We marvel at the fascinating landscape of Cappadocia from high above in a balloon...and from deep below, prowling an underground city where Christians once hid out. We'll join a circumcision party, explore troglodyte ghost towns, shop for sheep at the market, and chat with an imam. Then we enjoy the modern capital, Ankara, and pay our respects to the father of modern Turkey, Atatürk.
Hi, I'm Rick Steves, back with more travels.
This time, we're venturing east of Europe
and, with the help of a lot of hot air,
we're experiencing the breathtaking best
of Central Turkey.
Thanks for joining us.
A great way to pump up your European vacation thrills
is to travel east to Turkey.
For 20 years, I've been taking tour groups here
because I think it's important for Americans to get to know
a moderate and secular Islamic society, and because it's fun.
In this episode, we'll marvel at the dramatic landscape
from high above...
and from deep below.
We'll drop in on a circumcision party
and explore troglodyte ghost towns.
Shop for sheep at the market
and chat with an imam.
We'll check in with today's urban scene in the capital city
and finish by paying our respects
to the father of modern Turkey,
In the Eastern Mediterranean,
Turkey, the size of Texas,
links Europe with the Middle East and Asia.
We'll explore the region of Cappadocia
and side trip to Guzelyurt
before traveling to the capital,
Turkey has 75 million people.
While the vast majority are practicing Muslims,
its citizens have a constitution
that requires the separation of mosque and state.
In this episode, we'll experience both the modern
and the traditional here in Central Turkey.
We start in Cappadocia.
While a fascinating parade of cultures
has shaped the history of this ancient land,
it's the striking geology that first grabs your attention.
Cappadocia is famous for its exotic-looking terrain,
especially these rock formations
called fairy chimneys.
Centuries of volcanic eruptions left huge boulders
atop layers of hardened volcanic ash.
As the softer rock eroded,
the harder rocks were left precariously balanced
atop the pinnacles
that have become the icons of Cappadocia.
A wonderful way to appreciate this bizarre landscape
is from above.
That's why, for me,
the most exciting balloon ride anywhere in or near Europe
is here in Cappadocia.
You get up before sunrise
and gather on a desolate field
that's become a hive of activity.
Nearly every morning, the scene's the same,
as noisy burners are fired up
and balloons filled.
Climbing into the basket, you meet your captain.
- Good morning, everybody! - Morning.
- Hi, Mustafa. - My name is Mustafa.
Your pilot was sick, so I will fly you today.
This will be my first day in aviation.
- I'm really excited. - [Laughter]
With the sound of a fire-breathing dragon,
you skim the grass and slowly lift off.
While scary for some, the feeling I get
is one of graceful stability, with majestic views.
Soon, scores of tourist-filled balloons
share the sky in silent wonder.
The terrain below is a forest of pinnacles,
honeycombed with ancient dwellings,
which we'll visit later.
Pilots skillfully maximize
the drama of this unforgettable landscape.
Back on the ground, the terrain invites exploration.
People have carved communities
into these formations for thousands of years.
While many of these evocative caves are abandoned,
many cave settlements have grown into thriving towns,
whose main industry is clearly tourism.
For extra guidance, we're joined by my friend
and fellow tour guide, Lale Surmen Aran.
For years, Lale's led our bus tour groups around Turkey,
and for this itinerary, she's joining us.
ARAN: While mainly Muslim today, Anatolia was Christian
for five centuries before Islam even arrived.
Early Christians had to take shelter.
They had to had to hide from the ancient Roman persecutions.
They had to hide from the 7th century Arab invasions.
And the landscape around here provided the perfect hideout.
STEVES: It really does.
And to actually see what Lale's talking about,
we're descending into Kaymakli,
a completely underground city dug out of the rock.
Much of Kaymakli
was originally dug in Hittite times,
over 1,000 years before Christ.
Later, this underground world provided an almost
Through the centuries,
when invading armies passed through the area,
entire communities lived down here for months at a stretch.
In ancient times, Christians were persecuted
and actually did go, literally, underground.
This is a remarkable example of their determination
to live free and true to their faith.
Imagine, 300 AD, hiding out down here with your family.
In fact, hiding out down here with your entire community.
And people up there hunting you down.
Tourists are free to explore
the networks of streets and plazas.
You'll find kitchens...
cramped living spaces...
massive, roll-away-the-stone doors...
and ingenious ventilation shafts
to bring fresh air to the many
They could have made these tunnels bigger,
but that was part of the plan.
It certainly made any invader vulnerable.
And to conserve oxygen,
candlelight was kept to a minimum.
It must have been a long, dark wait.
But for us, it's back to fresh air and sunshine.
We're on our way again.
As time went on, sprawling communities
still digging caves for homes
inhabited entire valleys like Zelve.
Around the 10th century,
Zelve was one of scores of similar cave communities
here in Cappadocia.
Cleverly, they wrung a livelihood
out of this parched land.
Caves served as ancient condominiums,
with holes dug out as cooking pits.
In addition to living spaces,
they were also equipped with natural pantries,
cubbyholes carved out for storage of food and wine.
Big, animal-powered stone wheels ground grain.
People ingeniously used whatever nature offered them.
Pigeon droppings were collected,
providing valuable fertilizer to assure a good harvest
in the valley below.
Imagine this place centuries ago.
It was a thriving community, thousands of people,
families everywhere, old people,
little kids running up and down these stairs,
borrowing salt from the neighbors.
And people lived here till the 1950s.
Nearby, in the town of Urgup,
it's market day, another chance to appreciate the culture.
Wherever you travel, exploring a vibrant scene like this
gives a fine insight into how the people live,
what they grow...
ARAN: Take it, Rick. It's natural honey.
STEVES: And just eat this whole thing?
...what they eat...
Who needs baklava, huh? This is nice.
It tastes like honey.
...and how they interact.
STEVES: Nice, beautiful spices, huh?
ARAN: Yes, local spices.
They sell them both powdered and rough.
And you can grind it at home whenever you need it.
On the fringe of the marketplace,
you can even buy livestock.
-How old is this little goat? -One and a half months old.
ARAN: He can give you a good deal for the goat.
STEVES: Yeah, how much?
-The twin and the mother. -I just want the one baby.
I think this little guy likes me.
And where there's wool, there's yarn.
The tradition of carpet weaving
is integral to the local culture.
And across Turkey, families still make yarn from raw wool
and then weave carpets in the traditional
and painstaking way.
While they're ultimately sold in larger stores,
many carpets continue to be made like this,
in people's homes,
to supplement the family income.
Throughout Turkey, big carpet shops
hungrily welcome both tour groups and individuals.
Salesmen are on you like white on rice.
There's a lot to learn,
but these guys are salesmen first, teachers second.
Listen, learn, but don't be a pushover.
MAN: This is a personal decision.
Places like this really know how to sell carpets.
Before we go in, here's a shopper's tip.
Prices often build in a 20% commission
for the guide or the person who brought you.
And remember, even in a fancy place like this,
Now relax and enjoy the show.
MAN: Whenever you want, you can stand up,
you can touch them, you can walk on them,
you can feel them, you can buy them.
It's fun to find out as much as you can
about where the carpet was made,
whether there's any special meaning to the designs,
and the traditional techniques.
MAN: Could you just imagine
all those little designs,
all those little details made by hand.
And this carpet takes 24 months.
I mean, two years of time by two person.
You pay top dollar in a place like this,
but there's a good selection, you're assured of high quality,
and they make payment and shipping
almost too easy.
MAN: And, also, we will provide you
a beautiful Turkish Samsonite bag.
To venture beyond the touristic side of Cappadocia,
we're driving south
into the ancient and varied countryside.
Rest stops and rustic villages can lead to pleasant surprises
you'd never find in the bigger tourist stops.
Traditional life survives most vividly
in the small, rural towns.
And with a spirit of adventure, the curious traveler
is likely to stumble onto lots of cultural action.
This elaborate family festival
is celebrating an important event
in this child's life, his circumcision.
For Turkish boys, a circumcision is a cultural
and time-honored rite of passage.
All the family and friends gather
as the proud boy dresses up like a sultan prince.
As the festival unfolds, the party kicks into gear.
When the time comes,
the boy receives blessings from his elders.
And then loved ones gather to cheer him on.
Inside his home, his proud parents
lovingly support their child as he meets the doctor.
Meanwhile, the music and dancing in the backyard
continues for hours.
Traditionally, Turks love a good circumcision party.
Some call it "a wedding without the in-laws."
We're heading further south
to the remote and un-touristy town
The ancient town seems one
with the rock out of which it was carved.
16 centuries ago, monks built monasteries into the cliffside.
Erosion has driven most of the residents here
to more stable dwellings,
but some remain, and exploring the town,
you appreciate the tenacity of its people.
Though seemingly abandoned,
there's still life in the old town.
Residents somehow eke out a living
from its crumbling terraces
and neglected gardens.
People do their humble chores,
as if stubbornly refusing
to give up on their town.
This is the kind of discovery
I love to feature in my guidebooks.
It's a perfect back door. Almost no tourism,
lots of history, and plenty of character.
Today, like Turkey in general, Guzelyurt is Muslim.
But for centuries, Christians worshiped here,
and the city has an interesting connection
with Turkey's neighbor to the west, Greece.
Until the early 20th century,
Greece and Turkey were both part of the Ottoman Empire.
There were Muslim communities in Greece
and Greek Orthodox communities here in Turkey.
Like many Turkish towns, Guzelyurt was once a Greek town.
Then, in the 1920s, they had a huge population swap.
Most Christians here were moved to Greece,
and Muslims there were sent to Turkey.
That's why Guzelyurt's historic church is now a mosque.
Today, its single minaret indicates that this
is a valley where the people call God Allah.
Above that 1,600-year-old church are Seljuk arches,
Ottoman facades, and on the horizon
gleams the tin dome of the main modern mosque.
The market square is the heart of Guzelyurt.
It's busy with people enjoying petite glasses
of sweet chai and the happy clatter
of backgammon dice.
Ah, it's sixes! Ha!
That's good! Look at that!
And easy way to have fun with locals
is over a game of backgammon,
a daily treat for me anywhere in Turkey.
If you don't know how to play,
it's no problem.
If you pause, someone will likely move for you.
Okay. Oh, nice, huh?
Nice game. Thank you.
Very good. [Laughs]
My partner, my good luck.
And my friendly opponent, Kadir,
is taking us to meet his family.
Greetings are warm but formal.
As is the norm in Muslim households,
leave your shoes at the door.
The eldest gets the most respect.
A splash of cologne leaves us refreshed and clean.
Tea making is given great importance and done with pride.
And good luck if you want it without sugar.
As things loosen up, I share pictures of my children.
But now she's quite big.
She's like you, about like that, yeah.
The daughters add to the fun,
and we enjoy a little Turkish fashion show.
And the grandfather entertains
with tales of 30 years of shepherding.
For me, intimate encounters like these
are as rewarding as visiting the great museums.
Before we leave Guzelyurt, we've got an appointment
with the imam back at the old church.
Originally the Church of St. Gregory,
this was first built in 385 AD.
While Christians worshiped here 1,600 years ago,
today it functions as a mosque.
The imam has agreed to a short interview.
Imam means "teacher."
He'd be the equivalent of a Christian pastor.
Thank you for allowing us to be in your mosque.
The government pays your wage.
How do you contribute to your community?
ARAN: He says that my primary duty
is to lead the prayer in he mosque,
which means that they're the caretaker of the mosque,
and give information to the people
whenever they want to have some religious education information.
So be available to them to answer questions.
We don't have regular work hours.
We have to be alert 24/7.
Meet the needs of the community when there is a wedding,
when there is a funeral, when there is a circumcision,
when they're in trouble.
Imam is among the very first people
they would seek for help, advice.
Five times every day, I hear the call to prayer.
It says, "God is great. There is one God.
He is Allah. Muhammad is his prophet."
Does that mean Muhammad is the only prophet
or the last prophet,
and where does that leave Jesus?
It is our faith to believe in all prophets.
There is no difference to us
between Muhammad, Moses, Abraham, or Jesus.
The only difference is we recognize Muhammad
as the last prophet.
Okay. If you could share one message
to the United States of America, what would that be?
He requests that people do not believe
the distorted view of Islam,
but try to understand and learn what really it is.
He requests people not to say Islam equals the terrorism,
because it is not.
When the Imam calls the people to pray,
he's saying, "God is great. There is one God
and Muhammad is his prophet."
This global wave of praise
races as fast as the sun five times a day across Islam,
from Malaysia to Morocco and beyond.
Throughout Islam, fundamentalism is on the rise.
Many Turks see this as a threat to their democracy.
Modern-minded Turks, while still Muslims,
want their government to preserve
the separation of mosque and state.
In fact, a constitutional obligation of Turkey's military
is to overthrown its own government
if ever it becomes a theocracy.
It's a complicated issue, and there is a rising tide
of fundamentalism here among Turks.
But the people I've met seem determined
to maintain the secular ideals of Ataturk.
A good place to sample today's Turkish character is in Ankara.
A small provincial town just a century ago,
today, Ankara, with over four million people,
is the vibrant capitol of a modern nation.
The city is a thriving example of Turkey's new affluence.
Energized by busy boulevards,
prestigious universities, and striking malls,
Ankara is contemporary Turkey.
If Turkey is more modern and comfortable with the West
than other Islamic countries,
it's because of its greatest statesman --
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
This is the mausoleum and memorial museum
honoring the father of modern Turkey.
Inside the museum tells the story of this amazing man,
whose career started as a military hero.
It's hard to overstate the importance
It's been said that the Turkish nation
should thank God for Ataturk...
and thank Ataturk for everything else.
Mustafa Kemal was a heroic leader in the First World War.
After the war, he drove out the Allied occupation forces,
overthrew the Ottoman sultan,
and saved Turkey from European colonization.
Then, in 1923, he established today's Turkish Republic.
A grateful nation renamed him Ataturk
or "father of the Turks."
As the first president of the republic,
he built the foundation of modern democracy here
on the ruins of a corrupt empire.
A long hall celebrates
the impressive accomplishments of Ataturk.
He separated mosque and state,
replaced the Arabic script with Europe's alphabet,
introduced western-style industry,
and legislated equality for all citizens.
The memorial site is grandiose, with avenues of lions
and formal guards giving visitors
a sense of patriotism and nationalism.
The mausoleum itself crowns the site like a grand temple,
giving those who visit
a feeling of reverence and respect.
Pilgrims from all corners of Turkey
stand before the tomb of Ataturk
and remember the father of their nation.
Traveling here, we get to know that nation,
and I find it's the faces that best tell the story.
It's a land of diversity and contrast,
a complex mix of people and history,
where old and new thrive side by side.
The holy and the secular...
farmers and students...
villagers and hipsters...
the young and old...
those who whirl when they pray
and those who don't pray at all...
those who wear scarves and those who don't...
couples, and kids.
Traveling here, like traveling anywhere,
the key ingredient of the experience is the people.
As we've seen here in Turkey, when you travel thoughtfully,
get out of your comfort zone, and meet real people,
you gain empathy and come home with my favorite souvenir,
a broader perspective.
Thanks for joining us. I'm Rick Steves.
Until next time, keep on traveling.
And people up there looking for you, trying to get you.
And if you have one message
to tell the people of the United States of America...
[Cell phone rings]
Hey, look at this.