Rock of ages
Mysterious dwellings in central Turkey whisper tales of times long past
Story and photos by Mona Frastaci
(CNN) -- Cappadocia, in central Turkey, is a region of steppe land that might be easy to think of as barren and remote -- even though it is less than 200 miles (300 kilometers) from Turkey's capital, Ankara. Cappadocia sits amid arid brown hills as far as the eye can see, and has none of the bustle of the markets and mosques of Istanbul. But don't let the location discourage you -- Cappadocia's charm lies beneath the surface, in its ancient subterranean cities and in churches carved into natural rock towers and cliffs.
Thousands of people once lived in the underground cities of Cappadocia (pronounced "cap-uh-DOH-kee-uh"), where a myriad of underground tunnels, rooms, passageways and stairwells link visitors to far-flung chapters of civilization.
Two underground cities, Kaymakli and Derinkuyu, have been excavated up to eight levels deep and are open to visitors today. With a little imagination, one can envision the culture that once persisted here. Living areas, kitchens, stables, stores, churches and cemeteries would have bustled with activity; water wells and storage rooms large enough to hold months-long supplies of grain would have been stocked.
Passageways and steep, winding staircases slither through a labyrinth of tunnels and rooms, and huge stone disks could be rolled into place to block off passageways in the event of an attack.
Today the passages are lit by bare light bulbs along the walls, and tourists' voices echo through the vacant surroundings. The person walking in front of you can turn a corner and appear floors above or below just seconds later, then emerge next to you from a different passageway. Sounds that seem to be coming from afar might be just around the corner, and sounds that you think are just around the bend can be coming from hundreds of yards away.
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