on January 9, 2010
The ancients firmly believed in the genius loci, or spirit of places. Their personification would be nymphs – nymphs of the forest, nymphs of the mountain, nymphs of the trees and of the streams and the springs. And walking in the Ihlara Valley I found myself thinking along the same lines. It was a magical place. I could definitely believe that this tranquil trickling brook could have its own associated naiad splashing among the overhanging trees.The Ihlara Valley is a great green gash in the otherwise semi-arid Cappadocian plateau. Over the years the little tinkling Melendiz has incised its way down through the soft tuff, carving a canyon disproportionately large for such a pretty stream. Its path is a jumble of rocks and green woodland. A walking trail hugs its bank for the entire 6km length of valley between Ihlara and Selime. Despite the increasing numbers who come to Ihlara this path meanders and it is easy to lose the track – just keep following the river though. This hidden valley was colonised by those who liked their isolation. Churches are carved into the valley walls, their walls and ceiling decorated with naïve religious frescoes on whitewashed plaster. I descended the flight of several hundred steps that wound down from the carpark half-way between Ihlara and Belisirma. This brings you down right beside one of the main churches, the Ağaçalti Kilise (‘Church under the Tree’). Scenes I recognised included Daniel in the lions’ den and the presentation of the Magi. Doing my tour guide bit I gestured at the three wise men with their beards and pointed hats and stated authoratively that the three Magi were known as Melchior, Balthasar, and Dumbledore. Though looking back now I think I may have been mistaken about Balthasar…Though much as it pains me to admit it, it was not the churches that are the main attraction. Rather the valley itself was just a real joy to walk along. There are a couple of sections where I had to climb over boulders, but other than that the way was easy. Shaded by the tree canopy, with the brook tinkling musically alongside, this was a beautiful little stroll. Birds chirped overhead, dragonflies flitted past, and trout could be seen in the water. Where the valley opened out carved openings could be seen in the rock walls – houses, churches and dovecotes. Once I had managed to get away from the crowds I found myself strolling along in peace, falling under the spell of the Ihlara Valley.Reaching Belisirma I caught up with the rest of my group. Eagerly we pulled off our shoes, rolled up our trousers, and went for a paddle in the stream. Inquisitive fish circled our ankles. Ducks quacked at us. And a cat led the way to the restaurants here. These straggled alongside the water. We stopped to eat at the Aslan. My first bottle of Efes lager went down a treat, and soon I was tucking into the delicate pink flesh of a grilled trout (possibly from the very same river!), served with couscous and salad. Afterwards we retired to a wooden pier built on stilts over the stream. Furnished with a canopy and cushions we relaxed here above the tinkling brook finishing off our beer. The perfect ending to a perfect stroll down a perfect valley. The nymph of the Ihlara Valley had well and truly cast her spell over me!
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