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.
So 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.
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?
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.
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.