Dear Steemit Friends:
Discovering Selime Monastery and Goreme horse ranches
As you'll discover with me today, this land's cave dwellings were shaped by ancient settlers.
Welcome back friends, to my discovery of the Central Anatolian Region of Turkey. The area I am exploring with you is located in Cappadocia, with it's fairy Chimneys, ancient cave dwellings and charming local people. As you'll discover with me today, this land's cave dwellings were shaped by early Christian settlers who were fleeing persecution.
The cave dwellings of Cappadocia have also been home to a wide range of different peoples. Hittite, Assyrian, Persian, Roman, Byzantine, Danişment, Seljuk and Ottoman civilizations have all inhabited the region during different periods of history. As you move around the region, it's not difficult to understand why. The landscape is other-worldly, beautiful and surprisingly fertile for the right crops and grazing animals. It was also prized for its defensibility against attack which is why so many different peoples chose to make this their home over the centuries.
The hidden monastery of Selime
The Selime monastery was first built between the 8th and 9th century though the region has seen habitation for thousands of years. There is evidence of the Hittite people from as early as 1800 BC with their empire reaching its height around the mid 14th century BC. Since the collapse of the Hittite civilization, the region has seen host to Assyrian, Persian, Roman, Byzantine, Danişment, Seljuk and Ottoman peoples.
The Selime monastery is the largest example of a religious building in the Cappadocia region with a church the size of a cathedral. The monastic complex is huge and includes quarters for monks, large kitchens and stables.
To get to the monastery, you have to climb a steep, rocky pathway. Apparently, camel caravans used to stop over at Selime, and would be stabled inside the monastery itself. I hope camels are better at rock climbing than I am because, though not long, the path was very difficult to walk up.
Once I got up, the view from the top was worth it! As you can see, amongst all of the rocky landscape, there's a lot of fertile land. The green of the plants really contrasts with the yellows and oranges of the rock.
Every fairy chimney and rock formation that that you can see in this area has been adapted in some way by humans. The natural rock formations have been hollowed out for different living areas. You can see the doors and windows just appearing in the side of the rock faces. The Cappadocia region of Turkey is subject to extreme changes in weather. In the summer you'll experience temperatures as high as 40 degree centigrade, but in winter the area is covered in a thick layer of snow. That makes it very difficult to make housing that can deal with these two extremes.
Cleverly, the local people realised that caves are the perfect for surviving this changing landscape. The traditional non-cave architecture of the region has flat roofs, which is a problem when there is snow because the weight of the snow can cause the roof to collapse. With more modern building methods, this isn't so much of a problem, but to ancient people, it made most non-cave structures impractical. The caves also have an amazing property because they stay a similar temperature inside all year around. That means when it's freezing outside, it will feel warm inside the caves and when it's hot outside, it will feel warm inside the caves.
I really got the sense of surviving and thriving from the area. The local peoples used the resources that they had available to them to help them live. Every natural resource was used to help them survive, but they still lived in harmony with their landscape by using it to help them rather than destroying it for their own purposes.
Some of the cave entrances were very large. The Selime monastery used to have a bazaar here where camel caravans would stop to sell their goods on the way to other towns in the area. For protection, the camels used to be brought inside the cave complex so they would not be stolen or have to endure bad weather. So the entrances had to be big enough for camels!
I was told that camels were one of the most valuable resources to a caravan trader because without them they could not trade their goods or carry their food and water. Losing a camel could ruin a caravan's business so they looked after them as well as they looked after themselves so they always brought them inside when they could to keep them safe. It was fascinating to imagine camels once walking around these ancient tunnels!
This being the largest religious cave structure in the Central Anatolian Region means that it is also ornately carved and decorated. In many of the cave dwellings that I visited, the cave doors would just open up straight out of the rock. In Selime many of the doors had also had archways carved for their entrances to make them look more impressive.
The structure of the Selime monastery is well maintained compared to some of the other caves that I visited. It meant that I could climb up inside some of the amazing tunnels inside the rocks which afforded stunning views of the local area. The monastery complex didn't just serve as a place of worship. It also hosted a military presence which shows that this region was not always the peaceful land that it is today. Looking out over the beautiful fairy chimneys, it was difficult to think that once this area would have been a stronghold for people against religious persecution. Perhaps this view point was once used as a look out place for the people defending this monastery.
Once I moved inside, the true wonder of Selime is displayed for all to see. Many of the ceilings were carved and vaulted in peaks and domes. Like many of the places I visited around Cappadocia they had also carved shelves in to the rock walls for storage in their communal areas. There were so many rooms, I just felt like I would get lost in the maze of tunnels and archways. It is amazing to think that all of these rooms were carved by hand. Though the rock formations would have had some small natural caves, most of the cave systems are hand cut by man using basic tools to shape their homes and churches.
Can you see the little holes carved high up in the rock? These were carved as little homes for pigeons. I learned that the pigeon is very important to the region because they were used for sending messages from place to place. Pigeons have an ability to track certain locations. You would house your pigeon at one place for a long time, and it would learn the magnetic location of that place. Then when you travelled somewhere else, you could take your pigeon with you and if you wanted to send a note home, you could attach your note to the pigeon and it would be able to navigate its way back to its original home location, like a little pigeon satnav! I wonder if I could have a few pigeons to keep in touch with my friends? I'm not sure I could have enough pigeons to keep in touch with all of you!
The pigeon egg shells were also ground up to be used to make plaster and their egg whites were used to make a glaze to help protect the wall paintings that were painted onto the walls of the caves. Who knew pigeons were so useful? And that explains the hundreds of holes carved up high in to the rock - they were homes for all of them to live in!
After much wandering through the winding tunnels I found the main church. I cannot believe that this was carved from the rock by hand. The arches were beautifully shaped and the ceiling was so high. It had everything a modern church would have, with space to sit, an alter at the front and big domed ceilings, except this was build right inside a fairy chimney!
You can see just how huge these structures are. I know I'm small but these made me feel really tiny! I tried to touch the top of the doors, but even when jumping I always missed the top because they were so big. I just couldn't believe the detail that I was discovering. Built over 1200 years ago, the structure of the church caves is remarkably well preserved. I suppose when you build things out of solid rock, they are built to last! Unlike many areas that I visited in the Central Anatolian Region these rooms were carved with decorative pillared doorways, supporting pillars and archways. I was told that they were not needed to make the building strong - they were already strong because they are built of solid rock. All of the arches were put in just for their beauty, and beautiful they really are.
I had to take some close ups of the carvings above the door way to the church. It must have taken thousands of hours just to hollow out the room, but to then carve such detail is amazing. I wonder how many people it took to make this room like it is... I am so happy that it is still around for me to see these thousands of years later.
A carriage ride around Goreme
Goreme town is the base that most people use to explore the beautiful landscape and fairy chimneys that the region has to offer. The local population of Goreme is around two thousand people but that number swells during the tourist seasons as the town offers a wide range of accommodation and restaurants that cater to the growing tourism industry.
While discovering a little more of the town in the afternoon after my visit to Selime, I stumbled across this ornately decorated carriage just sitting by the side of the road. I thought that a carriage ride would be a lovely way to see the town, but I wasn't sure if that's what the driver was offering. He seemed to just be sitting around! I just had to see if I could get a ride around town so in a moment of boldness I approached the driver to ask him about his horse and carriage.
It turned out that he did in fact give a short ride around the ancient town as a little tour. I think he was new to doing this because he seemed a bit nervous with his horse on the roads or maybe he was being extra careful because he wanted to make sure I felt secure on my ride.
This turned out to be a great way to see the local town of Goreme, and it felt very authentic to be riding a long with a horse whose ancestors have probably transported people around these lands for hundreds of years. I didn't know any good Turkish names so I just called my new horse companion Bill. My guide was absolutely lovely and was very friendly. He helped me feel completely relaxed, even though he was a bit nervous, and he told me all about his ranch on the outskirts of town.
Me, always wanting an adventure, asked if he could take me on a visit to see his ranch. To my delight he agreed and he seemed happy that he would be able to show off where he looked after his horses.
When we arrived at the ranch after a short ride, I was surprised by how many horses he had! They were all so friendly and though I felt a little scared at first, I felt like they knew this and were extra gentle with me. Soon they were letting me stroke their soft noses and they all wanted to hug up against me. It felt like the horses here wanted to welcome me to Goreme and their home!
As you can see, even here there were more examples of cave dwellings. I imagined to myself that each of these handsome guys had their own little cave dwelling there they'd go to sleep at night, taking advantage of the ancient caves for their shelter. Perhaps they were living in the same cave stables that their great great great grandfathers also stabled in.
Horses are essential to the region and were the main mode of transport around the fairy tale landscape for thousands of years. The Central Anatolian Region is very large and the terrain is rough, so horses were important for getting around between cave settlements. I learned that this breed of horse was prized for being strong and hardy, but also being small and nimble. They are great at picking paths through the rough rock formations and keeping their riders safe by being extremely sure-footed. In times gone by, these horses would have helped connect the peoples of the area in trade and friendship. They were certainly very friendly to me! I even got to feed them.
Viewpoint Cafe and Restaurant
I finally had to leave my new horse-friends as it was nearly their bed time. I wanted to experience more of Goreme so I chose to eat dinner at Viewpoint Cafe and Restaurant whose terrace restaurant boasts 360 degree views of the town. Goreme is beautiful in the day but it comes alive at night with lights of every different colour lighting up the buildings and fairy spires all around the town. Viewpoint really was a viewpoint and had some of the best views of the town that I had yet experienced. I found it difficult to even order my food from the menu because I couldn't stop staring out from the terrace.
Viewpoint Cafe and Restaurant is located in the centre of Goreme and has a small, intimate atmosphere. Their menu consists of a range of family recipes. They ensure that they only use the freshest, local ingredients and the menu changes daily based on the base ingredients that are available that day. Their skilled chefs make a new menu each day and offer a variety of home-made dishes and desserts. All of the staff were friendly and helpful and really made you feel like you were sitting down for dinner at a friend's house. I felt very welcomed!
The variety of food and flavours served here was amazing but what really appealed to me was the colours. Every dish had bright colours, contrasting and vibrant. They just caught your eyes and made you want to eat them, but at the same time you didn't want to eat them or you'd their simple but beautiful presentation on the plate. Between the colour of the town's lights and those on my plate, I felt like I was in a vibrant fantasy land.
Can you believe this view? My meal took so long because I couldn't stop staring out at the fairy chimneys of Goreme.
And so comes to an end another day of travelling. Thank you for discovering Selime Monastery with me and riding a long on my carriage ride to discover a local horse ranch. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did, and it was lovely to have you travelling a long with me. I was most fascinated by the church in Selime because it was just so big. I was trying to imagine someone carving all of that architecture from the stone by hand and I just couldn't understand it. It felt like nature must have somehow carved these shapes from the rock because they were so at home in the landscape and their construction was so sympathetic to the nature of the area. The archways of the doors, windows and decorations were so intricate and their designs have survived thousands of years, almost untouched.
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