Rick Steves’ Europe


Central Turkey

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.

AIRED: October 14, 2014 | 0:25:04

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

ready-made refuge.

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

underground levels.

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.

[Speaking Turkish]

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.


[Speaks Turkish]

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,

bargaining's expected.

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

of Guzelyurt.

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!

Boom! Boom!

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?

[Speaking Turkish]

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?

[Speaking Turkish]

It is our faith to believe in all prophets.


[Speaking Turkish]

There is no difference to us

between Muhammad, Moses, Abraham, or Jesus.

[Speaking Turkish]

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?

[Speaking Turkish]

He requests that people do not believe

the distorted view of Islam,

but try to understand and learn what really it is.

[Speaking Turkish]

He requests people not to say Islam equals the terrorism,

because it is not.

[Calling Adhan]

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

of Ataturk.

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,

emancipated women,

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...

families, widows,

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.

Gule gule.



And people up there looking for you, trying to get you.

Ha! [Chuckles]

And if you have one message

to tell the people of the United States of America...

[Cell phone rings]


Hey, look at this.

[Sheep bleating]

[Imitating goats]


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