Cappadocia, Turkey: Kaymaklı & Göreme

This crisp, rainy, Anatolian morning, we’ll have to stoop down to get through cave tunnels carved into the subterranean rock of Kaymaklı Yeraltı Şehri – Kaymaklı Underground City. Watch your head! I just hit mine on a low ceiling. Don’t worry, no injury or concussion here, but I suspect I might feel a slight bump on the crown of my head come afternoon. Although I’m about average height (i.e. not incredibly tall), the ceilings can get incredibly low in parts of the underground. And though we’re still in Cappadocia, this is far from the vast panoramic views obtained in a hot-air balloon. Whereas we were previously thousands of feet up in the air, we’re now 150-200 meters below ground. It’s a little warmer, but a lot darker.

Here’s what the view of Göreme looks like from a balloon above ground, from a vantage point looking over a valley, and from the ground looking up at a mountainside city.



And here’s what it looks like below ground, where we are now.



Originally used by the Hittites for storage, the subsurface environment of Kaymaklı was subsequently used by early Christians as a hiding place from the Ottomans. The low ceiling height in these caves is not because the people living here were tiny, but because the constrictive space made it more difficult for intruders and religious persecutors to navigate the tunnels…which were booby-trapped. The ceiling height varies as you progress through the tunnels.



As an extra security precaution, there were also large rolling rocks, carved out from the caves themselves, used as nearly impenetrable doors. These 500-1,000 kg stone doors closed when heated, and were opened with wooden levers. Craftily built, there were holes in the center of the large rock wheels so arrows could be shot from behind the “door.” But let’s shift gears before it gets claustrophobic in here. Hey, at least there’s fresh air circulating through the seemingly bottomless ventilation shafts; coincidentally, the airways were also used to transport water. You can peer in, but don’t lean too far forward!



The caves run on for miles and miles, seemingly endless. One can easily get lost in this labyrinth of dark caverns, one leading into another. The paths split into levels and diverge into all sorts of directions – up, down, left, right, and off-kilter.



There are several underground settlements spread out over central Anatolia, and this is one of the largest. Just look at the size of the pottery shelves (no, those are not urinals) built to store the amphoras that contained food and wine. There were even underground animal pens!



The blueprints of Kaymaklı are elaborate, as far as mapping is concerned; but “elaborate” takes on new meaning in cave cities above ground, built into Göreme’s mountainside. We’ve surfaced back above ground and traveled a short distance from Kaymaklı, where decorations are carved above doorways, and alcoves are decorated with arches and columns.



The indoor spaces may have been rudimentary…



But the outdoor views were (still are) not at all ordinary.



With the passage of time, newer constructions have been built to blend in with the old; and modern living incorporates pre-existing ancient structures as part of daily life.



Residents no longer need to hide in underground citadels; but because their houses are constructed above the underground tunnels, their properties often include storage in the underground spaces. From Hittite to Christian refuge, withstanding the Arab-Byzantine wars and the Mongolian conquests, it seems that the constructions of a people long gone remain with us still. And just as their descendants –despite a long, tumultuous history– remain steadfast in the land of their forefathers, time-tested rock walls stand staunch and proud, reminding us of tales that cannot be forgotten.