CAPPADOCIA (THE LAND OF BEAUTIFUL HORSES)

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CAPPADOCIA (THE LAND OF BEAUTIFUL HORSES)

Cappadocia lies in central Anatolia in the heartland of Turkey with a high plateau over 1000 m in altitude which is pierced by volcanic peaks. Mount Erciyes (ancient Argaeus) which is near Kayseri (ancient Caesarea) being the tallest at 3916 m. Herodotus in the year 499BC reported that Cappadocians occupied a region from Mount Taurus to the vicinity of the Black Sea.

The name Cappadocia traditionally most likely came from the Hittite name, land of the beautiful horses. The name Cappadocia was used in Christian sources throughout history and continues in use as an international tourism concept to define a region of exceptional natural wonders in particular characterised by fairy chimneys and a unique historical and cultural heritage. Due to its inland location and high altitude, Cappadocia has a markedly continental climate with hot dry summers and cold snowy winters. Rainfall is sparse and the region is largely semi-arid.

Cappadocia has an interesting history. The earliest record of the name of Cappadocia dates from the late 6th Century BC and is referred to as one of the old countries of the Persian Empire. Herodotus tells us that the name of the Cappadocians was applied by the Persians.

The name Cappadocia appears in the biblical account given in the Book of Acts 2:9. The Cappadocians were named as one group of people hearing the Gospel account from Galileans shortly after the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Under the Persian Empire, the Cappadocians were divided into two governments and after the fall of the Persian government the two provinces continued and the name of Cappadocia came to be restricted to the inland province. At the end of the rule of the Persian Empire, Alexander the Great tried to govern the area through one of his military commanders, but a Persian aristocrat became King of the Cappadocians before this eventuated. He was a successful ruler and extended the borders of the Cappadocian Kingdom to as far as the Black Sea. The Kingdom of Cappadocia lived in peace until the death of Alexander the Great. Cappadocia then came into a relationship with Rome, first as a foe then as an ally against the Macedonians. The Cappadocians were supported by Rome and eventually became a Roman province.

Cappadocia at this time contained several underground cities. These underground cities have vast defence networks throughout many levels and became traps for Cappadocian enemies. These traps were creatively constructed with such devices as large stones which rolled to block doors and holes made in the ceiling through which defenders could drop spears on their enemy unexpectedly.

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In these days Cappadocia had an always-changing relationship with neighbouring Armenia. Cappadocia was dominated by Armenians and their numbers became so many that they became vital members of the imperial armies. They were used as guards in fortresses and they spread into Cappadocian mountainous areas of Northern Syria. In 1071 various Turkish clans began settling in Anatolia and Turkish power began to rise. Cappadocia slowly became a tributary to the Turkish states established to the East and West. Some of the population of Cappadocia was forcibly converted to Islam with the remainder forming the Cappadocian Greek population. By the end of the 12th Century, Anatolian Turks had established their sole dominance over the region who were themselves gradually succeeded by the Ottoman Empire by the 15th Century. Cappadocia remained part of the Ottoman Empire for centuries to come and remains now part of the modern state of Turkey.

Cappadocia today is a popular tourist destination as it has many areas with unique geological, historic and cultural features. The tourist areas of Cappadocia includes 4 cities: Nevsehir, Kayseri, Aksaray and Nigde. The most visited cities are Urgup, Goreme, Ihlara Valley, Selime, Guzelyurt, Uchisar, Avanos and Zelve. Among the most visited underground cities are Kaymakli, Gaziemir and Ozkonak.

In 1963 there was a remarkable discovery in Cappadocia. A humble homeowner living in a stone house decided to renovate his home due to a growing family who required more accommodation. He was unable to hire a professional contractor. The homeowner hammered into a rock wall. Much to his surprise, he found a stone wall and when he created a hole big enough for him to look into he realised that the area behind the wall was hollow. He made the hole bigger but it was too dark to see beyond, so he whipped out a flashlight and what he found left our homeowner amazed.

Behind the stone wall was a hollow opening. He continued to tear down more wall and realised that the opening was much bigger than he thought. The air, though stale, felt cool and ventilated. He broke through into a small room but as he continued on under torchlight he began to go deeper and deeper into the dark walking into a labyrinth of tunnels and caverns. To his surprise, he saw stairs and door archways. He could only see what his torchlight could pick up. It wasn’t long that he realised that he wasn’t in a natural cavern, he was looking at something that was man-made. He questioned himself as to who constructed this network of caves and why did they leave it? After informing the Turkish authorities who inspected the discovery, the Turkish homeowner would soon be told that he uncovered a subterranean city more than 2,500 years old. Not only had he found a bunker to use as added accommodation for his growing family but he had found the entire underground hidden city of Derinkuyu that had been lost to the world.

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Once archaeologists heard about the discovery of the hidden city they flocked to the location hoping to learn more. The ancient underground city is believed to have supported over 20,000 people. Careful excavations found that the caverns ran 18 stories deep into the Earth. It is one of the largest known ancient man-made underground structures in the world.

Researchers discovered that the first known inhabitants of the area were the Hittites. The Hittites were an ancient Anatolian people who created their empire around 1600 BC. If you think this underground city looked like some barbarian’s cave, you are wrong. It is more like an underground palace with multiple kitchens, large bedchambers, schools and even a place to worship. The underground city provided shelter and protection against the outside world. Researchers were kept busy trying to find out who the inhabitants of Derinkuyu were hiding from? The answer to their question was found in Macedonian history. The Macedonians eyed off the great Persian territories and at this time Alexander the Great was Emperor of Macedon and started a ten-year campaign, one that reached the borders of India.

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Over a four hundred years period conflict, bloodshed and hardship continued. Citizens were left defenceless but the people of Derinkuyu found a place of momentary peace under the ground. The rock was soft and volcanic and easily able to be dug into. Once the citizens dug in beneath the surface, citizens found they could keep out of sight from pillagers and plunderers. They frequently went underground taking their ancient livestock and provisions with them. They had natural underground wells with no fear of invaders poisoning their water. They had intricate ventilation systems that connected to the surface but methodically planned so nobody could wiggle themselves in unexpectedly. At a moment’s notice, the people of Derinkuyu could make their city on the surface appear like a ghost town and invading armies would believe nobody existed in such a dry desert and mountainous area and they would move on.

Time marched on for our inhabitants of the underground city of Derinkuyu. The city slowly disintegrated following in a series of revolutions, evolution, expansion and progress. Cities were built, new generations were born and there were fewer wars. By 1923 the subterranean city along with another 200 mini earth cities were abandoned and the underground city of Derinkuyu forgotten to the world until a small homeowner decided to take down a wall in Cappadocia to make room for his family.

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The underground city of Derinkuyu was and is an architectural feat that rivals any of the wonders of the world. Although today it is still unclear who built Derinkiyu, we do know one thing, it was built by the hands of the ancients. Over the years the rocks of Cappadocia have eroded into hundreds of spectacular pillars and minaret-like forms. These forms are the volcanic chimneys called the Fair Chimneys today.

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The people of the villages living in Cappadocian underground cities had carved out every necessary building for a full life underground. They built out houses, churches and monasteries from the soft rock of the volcanic deposits. Goreme especially became a monastic centre in 300-1200 AD and the Goreme Open Air Museum is the most visited site in Cappadocia today. The Open Air Museum complex contains more than 30 carved-from-rock churches and chapels, some having superb frescoes inside dating from the 9th Century to the 11th Century.

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Today one of the favourite tours in Cappadocia today is floating over these pillars and minaret formed formations by hot-air ballooning which gives the visitor the opportunity to view the Open Air Museum via an aerial view.

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In modern Turkey today, Cappadocia with its unusual landscape has been chosen as a location for many featured films. Some of these films are; Yor, the Hunter from the Future (1983) and the science fiction film Slipstream (1989), in 2010 Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and also in Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. Cappadocia’s winter landscapes and broad panoramas are prominent in the 2014 film Winter Sleep directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan which won the Palme d’Or at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.

The number of tourists that visited Cappadocia has doubled during the last couple of years and in 2017, 2 Million tourists have viewed the underground cities, churches and houses carved within the volcanic rock let alone taken a hot-air balloon flight over the volcanic fairy chimneys.

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Researching this article has provided me with a historical journey of Cappadocia a little different to what I expected. I could feel the inhabitants of the underground cities, houses and churches. I could sense the children running through the corridors whilst outside invaders attacked. Their rock palaces safe and secure. I also found a sadness in our underground cities. In 1975, following an investigation as to the similarity of deaths occurring within three villages located in central Cappadocia. It was found that 50% of these deaths were due to Mesothelioma (Mesothelioma is a disease caused by asbestos or similar forms, within the protective tissues covering the lungs, abdomen and heart.) In Cappadocia, the disease was initially attributed to Erionite and Zeolite minerals which have similar properties to asbestos. A further detailed investigation revealed that the substance causing the disease resided mainly in families who were predisposed genetically to mineral fibre carcinogens. This medical situation was most probably present for centuries within our inhabitants of the underground cities and churches. It is hoped now that the inhabitants of the villages in Cappadocia who have been educated into the dangers of their predisposition that they can be guided by medical authorities as to taking precautions for future generations to come.

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I do hope I have been able to give you a little insight into the “land of the beautiful horses”. On your next trip to Turkey take a renewed look at the wonder of what human beings can do when the tough gets going!

Written by: Sandra Giles

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