Kapadokya (Cappadocia) is a must, everyone said. Fairytale landscapes — no wait, fairy chimneys. Rock with windows and doors. Pay the big bucks, they said, to stay in a cave hotel. Do take a balloon ride. Booked a room in April, paid the big bucks, nonrefundable, in advance, the for us outlandish price of $325 a night. For two nights. I had no clue what the attraction was. Staying in a cave — it sounded dank and dark and full of night terrors. What kind of people would live there?
We approached from the west via Nevşehir. It’s when driving into the town of Ürgüp you first notice how different it is from any any landscape you’ve ever beheld. Rolling mounds of sugary rock and pointy red rock:
You might think this is an eroded landscape compounded of basalt and limestone. It’s not limestone, nor is it sandstone. Not, in other words, sedimentary in nature.
You’re on an upland plain seemingly composed of an almost white rock that looks as though it had been poured and then heavily eroded by both wind and water. It forms a deeply scored escarpment that steps down to a lower plain.
Part of Ürgüp is built into the sides of a mass known as the Esbelli Rock, which strangely looks lived in:
Our destination, Kayakapı Premium Caves, is on the other side of Esbelli Rock. You have to go around. Near the entrance a little road goes under a bridge near a precariously balanced red rock:
The road winds in:
The rock face, unweathered where evidently cut to put the road in, is of the same beautiful golden colouring we saw in town:
The manager welcomed us and after the usual formalities and transactions said we had been upgraded. A five-room suite unfolded. We gaped like bumpkins. It felt like winning a TV game show. The Price is Right!
We were surrounded by soft stone with few straight lines — where doors were put in — and beautiful lines and swirls of colour to which these do not do justice (whereas the hotel website gallery does):
Plus our own little private yard and house:
The place was not at all dank either. It was so dry, the clothes Paula washed dried overnight in closets with louvered doors.
We had our own guy. The staffer, in business uniform, who showed us around gave us his cel number and said in effect that he was ours to command. I wanted to say, That brown jacket doesn’t work. Go change.
Breakfast — an elaborate buffet spread, plus eggs etc to order — was served in an attractive dining-caveroom. We dined in one evening, had the usual pasta and salad and bread, and it was ample and good. The service was intense. Drop a fork — sproing, another is at your elbow.
As we got our bearings, the story of this establishment came to light.
Kayakapı was the name of the community formerly resident of this area of Ürgüp. (Took a while to pronounce i-without-a-dot right: it’s “Kayacapuh,” with a gutteral undertone so that it ends more like “euh.”) The website of the resort traces the history and geography of the area over more than two hundred years:The Neighbourhood took the architectural form of today in the 18th and 19th Centuries following the “Tulip Era” marked by Damat Ibrahim Pasha of Nevsehir, the Grand Vezir of the Ottoman Empire. During this period, Kayakapı also known as “Landowners’ Neighbourhood” in Ürgüp, was adorned by large mansions of the five Aghas (Landowners) who prospered thanks to iltizam (privilege of collecting taxes on behalf of the Emperor) and their families.
One of the interesting features of “the then cosmopolitan city of Ürgüp” were the rock churches — not built of rock: carved into rock — used by the Orthodox population:which give rise to thought that there may have been Christian life in the area much earlier periods, plus the structure whose original name was Eset Agha’s Mansion, also known as House of Saint John the Russian, referring to a Greek “folk saint.” Kayakapı and House of Saint John the Russian, is today one of the stops of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Istanbul at his annual visit to Cappadocia.
In 1969, the Kayakapı Neighbourhood was zoned a Disaster Area by the Turkish government. All residents were evacuated by 1984.
The area was included in a World Heritage site, Göreme National Park and the Cappadocia Rocky Areas, established in 1985. As the idea of restoring the neighbourhood for tourism took root, geologic testing led to cancellation of the Disaster Area in 2000. The Cultural and Natural Heritage Preservation Board of Nevşehir Province extended protection to the “urban” part, 182 properties in 6.5 acres of the 27-acre neighbourhood. Enter the Dinler family of Ürgüp, operators of a chain of hotels, who created a company, the Kayakapı Tourism Investment Trade Inc. (Kayakapı Premium Caves – Cappadocia). It provided the capital for the municipality of Ürgüp to buy the land and now leases the properties the hotel occupies. So began the Kayakapı Project partnership.
An inventory of the neighbourhood revealed its nature and extent:421 units of traditional buildings made by rock carving and masonry techniques and organically integrated with each other. In addition, there are monumental and civil buildings such as churches, mosques, baths, fountains, housing etc., in part currently registered or proposed to be registered and 20 units of cultural and natural property consisting of dovecote and chimney rocks to be protected.
The Kayakapı Project enables visitors to “experience the old cave houses and original life of Kayakapı Neighbourhood with modern touches.”
The blackened ceilings now made sense — these rooms had been lived in.
One can’t help but notice the name of this lodging, Kayakapı Premium Caves, does not reveal its nature. The website makes the startling claim that “Kayakapı is not a cave hotel” —It is a cultural & historical project which aims conserving and restoring a cultural / natural valued historical neighborhood. By this restoration project we aim to bring up a historical establishment at the area with high international standards. We are glad to announce that we are supported by UNESCO and WHC (World Heritage Center) for this project.
A search for the nature and amount of material support from UNESCO has turned up nothing so far.
Workmen used the steeply inclined driveway all day as the restoration work continues.
It took us a while to get over the urge to spend the whole two days in our cave. Next day we drove south to see an underground city and the Ihlara Valley, where dozens of churches were carved into the rock beginning in the 10th century.
Meanwhile the nature of these strange landscapes of inhabited rock became clearer.