Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Other-Worldly Adventures Underground

posted by Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy

Fifteen months ago, the DH and I went on one of our most memorable travel adventures. We took a thirteen day guided tour of Turkey. We had been lucky enough to spend a few days on our own in Turkey about a dozen years ago and saw just enough of the wonderful sights to know that we wanted to see more!

One of the places I looked forward to seeing most was the Cappadocia region. This area is a wide expanse between two now extinct volcanoes with highly unusual rock formations called "fairy chimneys." These were created by a hard layer of rock which did not erode at the same rate as the softer layer of rock (called tufa) underneath.

I knew that the inhabitants of this region carved caves out of the soft tufa stone and sometimes lived in them. What I didn't know until I got there, was that entire cities (the largest with an estimated population of 16,000) were carved underground! Some of the cities date back to prehistoric times, and some of them were inhabited up until the 1950s when the Turkish government decided they were historic treasures and great tourist attractions and moved everyone out.

The real heyday of these underground cities, and the part that fascinated me the most was from around the 2nd to the 5th centuries AD. Christians fleeing persecution from first the Romans, then the Arabs, moved into the region and expanded the underground cities into a network of over 100 different locations.

Cities went down 10 or more levels and were interconnected with an elaborate system of tunnels. Entrances were camouflaged into hillsides, and top levels were usually stables since the tunnels were too narrow to accommodate livestock. Though the inhabitants lived above ground most of the time, during times of attack or war, the cities could easily sustain themselves for months at a time and were pretty much impenetrable.

This big rock that looks like a millstone was rolled into place at the entrance to each level. The hole in the center was for shooting arrows at the enemy, who pretty much had to approach in single file due to the narrow tunnels. Since the cities were interconnected, runners would let a neighboring city know they were under attack and a counter attack could be launched. The early Christians were able to live and thrive here for several centuries.

We visited the underground city of Kaymakil, which had eight levels and an estimated population of 3,000. Four of the levels are now open for tourists, but yer olde Aunty (whose head almost scraped the ceilings in the largest rooms) only went down two. My DH (who could not stand straight except in the stable) went to all four, though he had to crawl on hands and knees through the connecting tunnels. Definitely no place for anyone with claustrophobia!

As you can tell from the pictures, this was a very unique place. I felt like I was in a science fiction or paranormal novel! Kaymakil certainly didn't seem like any other place on earth I'd ever seen!

What about you? Have you ever visited a place that left you feeling like you were not exactly in this world? Please tell us about it!

31 comments:

  1. Fascinating, AC. I had no idea such existed. I'm sure it did feel like another world--in effect it is.

    I've neve been anywhere so completely foreign to my experience.I'm really hoping commercial space flight will be available in my lifetime. I would love to go to the moon.

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  2. Some of the places in the States made me feel that way. The redwoods in California that made me feel I was in a primordial forest and it made me wonder about all the people that had trekked there over the centuries, a California beach that had boulders where the ocean had carved holes in them that made it look like moon rock, which is what we fondly called the place. Mountains of sand that we climbed to the top of...believe me, it's hard. :) I think that was in Oregon, but might have been California. But I imagined being in the Sahara.

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  3. HOLY MOLY!!! I've never heard of this. Must do research!!!! Thanks, AC, for sharing this. I just cannot imagine living underground like this. What'd they do for light? And how tiny they must have been to be able to live like this.

    Thanks!

    Oh, re: the question. There's a place in PA, whose name escapes me right now, where it's just a field of rocks as far as the eye can see. Definitely something other-worldly about it. Also, Devil's Tower, WY. Maybe it's from seeing Close Encounters of the THird Kind, but that place has an aura about it.

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  4. Absolutely fascinating! Way to go Aunty!

    Since I don't travel to interesting places, can't afford to, I do what I can afford...I travel through the books I read. Each one is a new adventure.

    Thanks guys!

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  5. Great post, AC! It's amazing the lengths people will go to to find shelter, isn't it?

    To answer your question, when I was about twelve or so, we went to Spruce Knob while we were in West Virginia visiting my grandmother. It was a misty, cloudy morning and though we were standing on the highest point in the state, you couldn't see further than thirty feet. It was eerie and otherworldly to the point that I was sure that space aliens were about to emerge from the mist!

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  6. Hi Aunt Cindy!

    What an awesome trip! I love learning cultural tidbits. There's a show (I think it's on the History channel) called "Cities of the Underworld" and it explores all the ancient dwellings underground from all around the world. The show I loved the most was the one about a Roman city and its water system. Such beautiful work!

    Your trip looked like a blast. Thank so much for sharing the pictures with us! :)

    I haven't been too many places, but my hubby is taking me to Hawaii in April. So, I'll have more to report then. lol

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  7. Cindy,

    I felt like I was right there in the caves with you. Loved the pics and words that made your post come alive. It must have been an awesome tour. Wow! I just think--how could they live in that close space? I don't think I could.

    Amelia

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  8. Nice post, Aunty, and great pictures! I love archeological sites, but my other love is ghost towns out here in the West. My favorite is Castle, a little known ghost town in Montana. You go down a bunch of dirt roads and suddenly find an entire town in the woods and scattered around the hillsides--big Victorian houses utterly abandoned in the middle of nowhere. You can just feel the history - it's amazing, and probably my favorite place in the world.

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  9. Hi MM,
    I didn't know about the entire cities either, so it was REALLY interesting to go inside! Our local guide, Mustafa said he and his brother used to play in the tunnels when they were kids. I'll bet his mother had heart palpitations!

    No need to go all the way to the moon to experience a moon-like stark landscape. Try visiting Mount St. Helens! That was one EERIE place! Or better yet, the Haleakala crater on Maui. I hope to use that one in my next book. ;-)

    AC

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  10. Terry,
    The redwoods are AWESOME, aren't they? And sounds like you've been to the Central or Northern California coast. We have very rocky beaches here. Some with arches eroded so that you can see through them!

    And I remember climbing over the dunes at Montana De Oro when I was in college and thinking I'd never get there. I felt like every foot I went forward I slid backward two!

    AC

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  11. Aunty Cindy, WOW! How very cool! We almost headed for Turkey when we were in Greece last summer, but opted to devote more time to hopping around the Greek Isles instead. From the way you describe Turkey, I know we'd adore it. Will definitely have to add this to our must-see list.

    I've had too many "other world" travel experiences to pick just one, but some of my favorites include a memorable sunset on the coast of Slovenia, seeing an endangered platypus in the wild in Australia early one morning, visiting a remote village in Fiji and having all the little girls try to climb under my hair to have their photo taken, encountering a manatee off the coast of Jamaica, climbing for miles up into the Swiss Alps and seeing all those breathtaking peaks, treking into the Amazon jungle in Venezuela for three days and realizing that if anything bad happened, there was no earthly way to get out easily.

    Thanks for the post! (and for the chance to relive some of my own favorite travel moments!)

    Tawna

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  12. Judi,

    They burned linseed oil lamps... yes, the same oil you rub on wooden furniture! They also had elaborate cistern and ventilation systems that let in fresh air and water. I think the dark would get to me though, because it was REALLY dark.

    And I don't think it was just Close Encounters. I'd never seen the movie the first time I visited Devil's Tower, and it definitely felt like it was out of this world!

    AC

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  13. Jessica,
    You might be surprised at the fascinating places you can find very close to your home.

    But yes, I've always love books for a 'getaway' and I try to include a real feel for the place I'm writing about in my stories. One of these days, I'll have to set one in Turkey!

    AC

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  14. I think they showed that on History International channel and it was incredible.

    For me it was the Seattle Underground Tour. You were transported to the past. And I always think of the Nightstalker episode set there.

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  15. I agree, Cheryl!

    I'm constantly amazed at human ingenuity when it comes to survival!

    West Virginia is one of the three states I have not visited. :-( But I was within shouting distance when I visited the Antidem battlefield in Maryland. And Civil War battlefields are also high on my list of places to see. Like you said about the aliens, sometimes in remote corners of those battlefields you can almost see and hear the combatants.

    AC
    shivering

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  16. Sarah,
    You will LOVE Hawaii! I hope you get to more than one island, since Maui is my favorite (haven't been to Kauai or Molokai yet). But if you are on Oahu DO NOT MISS the Arizona Memorial! Since I wasn't around for WWII I didn't think it would effect me as much as it did. My 15 yr. old nephew felt the same when I took him, too!

    Be sure to share all the details of your trip with us when you return!

    AC

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  17. Amelia,
    So glad you enjoyed the post. I've been singing the praises of Turkey to anyone and everyone since we got home over a year ago! It is truly a fabulous place with so much wonderful history! We saw the ruins of Ephesus (SPECTACULAR), Troy, Pergamon, and Cannakale (a hot springs since pre-Roman times), not to mention Istanbul and Ankara. Our guide, Sali, was outstanding! I really can't say enough good things about the tour. :-)

    AC

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  18. Joanne,
    I've never heard of Castle, but I've been to Bodie here in California and it is fascinating. People walked away and left their houses with most of their belongings still inside! Very spooky place.

    AC

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  19. Wow Tawna!

    You've been to some REALLY KEWL places too! I LURVED Australia and can't wait to go back. And I'll never forget the morning we rode the little train up the Jung Frau in the Swiss Alps... I couldn't stop thinking about that James Bond movie! ;-)

    What a FUN story about the kids in Fiji liking your hair! You'll have to tell us more!

    At the Summer Palace in Thailand, I had a crowd of about 100 school kids all trying to shake my hand and calling out "Hellllooo!" I told the DH, that was my "celebrity" moment. LOL!

    AC

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  20. Turkey sounds wonderful! I just sold foreign rights to Turkey. It's hard to imagine a Turkish woman reading one of my Regency historicals!

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  21. Hey Linda,
    I took the Seattle Underground tour too, and loved it!

    Sacramento has something similar around Halloween. The old downtown flooded so much in the 1800s that people had to move up one story, so the first floors of most buildings became the basements. There are lots of tales of these old 'basements' being haunted, so during the Halloween season they offer ghost tours. I haven't been on one, yet! Maybe this year...

    AC

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  22. WTG Shana on selling Turkish rights!

    I think out in the countryside, which tends to be more traditional, there won't be a lot of sales. But cities like Istanbul and Ankara should provide a big audience! Turkish women may be mostly Muslim, but they are some of the most progressive.

    AC

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  23. Aunty Cindy

    What a fascinating post and what a great place to visit I am not sure whether I would be able to spend too much time down in those caves.

    I don't think I have been anywhere that has made me feel I am totally out of this world so to speak although there have been times when I have been in bush areas when going on walks and everything is so different and peaceful that I often feel as if we are the only people left very eerie sometimes.

    Have Fun
    Helen

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  24. Absolutely fascinating! You know how I love learning these weird things, Cindy. This is very cool. Reminds me of one of my favorite fantasy authors - David Eddings - who has an entire people group living underground. I wonder if Eddings was inspired by these Turkish cities as his culture, the Ulgos, went underground as a result of religious persecution and segregation, eventually centuries later so altered that they could not live above ground in the light! You know me and my fantasy love, LOL! But this reminded me of Eddings.

    Excellent!

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  25. Oops, didn't answer your question!

    Let me see, as far as underground, I would have to say Carlsbad Caverns. Or any caverns, for that matter, but Carlsbad is enormous with the vast amount of it still unexplored. What you can see is utterly unique and definitely a place even George Lucas would be hard pressed to dream up!

    Above ground, I would agree with the Sequoia and Redwood forests to be sure. I also remember being struck in amazement at the seemingly endless expanse of the Salt Flats in Utah. If not for the highway and cars passing, there is nothing to connect to the real world. For miles upon miles, to every horizon it is pure white with nothing to discern distance or a hint of civilization. The glare off the salt alone is alien. Weirdest place imaginable.

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  26. Helen,
    When I was in Australia, I LOVED the Blue Mountains! That formation of The Three Sisters was incredible and very 'other worldly' to me. :-)

    AC

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  27. Welcome home, Sharon! ;-)

    I haven't read much of Eddings' work but sounds like he was very definitely influenced by Turkey's underground cities!

    I agree, the Utah Salt Flats are amazing! And what about the Great Salt Lake? Smelled like a chemical toilet to me! :-P

    AC

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  28. That is so cool, AC!

    As for me, the Craters of the Moon National Park looks like you're standing on the moon. Also the Bruneau Sand Dunes are so incredible. Both are in Idaho and are definitely otherworldly. (there are great pics of both if you google them

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  29. Aunty Cindy, Bodie is one of my other top ghost towns! Love it. The other one is Bannack, Montana, which has great stories attached to it. Guess I know what to blog about for my travel post! Thanks for reminding me of all these great places.
    And thanks for the shout-out to Devil's Tower, Wyoming's spookiest landmark!

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  30. Wow - that's really interesting. What fascinating history. and to think so many cites have this underground network...

    When I read your post I was thinking Mt. St. Helens (after the eruption) and Craters of the Moon National Park, but I see you've already mentioned them! Both places were very monochromatic - like walking into a black and white photo.

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  31. What an amazing adventure, AC! The underground cities make my imagination spin! Thanks for a great post.

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