As a non-car-owner I’m usually dependent on friends when it comes to being driven about the place, so it was quite a thrill last week when a work assignment meant that I actually had access to a minivan with space to spare.
Cue messages to a couple of friends with time on their hands (it being the deadest of dead times in Cappadocia tourism-wise), and soon we were roaring off down the road towards Güzelyurt, our eyes set on visiting Gaziemir, an “underground city” that has only recently started to feature on tourist itineraries.
It’s commonly said that Cappadocia is beautiful, which is certainly true if you live around the Uçhisar-Göreme-Ürgüp triangle where the houses are made from lovely golden-hued stone. Heading south and west from Derinkuyu, however, you cross an expanse of flat plain where the volcanic stone takes on a black hue. Given that we were visiting on a day when the sky was grey-shading-to-white, beautiful was not the most obvious adjective to spring to mind as we gazed out of the windows.
Not to be daunted we headed west, diverting briefly into a village glorying in the name of Suvermez (It Doesn’t Give Water). Before the 1924 population exchange, this was, as the Greek Foita, a settlement large enough to justify an enormous church whose ruins now stand sad, roofless and graffitied in the center.
Suvermez is not far from Narlıgöl, where two unattractive hotels stand sentinel over the approach to a lovely crater lake. Or, at least, it would be lovely under normal circumstances. On this particular gusty day, however, I got out to take a picture only to have sand whip straight up and into the camera, jamming the shutter. Only by edging round the back of the van was I able to get back into it again.
Shortly afterwards we arrived in Gaziemir, where to say that they were not anticipating guests would be an understatement. The ticket office was shut, the car park empty, but a custodian came rushing to direct us to the two separate parts of the “city.”
On one side of the road we descended into a large empty space with rooms opening off it just as I remember from Eski Gümüşler, near Niğde. One such space was clearly a church, while another had crosses etched on the outside wall. In a third space, steps led down into a deep basin which was labeled as a winery. Perhaps that was, indeed, what it became over time, but it reminded me so much of the old baptistry recently reopened to the public behind Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) in İstanbul that I was fairly certain that it had started life as a font for immersion-style baptisms in the early days of Christianity.
Off the other side of the car park, tunnels on several levels felt more like those in the more frequently visited underground cities but it was cold and dank, so we were in no hurry to linger. Shortly afterwards a turning on the left had us bumping along the road to the Sofular Vadisi (valley) where, to judge from the new road and freshly planted saplings, it looks as if the authorities are hoping to attract visitors to the old abandoned village.
There were no restaurants in the vicinity. “Let’s go on to Güzelyurt for lunch,” I suggested (to be continued).
Pat Yale lives in a restored cave-house in Göreme in Cappadocia.
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