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New Europe

Day Forty-four: Göreme

Michael Palin - New EuropeOne of the best ways to see the spectacular Cappadocian landscape is from a balloon, and I'm all prepared to go up at first light this morning when the telephone by my bed rings and I'm given the bad news that our ascent has been cancelled owing to strong winds and the likelihood of snow.

Having sustained mild sunburn on the horseback ride yesterday, this comes as something of a shock, but when I peer out of the window there is no rosy-fingered dawn, but a leaden grey sky and a hissing wind that turn this eccentric landscape of rock stacks and fissured stone columns from friendly to vaguely sinister.

In Göreme the gift shops have their wares out, but few people are buying. Walk up the hill to meet up with a German anthropologist and his wife who keep a guest house called The Fairy Chimney Hotel. It sounds a bit whimsical but there is a sound historical background to the idea of fairy chimneys. The Turks who rediscovered this area after much of it had been abandoned looked with some awe at the rock towers, many of which had small holes in the top where birds nested. They concluded, quite rightly, that no human beings could live up there, but, rather less rightly, that the inhabitants must therefore be fairies.

Andus Emge is a bit of a lone wolf amongst anthropologists. Trained at Heidelberg, his speciality was vernacular architecture, adobe mud dwellings, that sort of thing. He first came here as a student twenty years ago at a time when the Turkish government was encouraging those living in caves, fairy chimneys and the like, to resettle into newly built conventional houses. He returned in the 1990s, when the prevailing wisdom had begun to change. UNESCO had declared this both a World Heritage and Landscape Heritage area (leading, says Andus, to a double dose of bureaucratic confusion) and insisted that the old rock dwellings should be lived in after all, at the same time imposing restrictions on materials and design that put many people off.

In 1997 Andus paid the local council 25 euros rent a year and began work on a property that had been abandoned for so long that it was widely assumed to be haunted. He's done wonders, but there are aspects that would give any health and safety inspector minor heart failure.

Andus' workroom, for instance, is only accessible from a steep and narrow outside staircase with no rail of any kind to hold onto. A small hobbit-like door through which you have to bend double to enter gives onto a warm and womb-like room carved out of the rock. A cave it might be, but it's a cave with ADSL broadband access and the first I see of Andus, he's illuminated by the light from an Apple Mac screen.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Forty-four: Göreme
  • Country/sea: Turkey
  • Place: Göreme
  • Book page no: 110

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