Ihlara Valley – Peristrema

The Underground Cities

Though by now on your travels in the Cappadocia region you might have got used to being amazed by the scenery, there is still one more place left to see that will astound you: the underground city in Derinkuyu (deep well). The ground at Derinkuyu was soft and easy for the locals to dig into, allowing them to carve out this underground city as a place to hide during attacks by marauding Arabs. In times of danger the whole local population was able to live in the underground city for as long as necessary. The Derinkuyu underground city is 30 km to the west of Nevsehir, while its twin city of Kaymakli is nine km before it on the road.

You can visit the sites just by following the signposts. However, it is better to have a good guide with you in order to fully understand the historical background and lifestyle in the underground cities. Sections of the underground cities were connected to each other by narrow tunnels and the entrances to these were closed with large mile tone-shaped rocks to add to security. In Derinkuyu you can go flown eight levels, the last being at a depth of 55 metres. The cities, which have perfect ventilation systems, have not yet been fully opened up for visitors, some parts remaining unexcavated. To give an idea of how impressive Derinkuyu is, we should mention that the total area of the city was 4.5 square km and that it could accommodate 20,000 people. There are other underground cities in Tatlarin, Ovaoren, Ozkonak, Mucur, Mazi, Ozluce, Orentepe and Gokcetoprak. However, only those at Derinkuyu and Kaymakli, which have been long excavated, and the more recently cleared cities of Tatlarin and Ozkonak are open to the public. In the Tatlarin underground city there are toilets and kitchens as well. The frescoes here are some of the best preserved in the region. It is now known that the underground cities were not all built at once but expanded as required. However, the date when they were established cannot be determined exactly. In the oldest source mentioning these cities, Anabasis by Xenophon, it is said that the first diggings were conducted for the purpose of settlement and then expanded when security became a concern. The cities, with their ventilation systems, equipment used for storing grapes and wine making and kitchen sections are really impressive. On the first level of the cities, the locals kept their animals. The underground cities were also made us of in Seljuk and Ottoman times.

Kervansaraylar (Caravanserais)

Caravanserais have a significant place in Anatolian culture. Many caravanserais were established on important trade routes. These were stopping points for the caravans travelling for trade or other purposes, a place for travelers and their animals to rest and eat in safety. In the past, Cappadocia was on the famous Silk Road from Central Asia. This is why many large caravanserais were built in here. The two that are open to visitors are the Seljuk Agzikarahan, built in 1231, on the Nevsehir- Aksaray road and the Saruhan, also built by the Seljuks in 1217, five km to the north of Avanos.

The Ihlara Valley (Peristrema)

One place that must be seen before leaving Cappadocia is the Ihlara Valley. You can see its natural and historic riches by joining one of the daily tours in Cappadocia. The Ihlara Valley, on the banks of the Melendiz Stream, is 10 km long and about 80 metres deep. You can walk through the valley from one end to the other. For those who do not wish to walk that far you, or those with health problems, can climb down sets of stairs in different parts of the valley. Whichever way you do it, a visit to Ihlara Valley repays the effort. In the two hills inside the canyon there are some 100 churches carved into the rocks. The natural beauty of the valley, the colourful wild flowers, the sight and sound of the running water, the trees, complement the riches of history here. The churches, many of which were built in the 11th century, are generally in a good condition, among the best being the Egritas, Kokar, Purenli, Seki, Agacalti, Ala, Yilanli, Bahattin Samanligi, Kirkdamalti, Sumbullu and Direkli Churches. Most of these names were given by the locals, inspired by what they thought was appropriate, though some of the churches, those that are private property, are named for their owners.

Leaving Cappadocia

It was not possible to detail all the natural and cultural heritage of Cappadocia in this article. We have chosen to give you some important points and summarise the some mam characteristics of the region. Let those who will visit the place imagine some of what else they will see. Cappadocia is like a dreamland anyway. Your mind will stay there. However, do not feel sorry when leaving, it is likely that you will take any opportunity to come back. But after seeing Cappadocia there will be two periods in your life, “pre-Cappadocia and post-Cappadocia”. The same thing has happened to all those who have visited the region. There is the possibility that you might join the many foreigners who have settled in Cappadocia after their first visit or the many that followed.

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