Ilahra & Derinkuyu

On our final day in Cappadocia we went for one of the “traditional” guided tours in the area, but since we were driving ourselves, we were free to stop and delay wherever we wanted. Our first stop was, you guessed it, a cave church. Or rather a complete monastery built into the mountain. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe explored the monastery and its surrounding. Next to this monastery, there is an area that’s purported to be one of the sets of star wars. However, this is not quite the entire truth. The spot had been chosen to become one of the sets, this much is true. But at the time it was apparently difficult to get a permit to shoot in Turkey, so instead of shooting the movie there, they took pictures and rebuilt the landscape from the pictures in Tunesia and shot the movies there. So while the movie does show the same landscape it wasn’t actually shot on spot.
FOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERArom the monastery we moved on to the Ilhara-valley. A welcome change as it was green and shady. The valley has some of the largest trees I’ve seen and a lovely little river running through it. It also has cave churches, naturally. Everything does. Contrary to many of the other cave churches these are actually quite well preserved including the many colourful frescoes. WOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAe did a two hour hike, where the first hour was just us in the nature, enjoying the countryside and the second part was completely overrun with other tourists that also wanted to enjoy the peaceful tranquillity of nature. If you have the time, I would highly recommend hiking the additional 3km from the village of Ilhara to the “river entry” of Ilhara that is less populated by tourists.
FOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAinally we came to something I had been looking forward to particularly. Something we definitely hadn’t seen before: the under-ground cities. We chose Derinkuyu, a 13-level city, built completely underground. 8 of these 13 levels are accessible to tourists. The city is ventilated through a few giant shafts and could house several thousand people . However this estimate, along with the estimate on how long people could live in these under-ground cities vary strongly with whoever is telling you the story.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Anything from 4 days to 4months seems possible.The same is true for the amount of people living there: numbers vary between 800 and 20000.
It is definitely a major feat to have built these houses. Similar to the cave churches it is not quite clear when these cities were built, what is sure is that the cities were used by Christians in the early centuries AD to hide from persecution. The cities did have some defence mechanism, such as huge movable rock-wheels that could be locked in front of the entries, but their major defence strategy was simply to have the entries unnoticeable and invisible above the ground. The same is true for the aeration shafts, for that reason many of them where simOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAultaneously used as wells, so that they wouldn’t arouse suspicion.
Our final stop was the stone-fortress of Uchisar. The fortress is basically one big rock, in which several houses were carved and the top of which you can easily reach, thereby allowing for awesome views of the surrounding countryside, such as the pidgeon-valley.

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