Thursday, August 30, 2012


A cave sequence in the monastery at Goreme, or Goreme Open-Air Museum, in the valley of churches.
by Michèle Gerber Klein

Eight countries: Bulgaria, Greece, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq and Syria border Turkey — literally “Land of the Turks." The Mediterranean is at its South, the Aegean to its West, and the Black sea laps at its Northern shore. Here ancient and modern; religions and cultures are mingled in a country where the West and the Orient are one.

In Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city which straddles the Bosporus waterway between Europe from Asia, the buildings are as various as gingerbread houses, Baroque palaces, and the two of the most famous mosques in ever built. Hagia Sophia (holy wisdom), which was finished in 360 and is now a place for Islamic worship, was the world’s largest cathedral for over 1,000 years. It’s also a model for the legendary 17th-century Blue Mosque. Justinian I’s elegant sixth century Basilica Cistern, where elements of early Greek temples are used as supports for the columns, is another example in architecture of blended cultures and beliefs.
In the 14th century the Genoese were allowed by the Holy Roman Emperor to build this tower in Istanbul because they helped defend the Empire against the invading Muslim hoards.
18th century pleasure palace on the Bosphorus.
Examples of gingerbread detailing in Istanbul.
Hagia Sophia.
The Blue Mosque.
Domes inside Hagia Sophia and The Blue Mosque.
A rare fresco inside Hagia Sophia on the second level.
The Basilica Cistern from the sixth century.
The stone Medusa head from the late Roman period is the foundation block for the columns in the Basilica Cistern.
Traveling west, the Province of Cappadocia (or “land of the beautiful horses” from the ancient Persian) lies in the center of Turkey, past the salt lakes and the upper Euphrates and is rimmed to the south by the Taurus Mountains. Its surreal landscapes, formed by the erosion of high plateaus of 65,000,000-year-old Basalt, a volcanic rock so fragile it crumbles under ones fingers, are unlike like anything else in this world. Here in the Devrent and Pasabag (Pasha’s vineyard) valleys, a myriad mysterious, cave-filled rock pinnacles, called “fairy chimneys,” give the impression of a mirage made of stone.
Hot air balloons float over the Devrent Valley at sunrise.
In prehistoric times, Persians, Assyrians, Greeks and Hittites all lived in theses caves and hid from the ceaseless waves of new invaders in borough-like cities carved out underground. In the Kaymakli Underground City, five levels extend below ground and include living quarters, kitchens, wine presses, storage rooms stables and ventilation shafts. Now, many of these caves are hotels.
Fairy Chimneys. The "caps" are harder rock than the underlying basalt.
Village built below natural caves in rock formations.
In the chapel of the Kaymakli Underground City.
A corridor in The Museum Cave Hotel carved out from one of the caves leads to a rocky terrace with a swimming pool.
Swimming pool at The Museum Cave Hotel.
A morning shave at The Museum Cave Hotel.
The monastery at Goreme, or Goreme Open-Air Museum, in the valley of churches contains the best examples of Early Christian/Greek Orthodox Art. The oldest cave churches were carved out and frescoed in the sixth century; the most modern date back to the 1100 AD.
Rock Chapel Goreme (Elmalı Kilise).
Dome in the Karanlık Kilise (the Dark Church).
Saint Gregory slays the dragon in the Karanlık Kilise.
The pretty town of Avanos, on the banks of the red river where clay is abundant, has long been a center for pottery artisans. The Turkish government also subsidizes a carpet weaving school in this area, which helps local women earn money from home.
The honored kick-wheel method of shaping pottery.
Learning to trace an historic tulip pattern.
Painting an age-old wine vessel shape with traditional designs.
Finished plates in the showroom.
These women are taught skills at the school which they can take home to start their own cottage industries.
In the evening at the Sarihan Caravanserai, an old inn where merchants traveling along the spice route used to rest and water their camels — or for longer stays overnight, the Sema Ritual performed by the Whirling Dervishes to the music of drumbeats and archaic string instruments — is a unique and mystical experience.
Whirling Dervishes cannot be photographed in the flesh. This is from the Son et lumière at Sarihan Caravanserai.
When I asked my guide why there is a star and a crescent on Turkey’s flag, he tells me that’s what one sees in the night sky from the desert. But to me, they symbolize this country because taken together they are consistency and renewal — the ageless and the new.