Derinkuyu + Ihlara Valley

It takes a full day to drive from Urgup to tour two outstanding Kapadokyan sites well to the south: the underground city at Derinkuyu and the Ihlara Valley of a hundred medieval cave churches. Nearly 100 kilometres one way — more if you miss the turn-off from D302 to D765 and have to go through busy Nevsehir — the drive to Ihlara is on back roads through farmland. The scenery is interesting, and snowcapped Hasan Dagi (or is it Melendiz Dagi?) is ahead of you much of the way. Then again, the Ihlara Valley is 16 km long, and if you plan to walk the entire length and explore the cave churches, you’re looking at an overnighter. (In three or so hours we went only a few kilometres down the river trail and deadheaded back.)

0 Kap mapThanks to Google Maps. (BTW the green Goreme Tarihi Milli Parki [Goreme National Historic Park] seems to have shrunk, at least compared to the map published on the internet by Turkey’s Mineral Research & Exploration General Directorate.)

The underground city of Derinkuyu, 43 kilometres south of Urgup, is one of those places that sneaks up on you and leaves your jaw hangin down. Derinkuyu is a smallish town and poor, judging by the hungry looks from the hardscrabble bazaar lining the approach.

Derinkuyu plaqueDerinkuyu plaque, unknown location, with what looks to be a floor plan. Borrowed from website Kapadokya’da bulunabilir turistik harita ve tabela koleksiyonu.

The eight-storey (or 11 according to The Travel Bunny) subterranean complex was excavated by Hittites — or perhaps by Phrygians — as early as ca. 800 BCE. We went down to Level 3, I think. There was an airshaft — the air was fresh and dry. The idea I guess was to elude the many invaders that rolled through Cappadocia in ancient and medieval times.

0 Derinkuyu elevation cartoonDerinkuyu cross-sectional map. Borrowed from “Deep Inside Derinkuyu – Underground City by Suzanne Lea Jones, Travelbunny weblog.

Here is a stone that could be rolled shut and locked:

0593 stone door

There were spacious interiors:

0594 underground

But also one staircase that makes my heart race just to think of — long, 30 or so steps; narrow, strictly one way, you meet someone and you or that someone has to back up; low, my packpack scraping against the ceiling while I tried to walk like a duck, seriously bent knees; dark, couldn’t see anything but the shadow of the person in front. Here come some people behind, they’re talking excitedly and acting pushy; the worst thing would be to have people like that on both sides, neither side wanting to back up, and no way to communicate among a babble of Japanese, Turkish, German, English. My heart pounds at the thought. Claustrophobe nightmare.

We did emerge intact and drove on to the Ihlara Valley, across stark open uplands, then through a village, poor, that bends around a spur of the canyon. Driving on, we came to a parking lot (charge), then a long walk downhill to the entrance, with finally a 300-odd step staircase down to the valley floor. I’m guessing the walls of the canyon are 100 metres high. It was hotter there. A creek gurgled beside the trail. Cottonwoods were shedding their cotton. The undergrowth was desert-like. Not too many flowers, but birdsong. The occasional lizard.

We explored one church:

0595 church door 0596 plaque 0597 opening 0598 Paula

A few kilometres downriver, we came upon an opening where agriculture and the entrepreneurial combined delightfully into a place of refreshment with mother’s home cooking. We had some fresh-squeezed orange juice and decided to turn around there. Those 300 steps waiting for us.

Here’s how we look at a lookout, thanks to a couple from Los Angeles:

0602 pose

 In the distance at left you can see the opening of the cave church depicted above. We had to climb through the scree to get there.

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