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New Europe

Day Forty-three: Göreme, Cappadocia

The Valley of Love 
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Among the extraordinarily eroded pillars of volcanic rock in what they call The Valley of Love. I can't think why.
Michael Palin - New EuropeWe're 300 miles east of Istanbul now, at a city called Kayseri. With a population of over a million, its thriving business parks and gleaming new automobile distribution centres are clear evidence that the commercial boom is not confined to Istanbul and the west. This is the heart of Anatolia, the ninety-five per cent of Turkey which is geographically part of Asia. Its size, both in land and population numbers, would, if accession were to go ahead, make Turkey by far the largest country in the European Union. And this worries a lot of Europeans.

Yet the history of this area links up with the very heart of European culture. In the years after the birth of Christ, Kayseri, then called Caesarea, was where St Paul (born Saul in nearby Tarsus) began to make the first Christian conversions. The province of Cappadocia became the epicentre of the early Christian Church, and core beliefs such as the concept of the Holy Trinity were first formulated here by a group of leading ecclesiastical writers known as the Cappadocian Fathers.

Cappadocia was once a huge area, home to the Hatti and then the Hittites two to three thousand years before Christ. It was known as far back as the reign of King Darius of Persia as Katpatuka, the 'Land of Beautiful Horses'. Now the name refers only to a small area characterised by the weird and wonderful rock formations, some of which I am riding through, on a good-tempered grey called Bulu, in the company of Hasan Çalci, a local boy from Göreme who studied art and design in Italy and now runs one of the most beautiful of the cave hotels in Cappadocia.

All around us are tall thin pillars of honey-coloured rock which look like giant asparagus spears, or as most people seem to prefer, colossal phalluses. Indeed, so geologically aroused is the scenery that it's popularly known as The Valley of Love.

Millions of years ago a volcano, known to the ancient world as Mount Argaeus and now on my map as Erciyes Dagi, erupted, spewing lava across a wide area. The compressed ash solidified into a soft rock called tufa, which was easily eroded by the wind and rain, but of such complex composition that the erosion was never uniform and rather than whole valleys being scooped out and washed away, vertical columns of rock have been left standing, like trees that have survived a forest fire.

Not all resemble giant phalluses; there are tall conical shapes, rectangular slabs and thin columns with precarious, table-like basalt caps, eroding much more slowly, perched on top. And behind the rock faces are elaborate troglodyte networks which often provided refuges for those fleeing religious persecution.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Forty-three: Göreme, Cappadocia
  • Country/sea: Turkey
  • Place: Kayseri
  • Book page no: 108

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