Friday, July 27, 2007

Travel Journal (15)--Winding down in Cappadocia

Balloon touching down near Uchisar

As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end, and so my time to leave Cappadocia approached. On my last full day there, we visited the underground city at Derinkuyu, 2 final cave churches at Cauvisin, and then looked around Uchisar, Goreme and Avanos one last time.

The site at Derinkuyu comprises 8 levels underneath the modern town. Experts estimate the elaborate maze uncovered thus far represents a mere tenth of its original extent. Cappadocians did not live here full time. But the underground cities could provide a place of refuge for many months during times of invasion. An elaborate network of tunnels connected the chambers. Somehow, no chamber was directly above another. The passageways could be closed off from the inside by giant rolling stones. All the chambers were well-ventilated, with cisterns and channels for water, as well. In addition to living quarters, they carved out storage chambers, stables, churches, schools, refectories and baptismal pools. Above ground, and just outside the entrance to the underground city, is the abandoned Greek Orthodox Church, bearing mute testimony to the fact that this was a Christian city until 1923.

Abandoned Greek Orthodox Church, Derinkuyu

At Cauvisin we visited 2 final cave churches: Pigeon House Church (the Church of Nikephoros Phokas) and the Church of St. John the Baptist. The Phokades were one of the great land owning families of Cappadocia. They rose steadily in both power and influence, culminating in General Nikephoros Phokas seizure of the throne in 963. In fact, he declared himself emperor in Cappadocia. To solidify his claim, he quickly married the Empress Theophano, widow of Romanos II. As she was no stranger to palace intrigue, the beautiful Theophano may have been more than the gruff military man had bargained for. One of the frescoes in the Pigeon House Church depicts Phokas and his empress, Theophano, on horseback. Supposedly, his half-Armenian nephew, John Tzimiskes, is depicted, as well.

The Emperor Nikephoros Phokas and Theophano

Although always popular with the people, Phokas was assassinated in 969 by his nephew--with the help, they say, of Theophano. It was thought that she planned to be the Empress of yet a third Emperor of Constantinople. But the wily Tzimiskes thought better of it, banishing Theophano and marrying the sister of Romanos II instead. He held the throne until his death in 976, at which time, Basil, the young son of Romanus II and Theophano--who had somehow managed to survive all this intrigue-- assumed the throne. He became one of the greatest Emperors of Byzantium and ruled until 1025. Somewhere along the way, the Phokades took time away from all their machinations to become patrons of this beautiful church.

Main chapel of Church of St. John the Baptist

The Church of St. John the Baptist has fewer remaining frescoes than its neighbor, but is much more extensive. In fact, the cave church consists of three separate chapels. What frescoes remain are very dim, but after much study, Turan and I were able to make out one depicting the head of St. John the Forerunner. I was also intrigued by a fresco depicting a youthful, and unidentified saint.

Head of St. John the Forerunner--Church of St. John the Baptist at Cauvisin

Before supper in Avanos, Turan and I walked around the city, and I listened to his plans for the future. He is engaged since last year, though in no hurry to wed. The career efforts he is putting forth now, he sees bearing fruit 4 to 5 years in the future. He believes in what he is doing, has faith in his country and its leaders, and is planning his life accordingly. Such thinking used to characterize us. Not so much, anymore: we must have everything now.

Fresco of unidentified saint--Church of St. John the Baptist, Cauvisin

We had a final feast that night at the Sofra Restaurant in Avanos. Metin (our driver), Turan and myself were joined by his boss, Adam, and Steven and Jill, a married couple who were British tour agents. He is a proud Scotsman (is there any other kind?) and she from the south of England. They were negotiating an arrangement with Adam and Turan's company that would bring British high school students to Turkey for mountain trekking. This engaging couple had been literally everywhere, though they were the farthest thing from "WIWIs"--travel bores who begin every sentence with "When I Was In...." As they had not seen Argentina and Georgia, they were keen to know my impressions of those countries, particularly the latter. Steven and Jill have a home in Scotland, and another in Devon, near Widecombe. Come to find out, I had once fallen into the River Tay not 3 miles from their house.

I was flattered that they were curious about my own travels, as they saw my journey being so peculiarly unAmerican. Among Europeans (and Australians, as well), we have a reputation for not being particularly adventurous in our travels, nor for traveling long at a time--a week here, a week there, and its back to work. I think that with so many of us, we submerge ourselves in a sea of debt early in life (sadly true in my own case), and then don't think of travel, if at all, until we are able to come up for air financially, so to speak, much later in life. Not so, the Europeans. Lengthy bouts of travel seem factored into their lifestyle from the start. We will travel, if we get around to it. Europeans will travel regardless. Its like the old line that we either live to work, or work to live.

Turan and I left to catch a whirling dervish show late that night. He attempted to explain the religious implications of it all. Frankly, I couldn't follow all the reasoning behind it. But apparently, the dervishes are devotees of a 13th-century Muslim mystic, Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi. A sect of Islam follows his teachings to this day. If all of Islam followed his teachings today, then we would be reading different headlines in the newspapers. This, from Rumi:

In generosity and helping others be like a river...
In compassion and grace be like a sun...
In concealing others faults be like a night...
In anger and fury be like a dead...
In modesty and humility be like a earth...
In tolerance be like a sea...
Either exist as you are, or be as you look...

Hard to argue with that... The ceremony was beautifully done--but like the opera--having seen it once, I feel no compulsion to do so again.

Turan and I said our goodbyes that night. We were both a little emotional. He told me he hated to see our time together end and that he had learned a lot from me. Same here, my friend. Same here.

L to R: Metin, Turan, myself, Steven, Jill, Adam


Mimi said...

Beautiful church.

By the way, I recently read "Birds Without Wings" which you and I had discussed, it's interesting to see these photos and to know that this is the region that book was about.

John said...

Glad to hear of someone else who has read "Birds Without Wings." Did you enjoy the book? In my view, it is a great read--particularly if you are trying to understand the dynamics of Anatolia leading up to and during the tragedy of 1923.

Mimi said...

Yes, very much. I agree with your assessment. I enjoyed his "Corelli's Mandolin" as well.

Another book I read recently is "North to Ithaka" by Eleni Gage, the granddaughter of Eleni, who had the book and movie about her. She chronicles a year of rebuiding the family home, and the Greek experience during WWII comes out in the stories of the village.