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January 02, 2013, Wednesday

Ring out the old, ring in the new

If you live in İstanbul, you probably take it for granted that there will always be something new waiting to be discovered just around the next corner. You might assume, on the other hand, that if you lived in Cappadocia you would eventually run out of new places to see. In that thought, though, you would be gravely mistaken.

A couple of weeks ago I needed to go to Uçhisar, just up the road from Göreme. Uçhisar is a village that dominates the local landscape because the giant “kale” (castle) rock formation around which it grew up forms the highest point in the area. But the center of my attention on this particular visit was the Argos in Cappadocia hotel, a large and very beautiful undertaking that has been quietly taking root there over the course of the last 15 years, mainly, I have to confess, without my having been aware of it.

The Argos parked itself in a part of the village whose residents had long since been moved out of their old homes into afet evleri (disaster houses) for fear that they would collapse and kill them. After they'd moved away, the villagers demolished their old houses so that they could reuse some of the materials. In the process of doing this they managed to bury an ancient rock-cut structure that was then more or less forgotten until the Argos builders came along, cleared away the rubble and rediscovered it.

Since then the Bezirhane has been incorporated into the hotel as a general-purpose meeting hall, and I'd been there a couple of times to listen to concerts during the Klasik Keyifler summer music festival. Then, though, I'd been so caught up in the music I hadn't really given much thought to the building. Yes, it was obvious that it must once have been part of one of the many early medieval monasteries for which Cappadocia is famous, but with no evocative frescoes on the walls, it somehow failed to grip my imagination as it probably should have done.

This time, however, it was a whole different matter. This time the story of the Bezirhane started to reveal itself, and I realized that it was a structure that, as much as anywhere else locally, encapsulates Cappadocia's history. I have not as yet been able to find any hard information about its monastic origins but the suggestion is that in later years, after the monks were gone, it was reused as a caravanserai, one of a welcome chain of resting places available to traveling salesmen as they criss-crossed Anatolia. Later still, it became what its name suggests: a bezirhane, where linseed oil was processed for use in lighting in the days before electricity, as was also the case with the large soot-blackened church in Göreme that is squeezed into the rock underneath the Esentepe viewpoint.

On the day I visited though, it was serving as a classroom in which local youngsters were being taught the finer points of their trade as waiting staff in the hotel's fine restaurant. A PowerPoint presentation flashed up against walls that still bore the marks made by medieval pickaxes. And thus, remarkably, had an ancient structure found a new life in the ultra-modern world.

Pat Yale lives in a restored cave-house in Göreme in Cappadocia.


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