Friday, September 4, 2009
Adventures With the Mole People of Cappadocia
(Part Three of My Three Part Series on Turkey)
From what I understand, being run over by a car hurts a great deal. The land now occupied by Turkey knows the figurative feeling, having been a speed bump on the road to conquest for many civilizations throughout the last three millenia. The Hittites, Greeks, Persians, Greeks again, Romans, Seljuk Turks, Mongols, and finally the Ottomans all counted the land as part of their territory during the peaks of their respective civilizations.
To witness the result of these repeated historical hit-and-runs I first traveled to Istanbul, as documented in Part I of this series: Fireworks and Foreskins. Clearly, a nation boasting thousands of years of history has more to see than just one little town of twenty million or so peeps. Therefore, after spending a couple of days in Istanbul I journeyed to Anatolia, the Asian portion of Turkey, via a short flight to Nevshehir, along with my father and my stepbrother. We were all set to take a four day swing through some of the most fascinating geological and historical sites I had never seen. Odds are they would prove to be just as amazing as I thought they would be before I had ever been there. Confused? So am I was will be.
Averting a lesson on how not to use verbs in writing the English language, we return to our regularly scheduled intro : on tap for our trio were excellently exciting excursions to ancient excavations in Cappadocia, Pamukkale, and Ephesus.
The journey started in grand style with our arrival at our hotel, located directly underneath an imposing ancient rock castle which extended into the sky several hundred feet above us. We had arrived in Cappadocia, an area renowned for its bizarre rock formations that apparently were designed by a God with a predilection for the work of M.C. Escher. Stones twice as large as the ones underneath somehow maintain a tenuous balance thanks to the wacky wonders of Mother Nature.
The local geology is reminiscent of the American West, with mesas and canyons bringing to mind Arizona and strange jumbles of stone conjuring up images of the Badlands in South Dakota. The rock is composed of sandstone and limestone, which are both extremely malleable when presented with the erosive forces of wind and water or maybe just a dozen roses and an expensive dinner.
Some of the first humans in the area quickly realized the benefits of such easily carve-able material (as well as a semi-arid climate excellent for farming). Evidence of settlements dating back thousands of years has been found. Caves, and then later more elaborate homes, were made by simply chiseling into the soft minerals and following the steps laid out in caveman Bob Villa's easy to read ten volume manual on do-it-yourself cave construction. There is even a Flintstone's Cave Bar, although in all likelihood the place dates back to the Tourist Age rather than the Iron Age.
As Cappadocia grew into an important outpost within the Hittite Empire (the first great empire in Anatolia) underground cities were also built to protect the women and children during foreign invasions. If you choose to go down into one these cities, make certain to be short. I got stuck in one of the passages and nearly had to have important parts of my body amputated in order to extricate myself.
The defensive capabilities of Cappadocia were also impressive. Three castles, one of which was adjacent to our hotel, loom up high over the terrain, making a head-on attack suicidal and only siege warfare practical.
We surveyed the whole terrain via an early morning balloon flight. I don't usually recommend getting up before dawn unless you haven't gone to sleep yet, but I was jet-lagged and was able to trick my gullible body into believing it was a less ungodly hour. The sights from up high were unparalleled in my experience and my humble prose fails to do them the justice that only pictures can.
After two days in the land of fairies, elves, and mole people, we hopped on a bus for a short ten hour drive to Pamukkale. The particular people carrier in which we rode was perfectly nice, comparable to a Greyhound bus and probably better than most of their rusted rides. Alas, being quite tall it is difficult for me to garner any sleep within a moving vehicle, since the top of the seats usually only extend to a point even with my neck.
As a result, when we began our tour of Pamukkale, I was not in the best of moods. Suffering from lack of sleep and stomach issues was not ideal, but when combined with the hundred degree Fahrenheit temperature, let's just say that I had better days in Turkey than this one.
Regardless of the pains it may take to reach, Pamukkale is not a destination to be missed. Sitting on a high hill protected by a ring of tall mountains, the area was home to the ancient Roman city of Hieropolis, which was destroyed by a massive earthquake in the 7th century. Houses went without cable or electricity for the next thousand or so years. Several notable revolutions were not televised as a result.
We viewed the ruins, but Hieropolis is by no means the centerpiece of Pamukkale - that honor goes to the liquid that pours out of the hill like a geological soda fountain. Made a UNESCO world heritage site in 1988, the area is home to a series of hot springs caused by underground volcanic activity that gush a combination of mineral water and calcium carbonate.
Pamukkale means "cotton castle" in Turkish but in my eyes the cliffs looked more like glaciers, a sheet of ice covering the rock and shining brightly in the afternoon sun. Whatever comparison you prefer, the white surface of the earth there is due to the solidification of calcium carbonate (the rock form is known as travertine) over a long period of time.
Terraced pools of the calcified water dot the otherworldly terrain as well, some formed by the whims of the Earth and others by the whims of man in the pre-UNESCO days before the hotels were kicked off campus and moved to the modern village below. Although fairly shallow, you can use the pools to elude the fierce midday sun, covering the body head-to-toe with the milky mud, a sort of do-it-yourself spa treatment.
If you choose to pay the outrageous price of 27 Turkish lira (equivalent to about 20 US $) you can enjoy the man-made swimming area at Pamukkale. The managers of the site have transformed the hot springs there to create a waterway full of Roman style statuary and rock. The liquid inside is different from that in the terraced pools, a warm mineral water, perfectly drinkable as long as you don't mind the near one hundred Fahrenheit temperature. Despite the warmth of the pool, my swim was quite pleasant, a relaxing relief after the bumpy bus ride of the night before.
Our escape from Pamukkale was much easier, a mere three-hour trek down the road to the seaside town of Kusadasi. After spending a night in a hotel room rather than on a bus, we awoke refreshed and ready to take on the ancient Roman ruins of Ephesus.
Those biblical scholars of you out there will recognize the name from the biblical chapter Ephesians, in which the apostle Paul writes a number of missives to his Christian homeboys in Ephesus (Paul also lived there for a time). The Virgin Mary is also said to have lived the last years of her life on a nearby mountain. For those of you more hop and barley inclined, Ephesus is called by the name Efes in modern Turkey, sharing a name with the country's most popular beer.
Ephesus is best known nowadays as one of the most fascinating archaeological sites of the ancient world. The settlement was largely destroyed by an earthquake in 614, but archaeologists have been excavating the area for many decades and have put enough Lego blocks made out of rumble together to recreate much of the original city. Even so, myriad pieces of the puzzle still lie on the ground and many years of work still lie ahead.
What has been assembled so far? Two amphitheaters, a small one seating in the hundreds and a larger stadium with capacity for an amazing 20,000 plus have been put together. Temples dedicated to the Goddess Artemis and to the emperors Hadrian and Domitian are partly put together and the Library of Celsus can be used to store manuscripts once again with the mere addition of a roof. The whorehouse across the street from the library is looking pretty good too, so quit downloading porn and go purchase yourself a more interactive fantasy.
The privies were also in such pristine condition I had to be persuaded not to use them. Here is some Roman privy etiquette knowledge for your edification: always sit in the seat closest to where the water is flowing into the privy - shit really does go downhill and you don't want to be at the bottom of that hill.
Here are some ancient bathroom facts: there were no partitions between the stalls, but a gentleman's toga would protect his privates from the view of intruding restroom onlookers. Also, during the winter slaves would be used as seat-warmers so that the patricians would not have to place their majestic bums onto frigid rock or end up with a frozen cock.
A vast array of Roman statuary has also been preserved. Hercules, Arete, Sophia, Ennoia, Medusa, Diana and many other figures from Roman/Greek mythology are spread throughout the city. My favorites were Artemis, the Goddess of fertility who wears a necklace made of bull's testicles and Priapus, another God of fertility, who walks around with an erection absurdly large enough to make most men pass out from the lack of blood flow to the rest of their body. Some statues of Priapus show him carrying a cornucopia of local produce on the top of his massive weiner.
Real life figures were also depicted in the market square, where many of the city's important personages were enshrined in marble. What native can forget the famous malaria doctor of Ephesus? The good doctor, quite naturally, died of malaria. He must have been an ugly S.O.B. since someone decided to rip the head off of his statue. Help discover the identity of the vile desecrater at the Doc's website www.whereismyhead.com.
As a huge fan of history and culture my visit to Turkey held no end of fascination. From the wild geology of Cappadocia and Pamukkale to the astounding architecture of the Hagia Sophia, the Sultan Ahmet mosque, and Topkapi palace, Turkey is a combination of amazing God and man made wonders. Still, as much as I tried to fit everything in there are yet more places to explore. Gallipoli, the site of one of the most intense battles of WWI, Troy the real life kingdom from Homer's Iliad, and the ancient biblical city of Antioch all escaped my grasp during my travels. No worries, like an Arnold Schwarzenegger robot armed and dangerous with digital camera in hand, I'll be back.