Next to the Pigeon Valley was the White Valley. Soft like silk and smooth as water, the undulating rocks of White Valley were probably some of the most beautiful we had seen in Cappadocia. After hiking the White Valley, it was time for us to move on from Goreme. At 20:15, we left Goreme for Kayseri, where we switched to another bus for Antakya in the province of Hatay. From Antakya, it would be a little over 2 hours of bus ride away from Aleppo of Syria. Our journey was about to enter the second part, Syria.
Back in 2006, crossing the land border from Turkey to Syria was popular for backpackers. Back then, we could never imagine how the situation of Syria would eventually become in a few years’ time. It was a hot and dry night as we waited for the bus in Antakya. Back then, no one would aware that the heat of 2006 was part of a severe drought that lasted for 5 years in Syria. Some said the drought has forced desperate Syrian farmers migrating into cities and towns, fueling a public anger that ultimately led to the rebel uprising. In that particular night of 2006, despite the tiredness from our hikes in Cappadocia, we were all excited for about to enter Syria.
Before we left Cappadocia, we stopped by the White Valley.
Looking from afar, the White Valley seemed like a series of white waves topped with a green carpet.
Both the top and valley floor were filled with lush green vegetation.
The slope of the White Valley looked as smooth as curtains.
and as soft as vanilla ice cream.
At different times of the day, the moving shadows play an crucial role in defining the appearance of the valley.
The white “waves” come from both sides of the valley.
Zooming into the white slopes offered us uncounted compositions for photographs.
It was interesting to see horizontal markings on the slopes.
The rocks appear like an abstract sculpture shaped by the nature.
Caves and pigeon holes could be seen near the valley floor.
Centuries ago, pigeon droppings or manure was a valuable commodity in many parts of the world. Since 5000 years ago, humans began to domesticate pigeons and collect their nitogen-rich manure. Compared to manure from other farm animals, pigeon manure is considered to be much better quality for making fertilizer. Some even suggest that places where domesticating pigeons was a common practice would lead to better agricultural development and ultimately more advanced societies. Apart from providing manure for fertilizer, pigeons were also a source of food, entertainment and message carriers. In Medieval times, the value for pigeon manure soared even higher as saltpetre from the manure was used to make gunpowder, while its ammonia was used for leather making. In some cases, guards were even assigned to protect dovecotes from potential thieves.
From the earliest dovecotes in Egypt and Persia, the round and white columbarium of the Romans, to the distinctive pigeon towers across Europe, Asia and North Africa, dovecotes had been an integral part of village communities and a common type of vernacular architecture. In Cappadocia, man made pigeon holes can be found from villages to river valleys. Similar to other cave dwellings in the region, dovecotes were carved out from cliffs or rocks. A short hike in the Pigeon Valley is the best way to take in the unique landscape, search for the pigeon holes, and imagine how humans and pigeons coexisted and being relied on each other throughout centuries.
Lying between the village of Uchisar and Goreme, the trail of Pigeon Valley is about 4km long.
The fortress of Uchisar marks as the destination of the trail if one begins from Goreme.
The scenery of Pigeon Valley and the surrounding valleys was breathtaking whenever we arrived at a high lookout.
No fence and no signage, we had to rely on simple maps to find our way.
The valley floor was relatively lush green, with dovecotes and occasional small dwellings carved into the cliffs.
Rock cut dwellings in strange rock formations are everywhere in the valley.
Man made pigeon holes are found on many rock towers in Pigeon Valley.
Many dovecotes are no longer in use, although some local villagers continue to keep pigeons as pets.
Villages like Uchisar or Goreme is never far away from Pigeon Valley.
The Pigeon Valley hike is one of the most rewarding short walk near Goreme.
Spotting out the dovecotes as we walked in the valley was also an interesting pastime during the hike.
At 09:30 we joined a local bus tour organized by a company called Greenline. The first stop was the famous underground cities of Derinkuyu. With 11 levels and roughly 85m at its deepest, Derinkuyu is the deepest underground city in the region. The guide explained that since the Hatti and Hittite period, inhabitants of Cappadocia had recognized the unique properties of the region’s volcanic rock and began to dig and carve out rock-cut structures. Underground cities were developed over many generations and expanded to their greatest extent during the Byzantine era. Inhabitants sometimes were forced to stay underground for months during wartime. Ventilation shafts, food storage, kitchens, churches and other essential amenities were found in the sophisticated sub-terrain network.
After Derinkuyu, the tour moved on to an 1.5 hour hike in Ihlara Valley, a lush green river gorge with some rock-cut churches and pigeon holes carved out on the cliff at both sides. At the end of the hike, we visited a cave church, and then headed our way to a local restaurant for lunch. After lunch, we arrived at the village of Yaprakhisar, which is often mistakenly claimed as the filming site of one of the Star Wars movies. Whether it was part of a Hollywood film set or not really makes no difference. The scenery of Yaprakhisar was phenomenal: local women and children in colourful clothing, shepherds and their herds of sheep, historical stone houses, cave dwellings and bizarre looking rock formations. Not sure about the others, but for me it did somehow resonate with my imagination of the landscape of a strange planet in a galaxy far far away.
A herd of sheep and their shepherds crossed our path as we entered Ihlara Valley.
We followed the herd for a little while before turning into the valley.
We entered Ihlara Valley from the high point and gradually walked down.
Other than shepherds, we hardly saw any visitors in the valley.
For most of the short hike we were walking along the river.
We stopped by a sleepy village for lunch.
Perhaps due to tourism in the area, even a small village had some decent carpet vendors.
The village of Yaprakhisar offers us a peek into the peaceful rural life with a dramatic backdrop.
Pigeon holes can be found on cliffs in Yaprakhisar.
The bizarre landscape in the surrounding is what makes Yaprakhisar famous.
With or without the unique rock formations, Yaprakhisar is a picturesque little hillside village.
Dramatic rock formations tower up the sky along the perimeter of the village.
For centuries, caves and pigeon holes were carved out from the cliffs of Yaprakhisar.
We had a brief moment walking around the peaceful village.
A brief encounter with the locals on the slope was definitely the highlight experience.
Despite we didn’t speak the language, we could feel the friendliness and peacefulness of the villagers.
Unlike Goreme or other touristy villages in Cappadoica, Yaprakhisar offered us a glimpse of the rural life of the locals.
Cappadocia is not just all about rocks. Since prehistorical times, humans had established cave dwelling and even underground communities in the area. Kingdoms rose and fell; trade routes came by and moved away; religions flourished and replaced by other religions as new settlers arrived. The Hatti community emerged in 2500 BC, then came the Hittites, Assyrians, Phrygians, and Persians. In AD 17, the Roman arrived and Cappadocia became a province of the empire. The Christians came in the 3rd century AD, and Cappadocia soon became the dominant culture in the region where uncounted chapels and churches were carved out from the rocks. In the Medieval Ages, monastic communities flourished and so as caravanserais where trade routes connected Cappadocia with the world along the Silk Road. In the late Middle Ages, invasions from Turkmenistan, Mongolians, Seljuks and finally Ottomans wrapped up the ever changing story of Cappadocia.
Only 15 minutes from the town centre of Goreme, the Open Air Museum is one of the most popular attractions in Cappadocia. Despite the crowds, the UNESCO world heritage site is the best place to understand the a part of the history of Cappadocia.
In the midst of fairy chimneys, different kingdoms and communities left their marks in Cappadocia throughout history.
All communities in Cappadocia began in one of the many valleys. As soon as the first settlers discovered the unique properties of the volcanic rocks, cave communities emerged.
Small cave dwellings and pigeon holes were carved from the rock cliffs.
Small caves led to larger rock cut spaces as the communities evolved, such as the rock cut chapels constructed in the Middle Ages.
Goreme Open Air Museum hosts a number of the rock cut chapels and cave dwellings, mainly from the Byzantine era.
Despite the caves at the Open Air Museum have been abandoned for a long time, visitors today can still imagine how these cave communities might have operated centuries ago.
Many caves are only accessible via a flight of stairs.
What lies inside the caves are the real gem. The Karanlık Kilise or Dark Church contains some of the best preserved frescoes in the museum. It presents some great examples of Byzantine art.
A short hike to the east from Goreme brought us to the Love Valley, a little valley with bizarre fairy chimneys – rock pillars capped with dark basalt. Compared to the ones in Goreme, the fairy chimneys in the valley are much slenderer. We pretty much had the valley all by ourselves, except a few occasional hikers. There wasn’t much signage so we had to find our way on our own. Back then, there weren’t any smartphone with us too. We ended up reaching the White Valley and the village of Uchisar towards the end of our walk.
It was impressive to see all these fairy chimneys in the Love Valley.
The trail first took us to a higher ground to appreciate the rock pillars.
It isn’t hard to figure out why the place is called Love Valley.
Despite the somehow arid climate in the area, the valley was quite green at certain places.
It was hard to imagine from the first glance that the pillars were carved out from eroding the surrounding ground, instead of extruding out from earth.
As we walked to other areas, rock formations changed gradually.
There are actually numerous valleys around Goreme that we could visit: Love Valley, Rose Valley, White Valley, Red Valley, Pigeon Valley, etc.
Thick clouds gathered in the valley as we approached the village of Uchisar.
Equally stunning, the rock formations of the White Valley resemble a sea of white waves.
Our bus arrived in Goreme at around 08:00. Surprisingly the bus went all the way to the village centre, instead of the otogar at Nevsehir. Arriving at Cappadocia in early morning felt like waking up in another world: minimal traffic, occasional herds of sheep, stone houses and cave dwellings. But it was the bizarre rock formations, some of which towering straight up the sky known as fairy chimneys that captured our imagination. The unique rock formations of Cappadocia began 2.6 million years ago when eruption of the ancient volcano Mount Erciyes covered the area (about 20,000 square kilometres) with lava and ash. The ash later solidified into soft rocks exposed to erosion from wind and water. As most of the soft rocks were eroded away, the remaining hard rocks appeared like stone chimneys towering towards the sky.
We checked in at Hotel Elif Star to begin our temporary stay in a cave. The owner Jacky and her cat welcomed us. Jacky pulled out a map and recommended to us a number of hiking trails around the area, and a few lookouts for sunset watching.
In the midst of fairy chimney rock formations, unique valleys and the open air museum, Goreme is the main tourist hub in Cappadocia.
Inhabited since the Hittite era (1800-1200 BC), cave dwellings had been constructed in the era for thousands of years.
Throughout history, cave dwellings and underground structures have been carved out from the volcanic tuff. These rock-cut houses of Cappadocia provided homes and hideouts for people escaping from wars and persecutions from close and afar.
This world famous UNESCO world heritage town receives significant amount of tourists, reaching a record high of 3.8 million in 2019. When we visited in 2006, Goreme still maintained a relatively peaceful ambience.
Souvenir shops lined up the main street of Goreme.
Remnants from the past were still visible on the fairy chimneys in the side streets of Goreme.
Other than cave dwellings, other buildings in Goreme are also constructed with the local stones.
We stayed at Elif Star, one of the many cave hotels in Goreme.
This people-friendly cat approached us during our breakfast time at Elif Star.
Late afternoon offers the best moment to photograph the unique rock formations.
There are several popular spots to watch the sunset in and around Goreme.
Everyday, if weather is fine, tourists should be able to appreciate the scenery of fairy chimneys blanketed in the orange glow.
Around Goreme, there are a number of hiking trails to explore the interesting rock formations.
Even without exploring the surrounding valleys, visitors at Goreme can still get close to the fairy chimneys.
Cappadocia offered one of the best sunset scenery we have ever experienced.
We watched the sunset everyday while we were in Cappadocia.
At night, Goreme returns to its former tranquility after tourists make their way back to their hotels.
Once-in-a-century pandemic has brought international travel to a complete halt. With the pandemic still raging in many parts of the world, it is unrealistic to plan for new travel anytime soon. As a result, we will take this opportunity to share some of our past travel experiences that predate this blog. The pandemic compels us to cherish our travel memories more than ever, and acknowledge that we should never take things for granted especially in turbulent times. The first travel memory we are going to write about is a 40-day journey through the Middle East from Turkey to Egypt via Syria and Jordan. In the recent decade, the Middle East has gone through drastic changes after the Arab Spring movement in early 2010’s and the rise of Isis, particularly for Syria where the ongoing civil war has displaced over 10 million and killed about half a million of Syrians in the past 9 years. Places visited and people encountered may no longer exist, but they live long in our memories.
In spring 2006, I and five other friends embarked on the 40-day journey from Toronto, Canada. We first flew to Athens via Zurich, and then landed in Istanbul on 29th of April. We spent 11 days in Turkey, visiting the splendid architecture of Istanbul and Edirne, archaeological sites of Bergama and Ephesus, and natural wonders of Pamukkale and Cappadocia, before crossing the border at Antakya into Syria. We spent a week traveling from Aleppo to Damascus, visiting Crusader castles and archaeological sites near Hama, Palmyra, Bosra and Maalula along the way. From Damascus, we hired a taxi to Amman in Jordan, where we stayed for 8 days. While Petra was our main focus in Jordan, we did manage to visit classical ruins and medieval castles, the Dead Sea, Wadi Rum Desert, and Aqaba diving resort. Then on 25th of May, we hopped on a ferry to cross the Gulf of Aqaba for Sinai Peninsula. In Egypt, we spent the remaining week to visit the diving town of Dahab, hike the sacred Mount Sinai, admire the pyramids in Saqqara, Dahshur and Giza, and the mosques and Coptic churches in Cairo, and finally ventured out into the far western end near the Libyan border for Siwa Oasis and the Great Sand Sea of the Western Desert.
Back then, I didn’t have a DSLR or smart phone, but traveled with a Nikon FM2 and 50+ rolls of films, including some Fuji Velvia (slide positives) and Ilford Delta (B&W negatives). Number of shots were limited and low light photography was restricted by the film ISO and the availability of a flat surface to place the camera. Yet, the photos’ film grains and occasional blurry effects due to hand movements somehow provoke a unique mood and vaguely remind me each distinct moment when I released the shutter. Each shot has no second take or immediate image editing. Compared to the multi gigabytes stored in memory cards, the slides and negatives of the Middle East trip are much more tangible as if one-of-a-kind souvenir from the trip. Scanning the films afterwards made me to spend a whole lot more time on each photo, and sometimes led me to rediscover bits and pieces of forgotten travel memories.
The 40-day Middle East trip in 2006 remains as one of my most memorable travel experiences to date.
The first time seeing the great architecture of ancient Constantinople was like a dream come true to me.
It was hard to perceive that all the ancient architecture in Turkey were maintained by generations after generations of craftsmen throughout the centuries.
The old Ottoman houses of Istanbul provoke a sense of melancholy that can only be found in the works of Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk.
With the otherworldly landscape, hiking in Cappadocia was fun and felt like walking on another planet.
In the past decade, reading the news about how Syrians have suffered and learning about so many cultural heritage, including the Aleppo Citadel, have been destroyed or badly damaged was really upsetting.
Archaeological sites in Syria like Palmyra and Apamea (pictures above) has become venues for frequent looting and destruction under the Isis.
10 million people have been displaced by the Syrian Civil War. Cities like Hama, the city famous for its ancient norias, has been standing in the forefront between the rebels and the government force.
I have encountered so many innocent Syrian children, including these school kids in Damascus, back in 2006. No one would have foreseen the brutal civil war coming in a few years’ time.
Compared to the Syrians who are still going through the civil war, the Jordanian children that I’ve met in Amman during the trip have been much more fortunate.
Every time meandering through the Siq, the narrow gorge that leads into the ancient Nabatean city of Petra, and approaching the Treasury was like going into an Indiana Jones movie.
Riding a camel in Wadi Rum Desert offered every visitors a chance to feel like being Lawrence of Arabia.
I would never forget hiking the pilgrim route up Mount Sinai at 2am in complete darkness, standing at the summit in bone-chilling wind, and watching one of the most anticipated sunrises in my life.
Getting lost in the chaotic Islamic Cairo would be so much fun if not the scorching heat.
Venturing out to the remote Siwa Oasis on my own was one of the most adventurous event in my travels.
Heading out from Siwa into the Great Sand Sea gave me the perfect Sahara moments: doing rollercoaster Jeep rides up and down the dunes, watching sunset over the undulating desert horizon, and sleeping under the Milky Way in the open desert.