Get a Sweet View of the Big Rock Candy Mountains in Turkey
fantastical stonescapes resemble nothing so much
as Big Rock Candy Mountains. Some are campfire-softened
marshmallows, domed and dipped. Others are taffy
chews, jerked upwards, lollipops, or peppermint
sticks gummed smooth. All have the sugarcoated
hues of the sweet shop: pinks, oranges and yellows
in comforting childhood pastels.
Cappadocia (Kapadokya) - Turkey's central region - is
not all innocence and sunshine. It's not, as George McClintock
sang, truly the land "where the handouts grow on
bushes ... and little streams of alcohol come trickling
down the rocks ... Where they hung the jerk that invented
work in the Big Rock Candy Mountains."
hordes have swept across the steppes there (prompting
early inhabitants to scratch secret cities into the earth).
Invaders rerouted rivers and sold natives into slavery.
Christians cowered among the caves, safeguarding saints'
portraits and championing chastity. And now Cappadocians
have seen their incomes evaporate, as tourists shy away
from Middle Eastern tensions.
independent travellers are bucking the trend, rediscovering
the warm welcome, handy infrastructure and cheap luxury
of this ravishing region, where a $10-a-day budget remains
feasible ($20-30 should your taste run to five-course
meals, Ottoman architecture by deep, turquoise pools and
brisk massages in the local hamam).
wild landscape might just look familiar. Remember the
haunting homes of the Sand People in the first Star Wars
film? George Lucas filmed there in central Anatolia, 180m
southeast of the capital Ankara.
epicentre of sci-fi strangeness lies between Urgup, Avanos
and Nevsehir. Three mighty volcanoes created these sinuous
valleys and hills. The first spread delicate tufa stone,
then sculpted by wind and water into ever-evolving domes,
hollows, clefts, cones and dreamscape shapes. Later eruptions
scattered harder lava. As the soft underbelly erodes,
huge boulders teeter upon tufa towers. Many take on an
unmistakably phallic appearance, played up by the saucy
postcards - and the sniggering backpackers who purchase
dry geographical facts displease the locals,
who prefer mythology as colourful as their homeland.
Angels, they insist, perched the stones atop
the stalks. Fairies carry off irksome humans,
those who fight Fate, and lock them inside the
tales insist that humans, horrified by an interspecies
romance, drove away the fey folk. Homeless and bereft,
they transformed into birds. The contrite citizens then
welcomed them back, by hollowing dovecotes into the soft
In reality, farmers hoped to attract pigeons
and gather their rich droppings for fertiliser
(perhaps the secret of the region's sweet fruit
and famed wine). This was Turkey's main export
for centuries, until the chemical heyday. The
old stories are not so easily dismissed, however.
Cappadocians still refer to the strange pillars
as "fairy chimneys".
of fancy aside, people have lived there since the late
Paleolithic era. A crucial crossroads between East and
West, the area saw its share of invaders: Hittites, Thracians,
Phrygians, Cimmerians, Scythians and Medes. The names
smack of biblical grandeur - and Cappadocia even merits
a mention in the New Testament.
warriors raged across the plains, the meek inhabited the
earth. They burrowed dozens of concealed cities, some
descending eight stories. Kaymakli and Derinkuyu, south
of Nevsehir, are the most impressive constructions. In
times of trouble, people dwelled in the upper levels,
making wine, grinding flour and praying in the danker
areas below. Large boulders sealed the doors.
impoverished region attracted early Christians, following
in the footsteps of Saint Paul, in the second century
AD. They fled Roman - and later Moslem - persecution.
The twisted valleys, peaks, caves and tunnels provided
ample hiding places.
hundred years later, monasticism began there. Saint Basil
- bishop of the nearby town Kayseri - encouraged hermits
to form communities. Clergy ate, prayed and laboured together.
They abandoned private property and led chaste, reflective
lives: poor in body, rich in spirit. Greek Orthodox monks
and nuns still follow these guidelines today.
saint helped build the area's first churches.
These early houses of worship - scraped into
tufa caves - were dabbed with geometric patterns
and symbols, such as roosters and grapes. The
frescoes avoided images of god, favoured by
the western Greeks, but abhorrent to the Eastern
Christians took refuge there in the eigth century, after
the Byzantine Emperor Leo III forbid the worship of icons.
Emboldened by the remote location, artists tackled daring
themes like the Nativity, Last Supper and Crucifixion.
spectacular painted churches stand in Goreme Valley, now
an Open-Air Musuem (and a UNESCO World Heritage Site).
The tufa retains colour well, so the scenes are startlingly
vivid at times. But rumours of ham-fisted restoration
- read "repainting" - circulate through the
crowd. Then an American woman does the unthinkable: loudly
questions the horrific graffiti.
marks are clear-cut vandalism, the likes of "Yusef
loves Elmas". Others smack of iconoclasm, however,
especially the violent scrapes across the saints' faces.
On high ceilings, overlapping pockmarks - perhaps from
repeatedly hurled rocks - blend their accusing almond
eyes back into creamy stone.
earnest Turkish student, clad in a traditional headscarf
and trendy denim jacket, tries to explain. "The painting
is very old, it decays,"
around the eyes?" pursues the dogged New Yorker.
"I should be so lucky."
did not do this. The Turkish people, we make the painting
better again." She is so clearly unhappy, the subject
drops and the tourists, eastern and western alike, shuffle
other big draw - the Caravansaries of the Silk Road -
is less controversial. The Selcuk Empire renewed the area's
trade ties, shuttling spices, ivory and fine cloth from
the Far East. In return, they gathered slaves there, trained
them as soldiers and sold them to the south.
merchants could stay at each caravansary free for three
days, under the protection of the sultan. These vast complexes
included baths, mosques, stables, sleeping quarters and
marketplaces. Many, like the splendid Agzikarahan outside
of Aksaray, now display carpets.
an unusual degree of hustle and desperation among the
rug and bauble merchants of Cappadocia. Hotel proprietors
lurked on dirt roads, during this last desolate "high
season". They chased after cars, bellowing the merits
of their €12 double room, pleading for their children's
a far cry from McClintock's vision where "a
lake of stew and of whiskey too" provide
easy livin'. But these Big Rock Candy Mountains
hold pleasures aplenty for visitors open-minded
enough to talk Turkey.
Fly into Kayseri Erkilet Airport on Turkish
Impulsive travellers can grab a €149
ticket from Istanbul just one hour before
the flight. The airport is 97km from Goreme.
Take a €10 taxi or reserve a seat
on the Argeus Tours minibus (13 Istiklal
Caddesi, Urgup; +90 0384.341.4688; www.argeus.com.tr).
Turkish bus network is outstanding - and surprisingly
affordable. The ten-hour trip from Istanbul to Nevsehir,
the region's transport hub, costs €18-25. Service
taxis - known as dolmuses - run through Cappadocia,
but scheduling can be erratic.
prefer to take a sleek express train from Istanbul
to Ankara, then hire a car for the five- or six-hour
drive southeast. Rent a mountain bike, moped or
vehicle from Urgup Tour (22 Istiklal Caddesi, Urgup;
to stay ;
The Arif Hotel rents €20 cliff rooms in lower-rent
Goreme (+90 384.271.2361).
The Ayse Hanim Konagi Motel-Pansion strikes
a perfect note. The long, deep swimming
pool has sweeping views of Urgup's golden
cave-houses. Join the family for dinner
in the floodlight courtyard, where puppies
tumble in the foliage. A double room and
superb five-course meal for two cost around
€40 (Dereler Mah, Nevsehir Caddesi,
Urgup; +90 384.341.3354; www.aysehanimkonagi.com).
Uchisar, famed for its sunset splendour, is home
to the Les Maisons de Cappadoce. Spend the night
in a swanky cave dwelling from €100 (Belediye
+90 384.219.2782; www.cappadoce.com).
to eat ;
Push past Goreme's tourist traps to the elegant
Orient restaurant. This flowery bower is filled
with mellow stone, trickling fountains, wrought
iron and lace-trimmed tablecloths. Savour hummous,
tabouleh, samosas and other meze (just past the
otogar, bus station; +90 384.271.2346; email@example.com).
The Open Air Museum (Nevsehir Müze) is a fifteen-minute
stroll from Goreme (entrance fee: £10m). Drivers
should fork over the exorbitant parking lot fees
or risk hassle from the site's heavily armed guards.
Outdoor offers treks, white-water rafting and horse-riding
(+90 252.417.2720; www.alternatifraft.com).
Kapadokya Balloons lifts visitors high
above the haunted landscape (+90 0384.271.2442; www.kapadokyaballoons.com).
as part of central Turkey, has a conservative edge.
Dress modestly to avoid offending locals. Avoid
shorts, revealing skirts, tank tops and slinky clothing.
Women may wish to carry a shawl to veil their hair
and shoulders in mosques.