Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Turkish Travels No. 3

Cappadocia has awakened my inner Indiana Jones.
Cappadocia is a remarkable and strange landscape infested with secret worlds, hermetic and sacred, and unlocking their magical wonders constitutes a job for only the most intrepid of archaeologist-adventurers. In a terrain of volcanic anomaly, in underground cities and cathedrals built into caves, we vanquished the the most terrible of our fears. We met loneliness, despair and anguish with curiosity, wonder and braggadocio.
I'll begin again.

On May 25th, we explored Derinkuyu, the biggest underground city in Cappadocia. There are dozens of underground settlements in Cappadocia, though most are very small and only able to house a few families. The underground city of Derinkuyu is by far the most fascinating thing I've seen on this trip.

Derinkuyu stretches deep beneath the earth. The thirteenth level is over 300 feet underneath the surface of the earth. Only the first eight levels are safe to visit. When we reached the eighth level, we were roughly 180 feet underground.
It is believed the first two levels of Derinkuyu were built at least as far back as 1200 B.C. by Hittites, possibly to escape marauding bands of Phrygians. Later levels were built by the Christians starting in the second century AD. At that time, Christians were looking to escape persecution by the Romans and other pagan sects. Expanding the underground city was one strategy that Christians in Cappadocia employed to escape this persecution. It is believed that Christians added about one level per century up until the 9th or 10th century.
Underground cities like Derinkuyu were not permanent settlements but rather provided temporary shelter for a month or two until immediate danger passed. Still, they appear to be complex subterranean systems with extensive living quarters, kitchens, meeting halls, storage chambers, animal dens, flour grinding and wine making facilities as well as a cruciform church and a baptism pool. Among the few symbolic carvings on the walls of Derinkuyu are crosses. There are also extensive networks of ventilation shafts to let air in and smoke out along with many connecting passageways, one of which extends miles to connect with another underground city called Kaymakli.
One of my favorite architectural features was the confessional passageway. It follows a long half circle arc near the church. The confessional passage starts and ends in the same room. The idea is that you enter it confess or say your Hail Marys or whatever it is that Christians do to feel pious (less lonely) and when you exit, you are different even if you're in the same place as where you entered.

When I tried it, I felt no different when I left but the place felt somehow different as if I had gone somewhere new even though I was back where I started. It reminded me of something out of a Jorge Luis Borges short story. The whole underground city of Derinkuyu had that sort of feel.

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