Sunday, February 5, 2012
IS THIS ANOTHER PLANET?
By Wendy Graham
They loom up out of nowhere, these mysterious, giant cones of white, yellow or rose-colored rock, their dark pointed hats giving them the look of colossal, cloaked wizards stealing away -- they are the "fairy chimneys" of Cappadocia.
Eons ago, the region of Cappadocia in central Turkey was covered with a thick layer of volcanic ash from two erupting volcanoes. The ash turned into a soft, whitish stone called tuff and over the centuries wind and rain lashed away at the tuff forming deep gorges and valleys. Further erosion created unique rock formations such as those known as peri baclari or "fairy chimneys." Scaly, brownish clumps of harder rock sit, sometimes precariously, on top of the chimneys, but it is this harder basalt that has protected the soft tuff below from being eroded, resulting in the formation of these fantastic stone sculptures.
With no understanding of how these preternatural configurations came to be, ancient peoples viewed them with superstitious uneasiness and traces of their wariness still exist. A carpet seller in Urgup recounted that as a boy his grandmother told him tales of how the fairies snatched up small children who ventured among their chimneys, so that even to this day he is reluctant to go there alone. If locals find the rock formations mysterious, you can imagine the effect they have on strangers to the land.
Travelling south from Nevsehir, you come to the first of the underground cities or catacombs, Kaymakli. It is not certain when these subterranean refuges were dug, but experts estimate around the fourth century. They continued to be used to escape invaders until 1839, when locals fled underground at the approach of the Egyptian Army.
Lower levels were used for storage while the upper chambers were taken up by living quarters, communal kitchens, and deep wells were built into the cities and you must be careful to avoid these holes as you they make you stoop through the damp tunnels. Every so often the tunnels open up into higher common areas from which small claustrophobic rooms extend. Once inside inhabitants could seal off each level by rolling millstones across the tunnels. Trapped by the thousands in these cold, dark caves, not breathing fresh air or seeing the light of day for months must have been an horrific experience.
Farther south lies Derinkuyu, an even deeper city that reaches eight levels below the surface. It is suspected that the two cities, nearly seven kilometres apart, were connected by a tunnel that has yet to be discovered.
But the Valley of the Fairy Chimneys is not the only sight that draws visitors to this remote corner of the world, for within just a few kilometres you can visit hermits' dwellings, monasteries and byzantine churches all carved out of high cones of volcanic tuff and then, in the next breath, find yourself crawling through the dark, dank tunnels of troglodyte cities.
Posted by P. Urial at 8:21 AM