Today [19th] was a very exciting day for me, because I visited one of the places that first inspired me to visit Turkey, probably the sight that if I didn’t get to see, I’d be really disappointed about. It was special to actually get to explore… an underground city.
This underground city wasn’t exactly a city, but a shelter for times of invasion and persecution. Originally built by the Hittites in 1600 B.C., it has also been used by the Romans, Jews, Christians, and Byzantines, until the 6th century. Over the years it has expanded in depth to about 50 meters – eight levels underground! We were actually able to go right down to the very bottom.
The rock is tufa – like everything else around here! – and it’s very soft. Once it is exposed to the oxygen however, the outer crust hardens. They made everything you’d need – ventilation shafts for air (and secret spy lookouts), wells for fresh water, long benches for the monastery school, even a baptism pool! With the ventilation shafts and wells, all they really needed was food, and there was a plentiful supply of that kept in the tunnels and refreshed every year and kept in holes in the walls. For light, linseed oil lamps were burnt and stored in little nooks in the walls; the linseed oil not only burns slowly and thus more efficiently, it also doesn’t use up as much oxygen as other oils. When we were down there we all had our jumpers on, but back when they were being used, people hung animal skins on the wall for warmth, and they brought in wooden furniture, so they weren’t sleeping on the cold rock (the cold seeps through your clothes so quickly, let me tell you!)
The cave we visited could, back in the day, held up to 10,000 people. The entrances to the tunnel were found behind a secret passageway in every two-three houses above ground. Underground, families actually had their own rooms, with either wooden doors or animal skin curtains for privacy. There are hundreds of underground cities just in the Cappadocia region, and when they were big enough, they connected with another tunnel, as a back up for food supply. Some archaeologists reckon that, provided the people catered for it, they could hold out for up to six months underground on their cereal-orientated diet.
Enough about the housekeeping; let’s move on to the strategies. There are huge boulders, fit to perfection, rolled to the side of the passageways. If ever an invader or Roman solider, or whoever – let’s call him a bad guy – found his way down, the refugees could roll this rock across the passageway after them, blocking the soldiers from getting any further. This rock is made out of tufa, so it was hard to break, and because the passageways are so narrow, the baddies didn’t have the space or the strength to lever the rock back to the side. On the refugees’ side however, there was a room to either side of the passageway, as well as a narrow space, to roll the rock or lever it back out of the way. These boulders also have a hole in the middle, where the refugees’ could poke a spear through to eliminate the baddies. To get more gruesome, there are several of these boulders throughout the descent, and they would trap the bad guys in on either end, and pour hot oil from holes in the roof; again, to get rid of the baddies. I wonder if it was the Christians who did this…
The seventh floor was a Church, in the shape of a cross. Down below, on the eighth and final floor, was where the temporarily buried people.
Oftentimes we had to double over walking through the passages, especially poor Josh who looked a bit more liable to bang his head on the low, rocky rooftops! Sometimes it was quite steep going up or down the steps. You could see parts of restoration, and yellow lights had been fixated throughout which kind of gave it a warmer glow – it didn’t look or feel exceptionally eerie down there! We carried sunnies with us, 50 meters underground, which looked ironic, but we were warned that it was all going to be very bright coming out from the underground city!
I really wanted to go here, because it was a testimony of the Christians’ faith. They really hid down there, because there faith was that important to them. On the ride in the bus afterwards, it struck me that these people weren’t just martyrs. They didn’t just give up and let themselves be thrown to the lions or burnt at the stake. They put up a fight. They showed grit and determination. They fought for life. It encouraged me, in my very comparatively easy life, to be intentional, to grab hold of this gift of life, and take my faith seriously.
Well, after that, we went on an hour’s hike, which included walking down 400 steps before reaching the river’s edge that we walked beside. All these hikes remind me of the bushwalks we do in the Kimberley – sweet smells, birds flittering, cliff faces, rocks to climb up and over and through. They’re different, but the concept’s the same. The only difference is the cafes and stalls that appear halfway through the walk! Today there was one that reminded me of Swiss Family Robinson; it was quite a shady area, with bamboo buildings, and tree trunk tables and chairs, right next to a gurgling river. At the end of our walk there were three restaurants; we took the last one, Aslan restaurant (and yes, Aslan means lion in Turkish – I wonder why C.S. Lewis chose that name to represent Jesus?) and sat out on a little hut/pergola on the river, joined to the mainland by a rickety-looking, but fairly sturdy, wooden bridge. Most of us opted for trout with rice, which was quite yummy, provided you removed all the fine bones! Our waiter, Osman, was incredible. He moved. so. fast. Think of a home video of people walking, press fast-forward, and you get Osman. When we first arrived he was jostling around and collided with another waiter and had lunch spilt all over his pants! He’d run around delivering meals and have this little walk with little steps when he was carrying a tray, which made him look pretty fast even then. Dad wanted to know what on earth he was on! Our guide said he’s always crazy like that – not only does he move fast, he speaks fast. She says no one can understand him when he speaks Turkish, his native language! He was moving so fast, when he came in to give us our drinks, Nomi discretly filmed him on her camera! We now hav a new word for ‘move quickly!’ – Osman!
We then had a three-hour drive to Konya, with a break halfway through. The second half of the drive was spent with our guide talking about Islam and its historic and present play on politics.
As we reached Konya we stopped to look at Matyala’s shrine-museum (founder of whirling dervishes), which we weren’t particularly keen to see, but we didn’t have much say about it. The handwritten, handmade Korans on display there were beautiful though. I saw the box that apparently has Mohammed’s beard in it (actually kind of gross) and learnt a bit about the whirling dervishes. The founder, Matyala, although he spent his life following another religion, did have a few nuggets of wisdom though about character and life.
It’s also the first day of Rumandam, the Muslim’s festival where they can’t eat during daylight hours for 29 days, so we’ve been hearing a lot of prayers being called out.
All in all, an interesting, exciting day – the underground Church, something I’ve wanted to see for the last four or five years (thanks to Drive thru History documentaries), meals where the fish’s eye stared at you and and the waiter couldn’t get anywhere fast enough, and learning about what Muslims believe.
Thanks to Dad for sharing photos!