Part and parcel of the Cappadocia landscape, Uçhisar is laden with two meanings in its prefix ‘uç’ meaning ‘tip’ and ‘to fly’, as in the region’s citadel that grazes the sky and its pigeons that turn flips in the air.
W hen the world was young and no humans yet inhabited the earth, the land was rocked by erupting volcanoes whose molten lava and thick ash covered everything. Rocks hurled from their craters fell to earth several kilometers away. As they cooled, the lava and ash hardened in time and turned to stone. Then the rains fell, much water washed over the stone, and harsh winds blew. A long time later Anatolia welcomed a people known as the Hittites, who regarded the extinct volcano of central Anatolia as sacred. They called it Hargaia, after a mountain goddess of the same name. Today we call that mountain Erciyes, a 3916-meter-high peak that changed the geological structure of Cappadocia together with its close neighbor Hasan Dağı, Erciyes gazes proudly over the earth. And as it does so, the wind and rain continue to do their work, giving rise to erosion which continues slowly to alter the character of Cappadocia even as I write. And mothers still braid their daughters’ hair in the style of the Hittites.
LIKE A WORM-EATEN APPLE!
To my mind Uçhisar is Cappadocia’s ‘scenic capital’. For unless you’re a bird, a balloon, a cloud or an airplane, the citadel at Uçhisar is the highest point from which you can survey this eerie landscape. A traveler entering the town at dawn might take one glance at the earth here and think the place was inhabited by fairies and djinns. The only difference being that they don’t materialize out of magic lamps but, if they appear at all, are conjured up from apertures in the citadel! Actually it’s stretching it a little to call this a citadel because it looks more like a gigantic rock in which treasure hunters never tire of boring holes. At dusk, when the sun hides sinks below the horizon and prepares to warm the children on the other side of the earth, you must climb to the top of Uçhisar citadel, which stands there like a worm-eaten apple, and savor the pleasure of being a traveler. You must watch as the lights come on one by one in the houses below, and the earth is transformed into a lunar landscape in the cool night air. And the moon, rising behind the citadel, turns it into a blood-red lantern, adding, in the words of poet Can Yücel, ‘a silvery touch’ to the scene.
If you’re a serious traveler and you’re not too tired already, take a nocturnal stroll on the paths winding down from the citadel. For this walk that you will take among the ‘fairy chimneys’ standing there like a gang of men in hoods will be so incredible that you will never be able to believe it for the rest of your life. If truth be told, Cappadocia takes on a rather frightening aspect in the cold and dark. At such moments I picture in my mind thousands of candles lined up around the pigeons’ nests being lit one by one. No offense to the moon, but nothing at Cappadocia can create such a spellbinding nocturnal landscape as the trembling glow of candles. But moon and candles notwithstanding, don’t forget to take along a flashlight on your evening stroll, and to wear heavy clothes.
PIGEONS BLOTTING OUT THE SUN
Uçhisar has one of the most beautiful hiking trails in all Cappadocia. You’ll know what I mean if you head down to the Valley of the Pigeons (Güvercinlik Vadisi) one morning at the crack of dawn. The valley soil, its fertility once enriched by the pigeons’ natural fertilizer, is home today to squash, apple trees, grape vines, woodpeckers and tortoises. As I listen to the wing beat of the pigeons rising from their nests, I recall the words of an elderly Uçhisar native: “There were so many pigeons around when I was a boy that they blotted out the sun when they took wing.”
The Valley of the Pigeons is riddled with tunnels hollowed out by rushing streams. These tunnels, easily passable by men and horses, offer hikers a form of natural air conditioning on hot days. Lined up side by side in the valley are the strange and giant formations that appear to have been shaped by human hands but which are entirely natural, created by a ‘different’ artist with no touch of the hands. Like a kaleidoscope they take on different shapes depending on your vantage point. If you take refuge in their shadow, you will see the tiny silhouette of Uçhisar Citadel far above you and think to yourself: “If a person saw these formations in a dream he wouldn’t believe it, but here he can actually walk among them!”
On this walk you are going to pass through one of those natural tunnels hollowed out by streams. The nocturnal moths lurking inside will take wing when they see you. But from here on out I’m leaving you on your own! Because I know that in order to get a real sense of Cappadocia a person needs to get lost among the fairy chimneys! So lose your way at least once in the Valley of the Pigeons and experience Cappadocia’s surprises until you get your bearings again. Let me give you one clue: one of the surprises might be the aroma of hot bread fresh from the oven of an Uçhisar woman!
THE GEOMETRY LESSON
In the beginning Uçhisar was a small village that sprang up around the Citadel. With time it grew, spreading down the hillside. Three different paths lead to the cave inside the Citadel, but only one of them is negotiable today. The three merge in a large chamber. Many of the narrow corridors inside the citadel have now either caved in or filled up with rubble. According to a local belief, underground passageways once led from below Uçhisar Citadel all the way to the Ihlara Valley. Who knows, perhaps one day research will prove this to be true. For now however the area around the Citadel is congested with shops selling souvenirs. Carpets, marble figurines, Avanos pottery, antique braziers, old-fashioned pistols, posters, mirrors, clothing, and many other items too numerous to mention, all await buyers at the stalls. If you study Cappadocia not as a ‘geography book’ but as a ‘geometry book’, you will see that it consists of two shapes: taut bows and triangles. The triangles created by the fairy chimneys and their ‘hats’, and the bow-shaped roofs of the dovecotes, houses and churches are the components of this geometry. But one day as you are sitting on the terrace of an Uçhisar house sipping your coffee, you will see a pigeon turning flips in the sky and you will know that it is giving you a secret geometry lesson with its wings. What else could the circles it traces in the air possibly signify?