Göreme was once a remote and tiny village partially carved out of and partially built from the local sandstone with an economy which ingeniously created agriculture in a barren land with the support of pigeon-shit fertilizer. Today it is a tourist center feeling nearly as well visited as Istanbul and populated by coffee shops, tour and hot air balloon companies and ATV rentals. Then and now, however it is a visually breath-taking landscape of strange rock towers carved with mysterious openings. I insulated myself somewhat from the tourist nature of the place by arriving by an unconventional route. Rather than flying from Istanbul or taking the common 12 hour overnight bus ride, I left Istanbul by ferry headed for Bursa, got myself from the coast line into the city via city bus, metro and dolmus (mini-bus), took a long distance bus from Bursa to Eskisehir and high speed train from there to Ankara where I spent a night. Then I took a bus from the Ankara Otogar to Goreme along with a lot of Turkish families planning to spend a weekend in scenic Cappadocia. So when I arrived at Disney Göreme and found that most of my fellow visitors had flown here and were lining up their bus tours and early morning balloon rides I was a little startled. Still I managed to keep off the beaten path pretty well. I started by taking a wander around the town in the afternoon and just absorbing as much as I could.
The second day I spent the morning walking to and around the Göreme Open Air Museum, a collection of Byzantine area rock cut churches and dwellings all protected under one organizational umbrella. Again, my fellow tourists (and their associated buses, cafes and bricabrac were thick on the ground but I managed to steer pretty clear and the Museum was well worth a visit. This area was once almost entirely Greek speaking but in 1923 Greece and Turkey agreed on a mutual population exchange in which they forcibly rounded up Greek speaking (and Greek Orthodox conforming) communities in Turkey and Turkish speaking Muslim communities in Greece were evicted from their homes and transferred to the opposite countries. This was intended to strengthen the nation-state status of the two new countries, which may have worked, but it also displaced nearly a million people and must have been intensely traumatic. I haven’t been able to figure out to what extent all these old rock cut churches were abandoned before that exchange but Cappadocia was certainly stripped of its Greek Orthodox culture from that point onward.
After visiting the museum I filled two water bottles and went wandering around a couple of nearby valleys. If it looks from these pictures like its a very hot dry and slightly barren landscape … it is. (If it doesn’t look that way, there’s something wrong with my camera). I took breaks out of the sun as often as I could in the shade-less country and occasionally wrapped the scarf that I keep handy in Turkey for cultural reasons – entering mosques, being in conservative neighborhoods – around my face to keep out the blowing dust. Although I never really broke a stroll all day I had to drink about three liters of water and came home at the end of the day smelling not so much of sweat as of salt. I’m still re-hydrating. Still it was lovely – particularly as the sun started to go down. This is truly an amazing place. I totally see what the fuss is about.