Cave consciousness: how the inhabitants of Turkish dungeons live

Our primitive ancestors lived in caves because they didn't know how to build houses yet. Many residents of Cappadocia even today prefer tuff vaults to the walls of modern apartments

Around the World went to Turkey to find out what is good in such a life.

Cave consciousness: how the inhabitants of Turkish dungeons live

Grandma Arife loves guests and is ready to pose for the camera. And grandfather Mustafa grumbles that decent women do not allow tourists to photograph their face. A steep path trodden in stone descends from the cliff to the entrance to their cave. A small yard on the site in front of the rock is cleanly swept and fenced with vines, a satellite dish was attached in the corner. Arife and Mustafa are troglodytes, cave dwellers.

A cave with a view

You can't enter a traditional Cappadocian cave without bowing: a very low doorway. Previously, such passages served as additional protection from uninvited guests. Many caves in the Goreme Valley were dug by people as early as the 4th century: early Christians hid from persecution in such dwellings. It was difficult for tall Roman soldiers in full combat attire to penetrate the narrow labyrinths.

The three-room cave went to Mustafa after the death of his father: the fourth generation of the family lives on this piece of land, received during the time of Ataturk. . At my house, even bread and grapes do not spoil for weeks, to say nothing about me. – He beats his chest with his fist and laughs.

It was no coincidence that the first settlers liked the local rocks made of volcanic tuff: the rock is so easy to work that only a pick and a shovel are enough to create a living space. At the same time, the pliable tuff hardens in air and soon after the completion of the work it ceases to crumble. But its main advantage is natural climate control: in summer it is cool in such caves, and in winter it is warm.

– When we were young, we lived in modern houses, but we didn’t like it, we moved a lot, – says grandmother to Arife. – It is either cold, or stuffy, or there is little space, or it is expensive. And when we arrived here, it was just right. I rarely leave the cave, except perhaps for the market once a week.

Cave consciousness: how the inhabitants of Turkish dungeons live

Being in her house you won’t think that you are in a cave: carpets hang on the whitewashed walls, woven napkins are laid out on cabinets and bedside tables, a knitted bedspread is spread on the sofa. Canaries in cages shout over the announcer from the TV, double-glazed windows are inserted into the windows.

“Here, almost nothing has changed since my father’s time,” Mustafa says. “We only whitewashed the walls, updated the windows and the threshold. And plumbing and electricity were installed thirty years ago, directly from the city. Such a house does not require repairs.

Cave consciousness: how the inhabitants of Turkish dungeons live

The Cave of the Old Men is traditionally divided into male and female parts: in the men there is a TV set and stove, but the women's room overlooks Göreme Valley, over which hot air balloons fly in the mornings. A separate entrance leads to the  inner courtyard  avla, where a woman can do household chores, hidden from prying eyes. Here, Arife has her own garden. Even in winter, green onion feathers break through the gray stony soil.

“This land is, as it were, ours and, as it were, state land,” says Arife. “We own it, we can leave it to our grandchildren, but we must pay rent to the government. The rent is small, because this cave is not a historical monument. But if we wanted to sell our rights to it, we could buy an apartment in Istanbul with a view of the Bosphorus.

– Would you like to live in Istanbul? – I ask my grandmother.

— No, —she laughs, —it is noisy and there are no caves.

As I select a souvenir doll that Arife makes for sale, my grandmother shows me an embroidered headdress she wore before her wedding more than fifty years ago. And he asks to take a picture of her until he sees grandfather Mustafa.

– I would like to be as beautiful when I grow old, – I say to Arifa.

– This is because I I live in a cave, – answers the grandmother. – We are all handsome and long-lived here.

A cave with traditions

“Live longer, live better, in my house, sweet cave.” A scan of the New York Times publication dated May 2, 1997 with this headline is taped to the wall of a cave carved into a tuff pillar near the Uchhisar fortress. Ismail Kutlugyun, the owner of this cone-shaped natural formation, is smiling from the photo, of which there are many. They are called “fairy chimneys” – peribajalars (peribacaları).

I did not find Ismail's cave right away, the locals showed me the way. Here, many do not have postal addresses: postmen know each cave dweller by sight, so it is enough to indicate the valley and the name of the recipient on envelopes and parcels.

Cave consciousness: how the inhabitants of Turkish dungeons live

Ismail is sitting in the living room, his wife Imine is pouring tea into glass cups, armuds.

“Do you see the niches in the walls where the old crockery is placed? These are pigeon perches,” says Ismail. “Once there was an old Christian monastery here, and in these caves its inhabitants kept pigeons: bird droppings were used as fertilizer. The monks grew grapes and made wine. But that was a long time ago, even before the Ottoman Empire. And when they were driven away, the Turks occupied the caves. I have never lived elsewhere. I was born in this cave, and I will die in it.

Ismail is the eldest of two brothers in the family, so he always knew that he would get the tuff house. Its peribajalars have eight floors: the higher you climb, the smaller the room.

“Look, people used to live here in every cave,” standing with me on the balcony of the second floor, Ismail points to a forest of tuff cones that look like giant termite mounds. “There was a whole village. Over there is the Imine family's house. She is also the daughter of troglodytes, we grew up together since childhood. When I was little, the inhabitants of the caves kept chickens, goats and even cows: the lower floor was used as a barn. And then, in the 1980s, the authorities announced a general resettlement. Many were given apartments in Nevsehir. And my cave turned out to be the strongest, only I was allowed to stay, but it was forbidden to keep livestock. Now Imine and I are alone here.

Cave consciousness: how the inhabitants of Turkish dungeons live

I follow Ismail across the yard to another rock, to look at the winter apartments – the former monastery wineries. In them, the rooms are smaller and the corridors go deeper into the rock. In the floor of the kitchen, concurrently the main room in the house, a hearth is hollowed out, similar to a huge bowl with a narrow neck. When food is cooked here, the whole cave warms up at the same time. True, Ismail has not used these apartments for a long time: in the cold season, he simply heats the metal potbelly stoves in the summer rooms with coal and firewood.

— My distant ancestors were nomads. Here one scientist from Ankara came and said that the tradition of dividing dwellings into summer and winter ones is also an echo of nomadic life. Like seasonal pastures. Or do you see such a specially made dent in the center of the ceiling? This is gobek, “navel” in our opinion, it happens in tents. Only I tell him: I am not a nomad, here is my story. If you run away from your history, there will be nothing to pass on to children.

—Are young people ready to live in caves? —I ask.

— No, – Ismail sighs, -because young people need universities, offices and clubs. All this is only in big cities. And in our valleys there is nothing but history, so they are leaving. There is only one hope for tourists: young Turks take everything from foreigners, and they can infect them with the fashion for cave life. I like to look at foreign guests when they enter my house for the first time, furtively touching the walls, sniffing the air and looking at the ceiling with apprehension: lest it collapse. Exactly the same way I behave in a modern apartment. It's funny, I guess. I often offer travelers to spend the night at my place, to taste the exotic. Only this is all unofficial: I don’t have money yet for the certificates necessary to open a hotel.

1/5In tuff caves, high humidity, and this contributes to erosion. While people lived there, they heated their houses, laid carpets and thus protected the walls from destruction along the way

A cave with tourists

Hakan Bey, owner of the Wings hotel, saved up for special permits for the reconstruction of the caves for twenty-five years. For more than twenty years he worked as a manager in the best hotels in Istanbul, saved up money and finally managed to buy a building built over the historical caves in Nevsehir for his hotel. Khakan. – I had to issue a lot of permits. In the caves of Cappadocia, you can’t even drive a nail without a certificate, and we needed not only to expand the rooms for the convenience of guests, but also to place hammams in them, decorate the walls with bas-reliefs.

Cave consciousness: how the inhabitants of Turkish dungeons live

After in 1985 UNESCO included the Goreme National Park and other cave settlements of Cappadocia in the World Heritage List, habitual dwellings for many turned into historical monuments. With all the rules of use attached to them: according to Turkish law, damage to historical monuments can lead to two to five years in prison.

“The law applies even to those who live in caves from generation to generation. At first, the ban was not taken seriously, but in 1992 the government made it clear that it was not joking: then shepherds were imprisoned for two years, who hollowed out sleeping niches for themselves in one of the caves in the Göreme valley. They were illiterate, they did not know that they were spoiling the historical value. After this incident, the inhabitants of Cappadocia began to take care of their caves very carefully.

If the owner of the cave wants to change something in his home, he must first obtain a certificate that the cave is not a historical monument. The reconstruction plan is approved by the state architect. A separate permit is required for each stage of construction.

A special commission monitors the progress of work and may come with inspections for several years. And if one of the local residents informs the police about changes in the external appearance of the cave, then this is a reason to come and check all the documents. But bureaucratic difficulties do not stop those who want to “build” their business in the caves.

— Architecturally, Cappadocia is a unique place, – says Hakan. – See how our natural formations are similar to the creations of a Catalan Antonio Gaudi. He was inspired by this place, as was the French architect Le Corbusier.

Every year the number of cave hotels in Cappadocia is growing. Former stables, dovecotes, warehouses and wine cellars become rooms of expensive hotels. But real troglodytes are becoming less and less.

“The old people are dying,” continues Hakan, “the caves are inherited by the young. And children are not ready to create home comfort with their own hands, because you can’t buy standard furniture in a cave. Plus, all these carpets, runners, bedspreads … Factory products look ridiculous in a cave, and almost no one knows the skill of our grandmothers. Here are the young and sell their inheritance to hotels or foreigners. And these foreigners then tell us what we are losing.

Cave consciousness: how the inhabitants of Turkish dungeons live

The guide Cesar told me the same thing when we drove past the whole area once inhabited, but now abandoned caves – with black gaps of empty windows, with broken balconies:

— Recently, ethnographers from Italy came to Cappadocia. They told the school of guides how important it is to study the life of people who live in caves for generations. And I remembered that five years ago we had a couple of old people in our neighbors – I even took tourists to them once. Everyone was going to ask them about how they live now and how they used to live, but there was no time. And now the old people are dead: first he, then she. Grandchildren came, took away things, in the rock of that they opened a souvenir pottery shop.

Treasure Cave

One of the most popular places in Avanos is the store of Shaban Topuz, whose seven generations of ancestors were engaged in pottery. The basement caves of his workshop are like Aladdin's treasury: a labyrinth of rooms, each filled with amazing jugs, plates and pots.

“Once upon a time in Cappadocia, it was impossible to get married if you didn’t know how to work with clay,” says Shaban, spinning the potter’s wheel. carpets. Then the bride's parents went to the groom's house and asked him to make a sugar bowl for them. And this is one of the most difficult works!

Shaban takes a piece of clay and with deft movements of his fingers turns it into an elegant pot.

– First, the base is made, and then the lid. Test for the master: the lid should fit right away, without trying it on. But this is not the main thing, & nbsp; – Shaban takes a freshly molded sugar bowl with a perfectly fitted lid and cuts the product in half with one movement of the knife. – The main thing is that the walls of the sugar bowl be the same thickness everywhere. And if the parents are not satisfied with the work of the groom, he will be denied marriage.

Cave consciousness: how the inhabitants of Turkish dungeons live

In the caves of Shaban there is enough space for an exhibition of ceramics, and for furnaces, and for a working area where men create dishes on potter's wheels. Fired blanks are already painted by women, but they do it at home, in underground rooms. In Avanos, most of the buildings are built on top of caves. No one has lived in them for a long time, but the premises are used for warehouses, shops or workshops.

“The tourist popularity of Cappadocia, on the one hand, helped the caves, on the other hand, it played a cruel joke on them,” Shaban believes. “Yes, many ancient frescoes were saved in this way. But no one counts the caves that this hype destroys. Here they built a road for tourist buses to the underground city-museum of Derinkuyu, and it passes exactly above the caves. And every day the historical monument is subjected to a huge load, the walls crack and crumble. Some areas have been completely resettled to preserve them. But here's the bad luck: walk through the city – you will see empty towers, full of holes, like Swiss cheese. In tuff caves, high humidity, and this contributes to erosion. While people lived there, they heated their houses, laid carpets and thus protected the walls from destruction along the way.

Shaban is proud of his caves, although he did not inherit them. Ten years ago, the potter bought the cellars from several Turkish families, united them into one labyrinth gallery, and carved niches and cabinets for dishes in the walls himself.

“An old potter revealed a secret to me,” Shaban smiles slyly. “The one who owns the cave owns happiness. Only now he learned this secret when he lost his “fairy chimney” and moved to a new modern house.. All because the houses were planned and built by visiting architects. Life in them is more expensive than in cave settlements. In winter, the apartments are not warm enough: you have to spend money on central heating. It's stuffy in summer: you have to turn on the air conditioner, and these are new expenses. In the old days, cabinets and shelves were hollowed out right into the wall of the cave, and in new dwellings you need to put furniture that takes up extra space.

“Young people now have either depression or stress,” says Shaban, “they have lost their place and don’t even know what to look for. Toil, the poor, in apartment buildings. I was lucky: I realized it in time. Working with your hands and living in caves is the key to a happy longevity. And if any person can always arrange the first, then only we, in Cappadocia, have the second.

Cave consciousness: how the inhabitants of Turkish undergrounds live

Göreme, Nevsehir Province, Turkey

Göreme National Park Area ~ 100 km²
Nevsehir Province Area 5467 km²
Population< /strong> ~300,000 people
Population density 55 persons/km²

Area of ​​Turkey 783,562 km² (36th in the world)
Population ~ 84.7 million people (18th place)
Population density 110 people/km²

ATTRACTIONSunderground cities of Kaymakli and Derinkuyu, Pigeon Valley, Uchisar Fortress, National Goreme Park.
TRADITIONAL DISHEStesti kebab (meat with vegetables in a pot), gozleme (a thin flatbread that can be stuffed with spinach, cheese, etc.), lentil soup, dolma.
TRADITIONAL DRINKS pomegranate tea, Cappadocian wine.
SOUVENIRShandmade dolls in traditional dress, a Hittite wine jug in the shape of a ring, onyx dice.

DISTANCE from Moscow to Nevsehir ~ 1900 km (from 4 hours 15 minutes in flight excluding transfers in Istanbul), then 40 km by road to Goreme
TIMEcoincides with Moscow
VISARussians do not need
CURRENCYTurkish lira (10 TRY ~ 0.7 USD)

Photo: Konstantin Chalabov

Material published in Vokrug Sveta magazine No. 7, July 2019, partially updated in May 2022

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