Adventures in the Egyptian Spice Market

Pick up your spices, teas, olives, and cheeses for dinner.  Let handsome men lure you into their shops with charming patter, serve you tea, and sell you their wares. How could you spend a Sunday afternoon any better than in Istanbul’s Spice Market?

Is It New Mexico? . . . Or Is It Cappadocia?

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I saw a few photos of Kapadokya (Cappadocia) before leaving for Turkey, but didn’t really know what to expect. As we drove into the area, I felt like I was in my beautiful New Mexico, right down to areas that look just like Tent Rocks. Soon we stopped to take photos at Kapadokya’s own version of Camel Rock. Russian Olive trees are everywhere. Chiles strung and hung on balconies to dry recall New Mexico’s chile ristras. Horses saddled up wait with their Turkish cowboy to give rides through the countryside. Kapadokya even launches 100 or more hot air balloons early every morning to sail tourists over the striking landscape.

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Kapadokya’s Camel Rock

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20120923-075806.jpgSo what is the difference between the New Mexico and Kapadokya landscapes? The rock formations in Kapadokya are formed of tuff–soft rock created from massive ash eruptions from three area volcanoes.  For hundreds of years, into this soft rock, the residents of Kapadoky have carved underground cities and, above-ground, houses, fortresses, stables, pigeon houses, and, most remarkable of all, churches.

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Map of one of Kapadokya’s 6-story underground cities, carved by early Christians to hide from the Roman soldiers. It includes food and wine storage areas, living quarters, a room for butchering animals, access to underground water source, and an elaborate tunnel scheme between other underground cities for escape if Romans find an entrance.

My hand is on the huge stone wheel that was rolled into place and locked over the escape route through a tunnel to a neighboring underground city.

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Pigeon Valley has many pigeon houses carved into its rocks. The pigeons were used as messengers as well as for food. The houses were usually painted with some design which was repeated on a pigeon’s wings, so that the pigeons could identify their house and the owners could identify their birds.

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Pigeon house.

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Fortress in the city of Nevishir, with residences below still in use.

Below is the entrance to Göreme National Park, one of the “Treasures of Turkey,” which preserves an area in the fabulous rock formations of Kapadokya into which are carved more than a dozen churches of the early Christians.  Turkey is a country in which 97% of its citizens are Muslim. Yet the respect and attention this country has given to preserving and honoring the long history of Christians in this land is remarkable and impressive. I wonder if so-called “Christian” countries would be so respectful of Muslim relics in their lands?

Entrance to Göreme National Park, one of the “Treasures of Turkey.”

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Göreme National Park, which includes a dozen churches carved into the rocks.

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Part of this church’s walls have fallen away, revealing how the churches carved into rock were fashioned after the architecture of churches built of stone.

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The inside walls of these churches were covered with elaborate and beautiful frescoes. Photos were not allowed inside the churches, but here are a couple of images from the internet to give an idea of how incredibly these areas were decorated.

Fresco in the Dark Church (copyright Hawkeye58.wikipedia.en)

(Copyright George Johann)

One of my favorite frescoes was the rendition of the Last Supper in the Dark Church. Here is a copy of it reproduced on a contemporary tile.20120923-080406.jpg

Istanbul Treasure: Süleymaniye Mosque

This first week in Turkey has been an unending feast of sights, sounds, smells, and experiences. Intending no slight to any of the other wonderful things I’ve seen, I still hold as my favorite so far my afternoon at the Süleymaniye Mosque–the most beautiful and serene building I’ve ever known.

Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent commissioned the building in the mid-1500s. He charged Koca Mimar Sinan, his favorite–and one of Turkey’s most celebrated– architects, with the design.

All who entered that afternoon, including the often-rowdy tourists, seemed awed and calmed in this lovely, soaring space. I was among many who simply sat down on the magnificent orange and blue carpet, felt our hearts slow down and our blood pressures drop, and gazed around at a place that is majestic, graceful, artful, sophisticated, and perfectly proportioned from every viewpoint, inside and out, day and night.

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