This post will be heavier on photos than text, because the pictures can explain the places I visited far more than I could through my writing. Our group spent four days this weekend in central Turkey, far from our coastal abode, in a part of the country that had a far different culture, history, and climate than where we had visited before. Driving to Cappadocia (as well as the earlier drive to Ankara) showed that there is a part of Turkey that resembles nearly every part of the US, as we drove on precarious switchbacks through the Taurus Mountains, through the never-ending (though barren) fields of Turkey’s breadbasket past Konya, and in the arid hills of Cappadocia proper as we drove along the old route of the Silk Road, now a modern highway with much greater economic impact but much less romanticism. The major takeaway from this drive, however, was that Turkey has a lot of rocks, both in the mountains and the fields, perhaps a reason for the profusion of historical monuments. These drives between locations, though long, provided a look into Turkish rural life, where even the gas stations have prayer rooms, dogs and cats roam freely in the streets (OK, they do that in the big cities too), and no one seems to work but everyone is able to eat.
Cappadocia itself is a fascinating landscape, with each of the half dozen towns in the region having its own local attraction, which always differs. Uçhisar has a honeycombed mountain used as a castle, Derinkuyu a cave city, and Goreme a complex of over one hundred ancient churches. The ingenuity of the ancient inhabitants of this region is phenomenal, as we visited homes under the ground in cave cities, homes carved into cliffs and pillars 100 feet above the ground, and homes hewn directly out of mountain faces across the street from modern habitations. The lax regulations around these sites, and their omnipresence in the landscape, meant that we were able to clamber around and into them to a far greater extent than one could ever find with historic or natural sites in the US, though that did cause a few moments of panic as I found that getting up was far easier than getting down, and that the poor climbing quality of the stone was another factor protecting these homes from invasion. Getting up close was fun, but the only way to get the full view of Cappadocia is from above, in a hot air balloon. These balloons are a Cappadocian institution, with close to one hundred in the air at the same time as our group despite it being only 6:30 in the morning, but the tremendous views of all of the rock formations below and the sunrise over the valleys definitely explained their popularity and justified the extra cost, and indeed, the balloons themselves added as much to the view as the landscape below. Interestingly, almost all of Cappadocia’s dwellings were originally Christian, and the profusion of crosses and images of the saints inside are a marked contrast with the minaret spires in the modern villages.
From Cappadocia we traveled back to Konya, the seventh largest city in Turkey that, like much of Turkey, combines ancient history as the Seljuk capital with booming modern development as one of the “Anatolian Tigers”. Unfortunately, the former is very much overshadowed by the latter, as the few attractions of Konya are hidden by sprawling industrial parks and apartments which form an unattractive cityscape. The focus of our visit to Konya was its status as the center of the Mevlavi order of Sufi Islam, better known as the whirling dervishes. As part of a lecture on dervish practices, I got to participate in the ritual, which was a very unique experience. I can definitely see how the whirling can be a meditative and trance-inducing exercise, though from my experience it would take plenty of practice before I could overcome the dizziness. That night, we got to see an actual dervish performance, which unfortunately seemed to be little more than a spectacle for tourists, and the next day we visited the tomb of Mevlana, the dervishes’ founder. The conservatism of Konya and Cappadocia stood in contrast to the relative liberalism of Alanya and Istanbul, as nearly all women were veiled and signs for the conservative AK Party (Erdogan’s party) were everywhere. Lastly, the cooler weather caused by the higher elevation of Central Turkey was a pleasant change from Alanya, where it is still in the upper 80s and humid every day, and it was definitely nice to get a brief taste of fall weather.
With the trip to Cappadocia, the actual school week was very abbreviated and unremarkable, though a lunch with a neighbor of the villa, a wealthy playboy arms dealer descended from WWI leader Enver Pasha and the Ottoman royal family, was certainly an interesting experience. The excursions and other unexpected events of my study abroad are certainly still going on, with a planned harbor cruise on Saturday as well as a host family meeting and class activities, but with major class trips finished for a time, my attentions can fully focus on my plans for fall break-which will be my next post.