Cappadocia Part 2 – Ihlara Valley

Note: This entry is part of a series about our 2012 trip to Turkey.

When we arrived in Göreme, we weren’t sure how we were going to explore the rest of Cappadocia. Our guidebook suggested renting a car and exploring the area on your own. However, we soon learned of the three tour circuits offered by most tourist companies in the area: Red, Blue, and Green. We (or at least, I) liked the idea of taking it easy for a day: letting someone else drive, worry about the logistics, and tell us about the sights. This ended up being our only “organized” tour during our Turkey trip.

Apparently, the color assigned to each circuit varies from company to company but the three circuits usually consist of the following:

  • Red: Devrent Valley, Zelve Open Air Museum, Pashabagi (Monks Valley), and the Göreme Open Air Museum 
  • Blue: Kaymakli Underground City, Soganli Valley of Churches, Sobessos, Keslik Monastery, and Mustafapasha
  • Green: Derinkuyu Underground City, Ihlara Canyon, and Selime Monastery

We ruled out the first option since we had already visited the Open Air Museum on our own, which is very easy to do if you’re staying in Göreme. For us, it came down to which underground city we wanted to visit. We decided on Derinkuyu, as it’s the largest excavated underground city in Turkey–often noted as a “not to be missed” site. We allowed our innkeepers to make the arrangements; the tour cost about 80TL/person and included lunch and a visit to the Ihlara Valley.

I’m not even sure which tour company we actually ended up utilizing. Our hotel had a brochure describing the circuits branded with one company name. But the bus that picked us up from the hotel had a different name. It proceeded to take us to an office downtown with yet another name! There we waited for other tourists to arrive. After we were all assembled, we boarded a mini-bus that would be our shuttle for the day. Our group consisted of about 15 people–some from Brazil, Iran, and Canada.

The first stop, just outside of Göreme, is a viewpoint that overlooks Göreme and Uçhisar. This was a very crowded destination, as it seems just about every tour circuit makes a stop here. We had about 10-15 minutes to take a look and have our photo taken.

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Tourists at the viewpoint, taking in the volcanic rock outcrop known as Uçhisar Castle.

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Our rain jackets and pants were great windbreaks on these cold days!

We reboarded our mini-bus and began the drive to Derinkuyu, passing beautiful, rural scenes. The Derinkuyu Underground City is yet another UNESCO World Heritage site. During the 6th and 7th centuries, Christians hid from Persian and Arabic armies in some 37 underground cities scattered around the region. Derinkuyu is the largest; an estimated 10-20,000 people could be sheltered here for months at a time. Eight of its eleven floors are open to the public; if you’re claustrophobic, this might not be the best sight-seeing activity for you! Click here for a cool map (in Spanish!) of the city’s levels.

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Our next stop was the Ihlara Valley, which is like the Grand Canyon of Turkey. We descended lots of stairs down to the valley and then proceeded to walk along the river, taking in spectacular views and visiting one more cave church. Brian even made friends with some ducks, which is significant because ducks are the only pets he had growing up. Pigeon holes are visible throughout the region; pigeons had been raised so their droppings could be used for manure. Chemical fertilizers put an end to pigeon-raising in the 1970s but there are some efforts to bring it back. At the end of our hike we stopped for lunch before hopping back on the bus.

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Our next stop was quite amazing. Selime Monastery is the largest rock-cut monastery in Cappadocia, carved by monks in the 13th Century. For this acrophobia-suffering gal, the climb up was a bit scary. Actually, the climb up wasn’t so bad; it’s the coming down that had me jittery! I can’t imagine taking small children here, as many places that would be restricted by guard rails/ropes/fencing in the U.S. are completely accessible here–caution about where you’re stepping is highly necessary here! As one astute tripadvisor reviewer phrased it, it’s “a spectacular accident waiting to happen.”

My one complaint about this stop is that being on a tour, we didn’t have nearly enough time to properly explore–I’d estimate 30 minutes from the time the bus arrived until it departed. But I guess seeing it for a short time is better than not seeing it at all.

Although NOT filmed here, the surrounding scenery is said to have been an inspiration to George Lucas for scenery in Star Wars. It is quite surreal and beautiful.

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Selime Monastery

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Selime Monastery

Selime Monastery

Selime Monastery

Selime Monastery

Selime Monastery

A cemetery across from Selime Monastery.

View of cemetery across from Selime Monastery.

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Yaprakhisar, as viewed from the Selime Monastery. The folks here like to say that this landscape inspired George Lucas for Star Wars. None of the films were actually filmed here, though.

After our too-short visit to Selime Monastery, our bus made its way back to Göreme, making a couple obligatory shopping stops. The first stop was an onyx workshop, where you view a demonstration and then have the opportunity to browse their showroom and make purchases. We refrained. The next was a souvenir shop, where I did find an embroidered shoulder bag and the yummiest chocolate-covered apricot Turkish Delight. I wish we had bought more than the one box we came home with. That shop was fun–full of interesting products and spices.

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Goods on display at a souvenir shop outside Göreme.

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2 responses to “Cappadocia Part 2 – Ihlara Valley

  1. Pingback: Turkey – December 2012 | my ahas·

  2. That monastery is amazing. But I’m sure I would be as freaked out as you. I remember in Ireland we visited this ancient fort and there was a giant cliff drop off into the ocean. And it was just totally open. You could walk right up to the side and look down. I’m getting anxious just typing about it.

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