Home > turkey > A Midday’s Cappadocian Dream: Part 2 (of 3)

A Midday’s Cappadocian Dream: Part 2 (of 3)

September 13th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

We descended to the car and prepared our packs and our minds for the adventure ahead.  On the south side of the town square, each step down the cobble-stoned street turned back the hands of time.  Cars were replaced by donkeys eating grass and dried bread; the mild hum of activity from the town square fell all but silent.  Winding our way closer to the remains the ancient urban center, a set of dirty stone steps between two walls led downward.  They seemed our best bet for direct descent to the valley floor.  We walked past reconstructed homes whose facades blended seamlessly with uninhabited rock dwellings.  When the people had left, where they had gone, and why they had vacated this paradise setting were unclear, questions further complicated by numbered stone porticos with old wooden doors and the debris of a timeless livelihood.  Pointed stone archways led onto the porches of houses dug deep into the rock.  Multiple layers of rooms extended inward, left and right.  Inside, the light was dim and air musty, the walls cob-webbed and spectacularly dusty.  Far from lifeless, the space was heavy with the flutter of small grey, brown and blue moths, who, in their hospitality to the first guest in ages, beckoned me to dance with them in their home.  Peretz and I watched their performance, while Amanda and Hari explored the street outside.

We walked along the grassy path of this nestled shire until the road forked, one heading deeper into the dendritic valley, the other closer to Ortahisar.   At this corner, an old stone wall marked the bounds of a formerly cultivated field so verdant we questioned whether it was still in use.  Where crops once grew, a grove of thin birch trees now speckled angled sunlight onto the ground, and mushrooms proclaimed the soil’s virtues.  On the northwest hillside of the field, a lean-to covered the opening of a small cave.  Dusty bedding materials, a dented pot and old walking stick told the story of a nomad that had once inhabited the dark inside.

Momentarily distracted by the beauty of the urban cliff-side dwellings on the right fork, we turned left to hike deeper into the main valley as the last sounds of Ortahisar faded. Mournful coos and the sound of beating wings darted above our heads; where bare sandstone met the brown, grassy plateau, dozens of pigeons navigated networks of small holes in the rock, roosting in the homes built for them by farmers long ago.  We later learned that pigeons held an important role in ancient times, when guano served as fertilizer, housing pigeons was tantamount to winning bread – after all, how could a man care for a fair dove girl if he could not care for a flock of pigeons?

Algae bubbled green and frogs sprang in the small brook that trickled down the path, its source now diverted to farther fields.  Edges of the once tended landscape, smoothed by time, ran along the path.  The fields above now grew wild-haired grasses that revealed the flow of the prevailing wind, and hints of the eons-tilled land waved over the ground.  Suburban homes of stone packed the walls of the widening valley with paths leading into neighborhoods of adjacent sub-valleys.  A switch-backed trail weaved up the hillside to our right.  Like a sandstone egg, cracked in half, the remains of an ancient church stood on the hill top, its ornately carved insides and maroon murals exposed to the elements southwest.  As the largest and most decorated structure we had seen in some time, this was clearly the next destination.

With stallion speed I ran towards the structure.  Thistles poked through my wool socks, their bite screaming respect; and I lived every boy’s dream of following Indiana to the temple’s center.  The chapel’s floor was pitted with stone coffins; some for men, some for children, some for infants.  In the half-domed ceiling above, weathered carvings wove intricate patterns and sun light gleamed through a second story balcony.  Where an altar once stood, an unintentional window now revealed a view of the valley downstream.    A gritty path wound circular to the unofficial balcony above, where a sandstone cone formed a natural dome over the chapel below.  Down the slope, just yards west, the shattered façade of a stone mansion fell into focus.

At the base of the large domestic complex we reprieved, peach juice dripping from our chins.  From the flat land at the front of the complex we surveyed the scene; like enormous piles of white sugar, the sandstone hills flowed one into another, the repository of a great candied civilization.  At different elevations, doorways and paths led deeper into their caramel-colored centers.  Awe-struck, we sat silent; munching our sweet fruit, as sunlight slowly baked visual cupcakes in this huge sandstone oven.  Behind us, no less than three stories of rooms, chambers and tunnels bore into the rock.  Dropping our packs, we set off to explore the bowels of this ancient residence.  Designed with the intuition of everyday living, handholds and tunnels’ width were perfectly suited to dim maneuvers within – move fast, search for balance, and in mild desperation fingers fell on grooves already cut into the rock of this antique jungle-gym.  Passages led to upper levels, and a large crack-passage exited through a small hole onto the sunny plateau above the valley.  The same ground-hugging grapes we had seen earlier now littered the landscape.  On its own accord, a lone tree nurtured sweet tasting apples, and past branches the rock castle of Ortahisar gleamed in the distance.  From the desiccated pages of an alien fairy-tale, the tower stood watch like a stone god over the expanse, purveying the entirety of its verdant valley kingdom.  Under the castle’s parental gaze, I felt the legend of mankind and narrative of creation stretch over the land.  It dawned on me that when untended land gave harvest plenty and peace reigned longer than family blood lines flowed, time could wash clean the markers of history, and oral tradition became fertile ground for tales of gods and snakes, and the first romance between two naked children in the wilderness.

Running free from plateau to slope, tunnel to chamber, we assumed our roles as the elated inhabitants of this forgotten land.    In a field towards the valley floor, a lone donkey bayed us to continue our journey.  As we packed our bags, three Turkish farmers strolled up the path to the domestic complex.  Grass mouthed, their relaxed pose, wrinkled back-country hats, and leather vests said “welcome home.”  With waves and wordless, we passed each other, they to take our roost, and we to move onwards.

The sun had begun the final leg of its journey to the horizon, and we accordingly picked up pace.  Descending back towards the valley floor we followed old trails further up the valley.   As we explored our surroundings, Peretz agreed to run ahead and scout for new directions.  He dove into the mix of brush and trail, only to reappear fifteen minutes later with wild excitement in his eyes, “You must follow me.”  Dodging trees and brush we ran to the base of the sugary sandstone we had marveled at from our previous perch.   In a moment, he was gone, his voice calling us to continue into the crushing darkness of a huge cavern.    I followed his voice and direction to a point many meters within.  At first, it seemed that this was simply a cavern under the rock, a place to cool off or store food.  As my eyes adjusted, the true nature of the cave became apparent.  A vast underground highway led further than I could see, with only the faintest light entering the cave from points deeper within.  On the fringe of invisibility, rock forms on the cavern walls and ceilings around us took on a delightfully eerie repose.  In the darkness, the distant light funneled around me forming a kaleidoscope of shapes and colors that resulted in a pleasant level of disorientation, and the wonders of a dark space called us inward; there could be anything down there.

Like part of a primeval metro system, the tunnel gently turned under the rock dwellings above, with the occasional access point to the surface, perfectly spaced so as to provide just enough light between ‘stops.’  Walking down the tunnel, I was impressed that my eyes could accommodate the ever decreasing levels of light – as one waited at the darkest point of the cave, new light would reveal itself, allowing a traveler to continue.  Whether this was a designed feature or natural convenience was unclear.  I consciously let my mind wander towards child-like fear; what if a small band of ancient inhabitants still darkly lingered, feasting on the last set of tourists who foolishly wandered into their domain, or maybe the last inhabitants had been devoured by the enormous spider that had dug, and now inhabits this cave; this last, grotesquely detailed image sending a slight shudder down my spine, or might the world’s most awesome subterranean rave be thumping ahead, just out of ear shot.  Water trickled on the cave floor as we headed upward, maybe towards the surface again?  Light seeped into the cave as we reached the end of the ‘Rockway’ line in the neighboring sub-valley, now slightly unsure exactly where we were.

Still deep between the sandstone walls, we followed a mixture of trail and streambed on the rising valley floor.  We passed apples, walnuts, and apricots that grew plump and wild, happy to sip the last dregs of sunlight that lapped against the plateau overhead.  We were now in the more rural area of the stone metropolis.  In a small clearing ahead, the brush subsided into grass, and sticks, worn barkless by the beating sun, were stacked against each other to form a fence, needlessly cordoning off the last section of the valley.  A gate in the fence opened into this last, private space.  As we entered the small field within, twilight began, and the white sandstone walls glowed, lighting our way to the valley’s end.  A lone apple tree stood in the natural courtyard, and again my mind drifted to question the myth of creation.  I had always thought The Garden of Eden was a proxy, a conceptual place that lurked in halos beyond the toil and tribulations of agrarian life, beyond the horror and turmoil of war; but in the romance of my mind I saw the reality, that this was it – a perpetually hidden place of peace and plenty.  In words and want, news would spread far and wide of such a paradise, and legend would replace reality about a land where fruit laid low and the nucleus of man first divided.  I couldn’t blame them.  Before our modern understandings, tools and realizations, the perfection of such a place must have begged explanation, especially when compared with the sweat and grime, the disease and the pestilence of the outside world.

At the knoll’s back, the sandstone cliffs overhung to form an enclosed space many meters high, the walls of which could not be scaled.  Water had once flowed through the back of the enclosure, forming a smooth white, natural sky light.   This was the valley’s end.  To our left, gravel covered the ground, and the lazy remains of a wagon sat in shadows, whispering the story of the last inhabitants.  To our right a rickety, single-beam ladder led to a small opening in the rock that presumably opened into the second floor of a residence, but alas the ladder could no longer hold human weight.  On the first floor, a dusty ladder in a cubic room led up to a kitchen on the left, and on the right a dark, well-crafted tunnel burrowed into the rock.  Shining my headlamp around the tunnel uncovered the home’s new residents; crawling insects galore and dusted cob-webs flapped in the air that gently flowed through the tunnel.  Inside, my headlamp pierced through the inky blackness of a tunnel that stretched in a wide arch to the right.  I walked for a distance and reached the adjacent sub-valley from an elevated opening, through which I could I see the deep twilight blue of the evening sky.  About-faced, I extinguished my headlamp and headed back through the tunnel to Eden.  Walking hunched in the darkness, I searched for the tunnel walls and easily found them, again realizing that intelligence and pragmatism had played a role in their design.  I was a caveman – in the pitch black, I could walk at speed with only my knuckles barely touching the tunnel walls, giving the necessary guidance to make it from tunnel end to end – it felt invigorating and beautifully primitive.

The sun had set while we were exploring this last enclave, and sweet darkness now floated onto the plateau.  We back-tracked down the valley to a trail that could take us to the western side of the plateau.   Atop, in the growing darkness, fields of grape plants looked like armies of strange, tentacled creatures scouring the ground, though they paid us no mind.  On the plateau, the fading western light arched eastward; grading exquisitely from blue to black, it shaped the sky into a magnificent dome whose pinnacle towered far beyond the description of mere words, and whose innumerable star spires every cathedral on earth pitifully strives to imitate.  A single tear ran down my cheek, carrying with it the day’s emotions; a concentrated elixir to be left as the desert’s gift.  Ground crunched beneath our feet as we made our way westward, toward the only incandescent lights in sight.

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