Posts Tagged ‘Byzantine era’

Life Underground

April 28, 2012

Imagine living eleven stories below ground – in an underground cave city with 50,000 of your closest friends.  It would be difficult to envision life in darkness, illuminated only by oil lamps and having to traverse a maze of tunnels and staircases etched out of a soft volcanic rock (called “tuff”).  Co-habitating down there with chickens, horses, and probably a token society weirdo or two, it’s amazing the lengths these Christians went to hide from the Romans in the Byzantine era.  Very narrow and winding hallways made attacks difficult, and large round stones were situated in key doorways to roll and block an intruder from advancing.

Life down below the ground in the Cappadocia region of Turkey included chapels, a school, winery – all of the essentials for life in the 5th Century and each carved out of the rock many levels below ground for its specific purpose.  According to a very knowledgeable tour guide, there is even a honeymoon suite or tiny private nook for newlyweds amongst the group sleeping quarters.

Think District 13 in The Hunger Games, but without elevators, electricity or Katniss.

Any claustrophobes still reading?  Well count me among you (no shame!), and I wasn’t actually aware just how claustrophobic I was until I was faced with climbing seven stories below ground with only one way out and hundreds of tourists blocking that route.  I made it about two levels down before I hit my personal emergency button and exited, leaving James alone with the camera to capture the Kaymakli Underground City.

The one photo I could muster in the Kaymakli Underground City before evacuating for fresh air. Note James is ecstatic, while I am having a panic attack.

When I saw the photos James emerged with, I was glad I didn’t stay and venture where he went – he had to crouch to even get down one winding staircase (those clever Byzantines! If I was Roman you’d be safe!).  Observe:

Long, winding staircase hundred of feet below ground in Kaymakli Underground City.

This could be a private home, a meeting place, a classroom – my guess is a death chamber. Who could live here?!?!

NO THANKS. I’ll just get killed by the Romans instead.

So after this initial panic situation, James was a bit concerned how I might react to the next TWO underground cities he had on the itinerary.  One about 10 times the size of Kaymakli.  Our solution was to find a local guide to take us around and point out what the heck we were looking at down there as well as to provide the quickest escape route possible if necessary.  Luckily, you can hire such guides right outside the entrance of the larger underground cities (Derinkuyu), and we found Mustafa who was happy to show us around for a mere 30 euro (quite a bargain).

For some reason I felt much safer with a local guide, and was able to venture a bit deeper than I had at  Kaymakli, which felt crowded and chaotic.  Derinkuyu was by far the best of the underground cities, but likely because Mustafa really brought it to life by describing the purpose of every nook and cranny in the carved city (including a place to store eggs).  Since this city was much larger, some of its rooms were also quite sizable, and Mustafa (who was well-versed in guiding claustrophobic tourists 8 stories below ground) kept us in the larger areas.

Large dining hall in Derinkuyu.

I can breathe down here…sort of.

Claustrophobia aside – really, this is just incredible.

I haven’t written much about it yet, but the Cappadocia region in Turkey is really one of the most amazing places I have ever seen.  Even traveling to Africa or Australia, I never felt so far from home as I did in this land of fairy chimneys, hidden cave churches and cities, hot air balloon rides and incredible rock formations.  And, this is the map the entire region uses (car rental places, hotels, etc):

Not really helpful and definitely not to scale.

What a fun adventure!  More to come on Turkey and Cappadocia…

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