I’ve rarely had an experience as exhilarating as the balloon ride in Cappadocia! Arriving at the departure site I felt like we were at a balloon festival. So many balloons being inflated and rising from the drifted snow. The cold has been brutal but I felt fortunate to see the “fairy chimneys” from an aerial vantage point, blanketed in snow.
The Cappadocia region is famous for the rock formations called fairy chimneys. Volcanoes deposited a thick layer of ash that solidified into “tuff”. Wind and erosion masterfully created the whimsical landscape.
During Roman times, Christians fled to this region to escape persecution. They cleverly realized that tuff was extremely malleable and carved into the rock formations to build homes. From the air you can spot larger chimneys equipped with windows. People lived in these homes until the 1950’s-60’s. Because the tuff continues to erode, they aren’t sustainable housing.
For increased refuge, the Christians built entire underground cities equipped with kitchens, schools, and even wine presses. Ventilation shafts were disguised as wells and large stones were used to prevent passage. The city we entered is a labyrinth of passageways, eight stories deep and housed 5,000 people!
The most famous group of churches carved into rock is in Goreme where many frescoes are still intact. These frescoes are unique because they were painted directly on the stone. They also mixed the paint with pigeon droppings instead of egg which is used traditionally. Pictures aren’t allowed, but the attendant has a nice side hustle. He grabbed my phone and took pictures! That’s why they’re a bit out of focus.
In a place called Urgup, there’s a grouping of three fairy chimneys that spawned a legend about a king and his beautiful daughter. When the queen died, the king became obsessed with his daughter. It was the desire of all young men to marry the charming princess, but she fell in love with a shepherd. The king didn’t approve of the marriage so the princess escaped and married the shepherd. When they had a child, she thought they could visit the king and he would be pleased to have a grandchild. Instead, he sent soldiers after the family to kill them. The princess prayed to God for safety and he converted them to stone. Hence the chimneys are called “The Three Graces” and symbolize the princess, her husband, and child.
We were lucky enough to stay in Hotel Sofa for three blissful nights. The rooms were spacious and the common spaces were filled with unique accessories and antiques. Everyone was generous and kind. I would love to return someday.