronicles in the 14th century CE. However, the Bronze Age Empire of the Hittites (1650-1180 BCE) included all of Cappadocia and so it is presumed the Hittites may have used the stone landscapes of the area for refuges and strongholds. It is also clear that by the 4th century CE, the Byzantines were well and truly embracing the potential of this landscape to build hermitages and places of refuges. No doubt after the 12th century conquest of Turkey, the Seljuk Turks would have been impressed with the defensive qualities of Uchisar Castle.
The town of Uchisar is dominated by the castle/mountain which is actually two giant fairy chimneys next to each other; the highest point at the north end is 100m. In Byzantine times the castle contained residences and monastic cloisters and probably held around 1000 people at the height of its population. It is no longer inhabited. It is also surrounded by fairy chimneys so the views around Uchisar are spectacular. Our guide stopped at a well-used viewing area that was approximately a kilometre away from the castle to take in these views. While we were there, we were joined by a not particularly handsome camel which we could ride for a small fee. The other thing that distracted my attention from the views over Fairy Chimneys to the castle was a bare tree without any vegetation next to the car park. Instead of leaves it was decorated by blue glass discs in the shape of eyes that apparently were very effective in warding off evil spirits. I am not normally a big fan of souvenirs, but I decided it wouldn’t hurt to carry some local protection with me for the rest of our tour. It still sits on my desk today and I have determined that it must be very effective as I have suffered minimal bad luck in my office since that time.
Apparently, the views are amazing from the top of the castle, particularly at sunset. We did not have time in our itinerary to make this climb, but we were informed that steps carry visitors almost to the very top of this mountain riddled with caves and tunnels.
The view of Uchisar that is shown in the photo on the left was taken from the balcony of our lunchtime restaurant. I recall enjoying my lunch immensely but I am not sure that I have ever had a more interesting view than the one we had that day from our restaurant table
Kaymakli Underground Town
Our next destination, Kaymakli, is one of the two ‘Underground Cities’ open to tourists in Cappadocia. In our day so far, we had visited the extraordinary geological features of the region, particularly all the different forms of Fairy Chimneys as well as the refuges and churches carved out of these pillars and surrounding cliff faces. Now we were taking another step forward in the story of Cappadocia, to visit a town carved out of the rocky ground and which descended many levels below the surface. While only two of these underground cities can be visited by tourists, estimates vary from between ninety and two hundred of them throughout Anatolia and some experts in the field believe that there are many more of these facilities that will be discovered in the future.
Like the rest of Asia-minor and Europe, the arrival of warlike humanity during prehistoric times meant that where people gathered in villages, towns and cities, they were always subject to invasions of predatory neighbours insisting on taking over territory they perceived as better than their own homelands. The traditional defence against such plunderers were town walls and castle/fortresses on high points made from wood, local rock and manufactured bricks. The big disadvantage for Cappadocia was that it had few trees and limited arable land. They could not build high castle walls against successive waves of plunderers but the geology of their homeland meant they could dig out their rocky homeland and build their defensive refuges underground. As long as they had sufficient room and plenty of food and water, they could wait out the invaders who, when they discovered they couldn’t break through the huge mill stone doors, they had to move on to territory where there was freely available food and water to be stolen
As suggested earlier, we have to go to other sources for information about the history of the Kaymakli underground city rather than written sources. It is believed that Phrygian inhabitants of Cappadocia as long ago as the 8th century BCE built caves into the soft rock of the area. The Phrygian language died out under the Roman invasion of their region and the Greek speaking inhabitants converted to Christianity and so began almost 2000 years of building refuges to defend themselves against various waves of invasions. The city underneath Kaymakli was expanded under the Byzantines with the addition of chapels. During the 8th-12th centuries when Arab armies invaded the area, the undergound city was expanded to assist the community wait out the marauders. The same occurred in the 14th century when Genghis Khan and his Mongol armies passed through. During the period of Ottoman rule, the locals continued to use the underground city as a place of refuge from the periodic waves of persecution. The end to locals using the underground city occurred in 1923 when the orthodox Christian Greeks were expelled from Turkey during the infamous population exchange.
The map of underground Kaymakli to the left is an attempt to give some idea of the layout. This underground city has eight levels under the ground but only the top four floors are open for inspection. This diagram illustrates the ventilation shafts that were vital to ensure the flow of air through the underground rooms, particularly during long periods of sheltering.
The locals not only needed to get their families into shelter, they also needed to get their essential animals under ground as they were vital for their future survival. Naturally, stables were on the first level below ground as escorting horses and other farm animals even deeper down narrow, steep passages underground would be very difficult. The image on the left above shows a Millstone Door in its niche, ready to close off a passage; these doors could only be moved from the inside. The underground city had more than one millstone door to close off passages further into the caverns to provide an extra level of security. On the second floor of the city is a church and the third floor is given over to the storage of wine, olive oil as well as kitchen areas
Not far further south from Kaymakli is a much larger underground city that plunges 60 metres under the surface, Derinkuyu. It is estimated to be able to shelter 2000 people. There is also a system of tunnels that connect these two underground cities. It must have been very frustrating for invading types hoping to capture all the resources of local towns only to find these resources disappearing underground. Even if they broke through into Kaymakli, the locals could then flee to Derinkuyu.
It was a long and tiring day visiting the intricate wonders of Cappadocia. It was lucky that it wasn’t far back to our wonderful hotel Gamirasu in Ayvali via the back road through Mazi.