It’s been a busy week, but I want to continue processing my trip and share some stories from each place. Back in March I was able to travel to Greece and Turkey with my brother. For a preview of the trip, read the A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey entry and read my thoughts on Athens, Corinth, and Ephesus.
Our time in Ephesus was followed by a travel day. Trains, planes, and automobiles! We took the train back to Izmir, where we caught a flight to Istanbul, then a connecting flight to Kayseri in central Turkey. By the time we got to Kayseri it was dark, which was disappointing because we knew the landscape was supposed to be spectacular. Indeed, we didn’t even realize until our return that Kayseri sits at the base of one of the largest mountains in Turkey! A car picked us up from the airport and took us to the town of Göreme. When we finally arrived in Göreme we could begin to make out the strange formations Cappadocia is known for.
The landscape in Cappadocia has been strangely shaped by volcanic activity from times past, along with erosion over time from water. The rock in the area is almost chalk-like – easy to chip away and carve. The result is an area with deep ravines surrounded by tall cone-shaped rock structures, sometimes called fairy chimneys. People have carved dwellings in these formations for thousands of years.
In keeping with that tradition, in the town of Göreme visitors can stay in hotels carved right out of the rock formations. It’s one of those things you have to do to at least say you did it: stay in a cave hotel in Cappadocia. Our room was spacious and comfortable with a modern bathroom. Yet all the décor, save two chairs and a table, were carved right out of the rock. It wasn’t until breakfast the next morning that we were fully able to take in the other-worldly landscape at which we had arrived. The snow flurries in the air only made it that much more enchanted.
Our first stop was the Göreme Open Air Museum. The museum is a small area of these chimney formations with numerous churches and monasteries dating back to 1100 AD. Many of these structures have multiple levels connected by stairs or tunnels carved through the rock. Because they are protected from the elements, many of the churches are still beautifully painted with images from the Bible. It was easy to see how these paintings were used as a way of communicating the important narratives of the New Testament.
The entire museum area is surrounded by Göreme National Park and upon leaving the museum, we realized the entire park is, in essence, a giant museum. I had read that it was relatively easy to set off hiking in a given direction and as long as you could keep the town of Göreme in sight from the higher vantage points, you would not get lost. So we set out to test that theory! Amidst snow flurries, we spent the day hiking, climbing up to openings in the rock, exploring cave houses and churches, and belly crawling through small tunnels, unknown as to where they might lead. My brother described the area as a giant playground for adults! Every so often, we would see a hiker or two off in the distance, but other than that we had the place to ourselves. Later in the afternoon we climbed to the top of a ridge to locate the town off in the distance. Not wanting to backtrack, we followed the ridgeline, hoping to find a safe place to descend down to the valley floor and make our way toward town. It took longer than anticipated, but we finally located a way back down, found the main road, and headed back into Göreme.
The town of Göreme itself reminds me of a ski resort town. Hotels encircle a main strip full of restaurants, shops, and a river running straight through town. We were cold and exhausted and found the perfect coffee shop in the middle of town to warm up in and process the day. Later we went looking for a place to eat. Warning: do not stop to look at menus unless you are ready for the full sales pitch, or are very quick about it! We did get quite the sales pitch at one place and the meal was wonderful – lamb cooked in clay pots, bread with assorted dipping sauces, and Turkish baklava. We ate like kings! My brother and I agreed that it was perhaps one of the better days of our lives.
The next day we considered a couple side trips/activities, but decided on more of the same: this time hiking the Rose Valley trail through the park. We began by running across a cave church structure, complete with a dining hall, dovecotes, a wine press, and a bee farm to harvest honey. For lunch we climbed up to a platform that used to be a dwelling of some type and overlooked the ravine below. When we were about spent at day’s end, we ran across a couple other hikers who told us of a large church just up the trail that was worth the climb. We found the opening in the rock face and climbed up to a second level to find ourselves in a sanctuary as large as a decent-sized church building today. Again, none of this is visible from the outside. It was a nice way to end our hike. We ended up in an adjacent village and found someone happy to drive us back to Göreme for some gas money.
What a truly magical place!
Here are some of my thoughts as they relate to the Cappadocia region:
Insight #1 – Cappadocia isn’t mentioned often in the Bible, but it is mentioned. In Acts 2, Cappadocia was listed as one of the places/languages people were able to hear being spoken when the Spirit fell on the believers in Jerusalem. Later, the beginning of 1 Peter is addressed to Christian exiles scattered throughout what is now Turkey, with Cappadocia being listed among the regions. These few references tell us that it was home to a Jewish population and subsequently a Christian population as well. Paul traveled to the south of Cappadocia in order to focus on the prominent cities of Asia Minor, such as Ephesus. But little doubt the message eventually spread north and east to Cappadocia.
Insight #2 – Although it didn’t play a prominent role in the New Testament, Cappadocia would help shape the church for the next several hundred years. We know the message spread to Cappadocia because several figures in the early church came from Cappadocia, including Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa. These leaders were instrumental in shaping the monastic movement in Christianity. Monasticism was active in the region for the next thousand years. Examples of cave monasteries abound in the region.
Insight #3 – Cave living. Having explored the area for a couple days, I am convinced that cave living would have been pretty comfortable for that time. Like I mentioned above, it was flurrying the first day we hiked through the park. But once in the caves, we could take our winter wear off and be fine – not to mention that we didn’t even have a fire going. The carved out dwellings would have stayed cool in the summer and moderate in the winter. There were places to raise bees for honey, wine presses, dovecotes, and stables for horses. Most importantly, they were easily defended and safe from the elements, with passageways that could be sealed off if trouble arose. There are many accounts of enemy armies being unable to even locate these cave cities because the residents would simply disappear into the hills or underground.
The last stop is Istanbul!