Stones and Garbage, Nevsehir

Sevim at the dump

Paul, Willemijn, the new artist from Portugal, Marina, and I spent some time in the area around Nevsehir yesterday. Marina is a wood sculptor working on large totem-like structures in abstract patterns. However, wood is difficult to get ahold of here because all the trees and branches lying around are owned by the villagers and can’t be taken without permission. So perhaps Marina will work in stone until she can manage to get wood.

So we headed out to a stone quarry and carving studio between Goreme and Nevsehir. On the way we stopped to have a look at one of the three “Love Valleys” here, so called because of their large erect penis-like formations in stone.

At the stone quarry, the owner, Violette from France, showed us around the place, pointing out the various types of stone and the sorts of carving they do with it. The workmen, as is usual here, did not wear any protective gear, not even goggles … They are working on a reproduction of the stone entrance door from a very old mosque; it has been commissioned by a new mosque in the area. Made of soft, yellow stone, the carving and motifs are beautiful. As we sipped a cup of tea, Violette showed Willemijn and Marina around and gave Marina two pieces of yellow stone to try out for free. She also offered to let Marina come to the shop and learn carving as an apprentice and, if she’s good, she can have a job there carving. Apparently, it is difficult to get good carvers in this area and the quarry has lots of commissions to be done.

From the quarry, we could see, carved into the hill opposite by a foreign artist, the outline of a large horse. Based on the Trojan horse, it is actually a wall made from 3 meter high stones which can be seen from quite far away. The word Cappadocia means “Land of the Horses”.

Our next stop was the garbage dump. We travelled here through a rather desolate steppe landscape of grass and bare dark rock bereft of trees – no tourist brochure landscapes here. As usual, blue garbage bags and other refuse blighted the view. This garbage has been dumped illegally by people too lazy to make the drive all the way up to the real dump …

Upon arriving at the dump proper, we were approached by the head guy to whom Willemijn explained that we were artists wanting to see a different side of Turkey. He allowed us to take pictures of the dump but said no photos of people or their houses (we did sneak some, as you can see, but did not take full face photos of anyone unless they gave permission). The people you see in the pictures, Kurds from eastern Turkey, live here. Their houses are made from dump garbage, as are their clothes, the toys the children play with and the food they eat. Everything they subsist on comes from foraging in the dump. Men and women work all day long, shifting through the garbage, separating out things they can use and things that can be recycled; the recycling material then gets picked up and taken elsewhere for processing. Amazingly, there was little stink and no flies; the mounds of garbage not used get covered over with layers of furnace ashes, also taken from the garbage dropped off, to decontaminate it.

One woman sitting on a bag of garbage spent a few minutes talking to Willemijn about herself. Sevim said she was from Urfa, that she had had a nice house with a nice garden there, but had been married 5 months ago to a garbage man and was now living on the dump. She can’t read or write and does not know how old she is. We speculated that, since she’s only been married 5 months, and women marry in their mid teens in these villages and rural areas, she must be only 16 or so, even though she looks like she’s in her early 30s. This life ages you fast. She was only able to talk for a few minutes before a man who we assumed to be her husband indicated that she had to get back on the job; she got up, grabbed a huge bag of garbage and moved off.

The houses here, all made from other people’s disgards, are arranged more or less like nomadic tents, in a kind of circle. Strangely, these junk-houses all have satellite dishes – people have TV here. I don’t know whether or not the dishes came from the dump or whether they used some of the money they get for doing this work to buy them. Unreal … All the children here are illiterate and the likelihood of any of them getting out of this life is remote. They have no cars; two large delivery trucks sit broken down in front, one of which has already been converted into a living space for someone. Although they must know that there is a different life somewhere else, that TV fantasy life does not appear as a reality to which they could ever aspire. These folks are on the lowest rung of the economic and social totem pole, living a life out of Charles Dicken’s 19th century imaginings.

See pictures here.

Alchemy: Performance Piece for an Audience of One


For my final installation at BCH, I have gathered up all the materials that I’ve worked with over the past month here. Over the last few days, I retrieved and installed the various bits and pieces in the upper cave house room. I wanted to create a kind of contemporary Sacra Conversazione, the Sacred Conversation of medieval and renaissance Christian art, using two tea house chairs on either side of the room. On one, a large skull; on the other, me and the clothes I purchased for winter in Cappadocia, worn since my arrival and now to be put away with the coming of Spring. I documented my construction of the piece over three days, at different times of day. Like all the installations I have made here, this one too is a Memento Mori.

See the complete set of images here. These are best viewed with the slide show function.



This is my second to last ruined cave house installation, Domesticity. Installed with Stefan’s doors, the piece includes eight headscarves with differently coloured wood block patterns, the pairs of knitted woolen socks I accumulated from the women in the villages here, tea house table and chair, and several found objects: pottery bowls and urns, empty walnut shells, oil lamps, a skull and bones.


See more pictures here.


There are 6 inches of snow on the ground here in Ibrahimpasa and it’s a wee bit chilly, especially after the beautiful day in the valley a couple of days ago. I can’t believe that it’s almost time for me to leave here. Although I had been to Cappadocia before, for three days last June, you don’t really get to see or appreciate the place at all unless you’ve been here for as long as I have and have hiked around the different valleys and towns. What a fantastic experience this has been for me. I have really enjoyed working in this environment; it has been inspirational. I highly recommend it!

Late last night another artist arrived, Marina from Portugal. I haven’t met her yet but hope her journey in the snow was not too bad. She is a sculptor in wood – at the moment the wood is all buried in snow but I’m sure in a day or two, the valleys and trees will reemerge from their white blanket. One good thing the snow does do is hide all the garbage lying in parts of the valley here – that is one part of this experience that has disturbed me. Perhaps one day the villagers will get hip to the fact that garbage just thrown away like that is disgusting. Paul told me about a rich American woman living in Ortahisar who has enough cash to hire people to clean the part of that valley that she looks out on from her house so that she can have a “clean view” … Too bad she doesn’t send some of her cash this village’s way.

For the last few days here I will work on my last two installations and possibly one more cave projection. And, if Spring returns, I will walk the Red Valley and possibly go to the Zelve Valley Open Air Museum. I leave on Wed April 1, flying first to Istanbul and then on to Dalyan on the south coast for the next leg of my journey.

Pancarlik Church and Monastery

Well, I did want to see the Cappadocian landscape in the snow but this is getting ridiculous – it snowed another 4 inches last night and the hills are white again. Yesterday, before the deluge, I rode the bike across the hills to the Pancarlik Church and Monastery complex between Ortahisar and Urgup. The church was closed, although I did see some evidence of the caretaker in the form of a kettle on the burnt out fire, but I wandered through the valley and looked into all the fairy chimney nooks and crannies. One chapel had been converted into a pigeon house and was full of lots of little pigeon sleeping niches. I didn’t notice when there, but when I looked at my photos this morning, I saw that two balloons were sailing over the landscape.

See pictures here.

Self Portrait with Vanitas

Self Portrait with Vanitas, detail

This piece is a photographic projection of 13 self portrait images on the wall of a ruined cave house in front of a still life of found objects. It is inspired by 17th century Dutch Vanitas paintings and the surroundings of Ibrahimpasa.

See more pictures here.

Walking from Ibrahimpasa to Orathisar

Yesterday, once again, Spring reasserted itself in Cappadocia. I woke up to blue skies, warm temperatures and birdies chirping. Paul asked me to join him on a walk through the valley to Ortahisar – that sounded good to me so we set off around 11:30. The stream through the valley floor was running fast and full; all the snow in the last little while must have swelled what is usually a small trickle to a decent sized stream. This meant that the stream banks were very, very muddy and we had to hop and gingerly step from one side of the stream to another as we negotiated our way along the valley. At times, we went up the banks and through orchards of fruit trees and meadows of dry waving grass. In this area families have gardens, many of which are no longer tended since the old folks have died and the children are not interested in being farmers and gardeners. Many, many fruit trees stand unkempt in these ancient orchards.

After about an hour or so of walking through the valley we reached a very large tunnel going under a very large fairy chimney. We entered and walked beneath this massive geographical formation for quite a while before emerging into a beautiful valley ringed with hills and chimneys. This is the valley of the Balkan church and monastery complex. Four rock cut churches are here, along with quite a large monastery cut into the rock.

One of these churches, a small one, has frescoed walls; one depicts a scene of Jesus baptizing St John, one of the very few images of a nude man in these parts. This church also has several rock-cut graves in its floor. Next to it, in a larger chimney, is the remains of quite a big church with relief sculptures cut into the walls and ceiling. Most of its dome is missing, having been sheared off into the valley some time in the past. I could see small trees growing on the roofs of these structures and their roots, burrowing into the stone, eventually cause the ceiling and walls to crack and give way. In this church is a carved image of the tree of life and a very large Byzantine or Greek cross surrounded by leaves representing the tree of life. In front of this cross is a hole which Paul thinks must have been a baptismal font (thus relating to the baptismal scene in the neighbouring church). These ruined churches have been used by local people in the recent past as stables. I could see small niches cut into the walls; these were used as troughs for feeding their animals. There are three types of niches in these buildings: long narrow holes in the ground – graves; semi-circular holes in the walls – graves; and small wall hollows – animal feeding troughs or pigeon resting places.

In two other close-by chimneys are two other churches, one with beautiful frescoes on the ceiling and pillars and 16 graves cut into the floor; these would have been for the monastic community here. Paul explained that there were three reasons for erecting churches in these valleys: to give glory to God (the church would not have actually been used); to bury the dead of the community (essentially a cemetery, not used as a church); and to worship. The first two kinds of churches, because they weren’t actually used as such, have clean, white walls. The third kind have dark, sometimes black, walls from the candles that were used during services.

The valley cliffs are full of pigeon houses, often decorated with painted motifs such as a carpet design, signifying “home”, red sun rays, or a tree of life. Many of these in this area have metal sheets added to them, a feature I’ve not seen before. The pigeon houses, with their tiny entrances, are cut into the soft rock here, while the churches, which were supposed to last longer, were cut into the harder, darker stone formations. A third kind of feature in these cliffs is very tiny openings, smaller than those for pigeons, which are entrances to bee houses. This area is well known for its honey and pecmez, a spread derived from honey.

From here we went down again to the valley floor and walked into Ortahisar town and up the cliffs on the side opposite. There we visited three more churches, two with red designs painted on the walls, one with the remains of frescoes, and the last, a black church, probably stained by fire. The first two churches are now used as pigeon houses and have small sleeping niches for the birds cut into the walls. The black church is now used as a stable; a metal cart sits in front of the altar and a pile of straw in one corner. The domes are intact here and feature the same byzantine cross-tree of life motif, except painted on the wall rather than carved into it. Part of the wall has been destroyed and the hillside dirt is sliding into the church. In a few years from now it will be buried.

A fantastic walk that took about 5 hours.

See pictures here.

See a video of Paul Broekman discussing the frescoes in one of the Balkan Churches at the link below:

Balkan Curch frescoes

Ruins in Nevsehir and Gore

Almut had told us about a fascinating church on the outskirts of Nevsehir, about 10 km from here. This place, build about 200 years ago, was first a Christian church, subsequently a prison, and then closed about 20 years ago and left with all its belongings intact. Over the years between then and now people had descended on the place and carted off all the usable items, including clothes and furniture. It is now an empty shell, existing somewhere in a twilight zone between church and prison, reminders of both still very much in evidence.

Both main entrances to the building are behind bars; inside, the rooms are numbered “Cell 1, Cell 2 …”.

Beside one of the doors is a yellow pillar which can be turned around by hand and, when turned, apparently used to open the door. Each room in what would have been the nave seems to have been painted a different colour; some are blue, pink and yellow. Graffiti adorns the walls.

The ceiling leaks; water drips in and forms pools on the ground and stains the walls and ceilings. It is very disconcerting to see reminders of church architecture in the form of pillars and arches in a building whose interior has been almost completely altered for another, possibly more sinister purpose.

Bits of fresco remain on some of the walls, although the images cannot be made out. It is possible, if one is small, to enter the upstairs space through a hole in the barred door. Willemijn and I slipped inside, went up the stairs and were treated to an interior that still retained much of its character as a holy space.

Niches with paintings and arches were still present; I could make out a nativity scene on one wall.

Many stones stood piled in a corner. A sign on the outside of the building warns people that the building is not to be touched, otherwise locals would make off with the stones one by one for their own building projects and leave only a faint trace of foundations. Such foundations, remnants of old stone homes, can still be seen throughout this area; however, if one did not know these were houses, it wouldn’t be possible to identify them as such.

Outside, another smaller building stands near the church. This was used as a barber shop during the structure’s prison days.

Close by the large church is another, smaller domed building which appears to have been a chapel converted by a local family into their home and subsequently, after the family left or was pushed out, fallen into ruins. Here below the larger of the two domes it is possible to see the concrete skeleton of a house built inside the chapel. The domes have both partially collapsed, as have many of the walls. Again, bits of graffiti stain the walls, along with charcoal from fires and small piles of rubbish.

Next, just a bit farther along the road, still on the outskirts of Nevsehir, we came to another ruined set of buildings. These were once a mosque, then a school, finally torn down by the municipality and left to rot. This place was incredibly interesting, both beautiful and grotesque in its decrepitude. Paint-peeled walls, stained floors, rubbish, broken windows, graffiti, skulls and bones, bits of broken tile, empty nut shells and plastic bottles adorn the empty rooms. Again here the roof leaks and everywhere water was dripping in, from the ceiling, from the broken windows and from the doorframes.

From here, we made our way to Gore (meaning “sight”) and explored a small city of ruined Greek houses on a high hillside lying just outside where the present-day population of the town lives. While we were there, many vans and buses with loudspeakers mounted on their roofs drove by blasting out nationalistic Turkish music urging people to vote this way or that. These houses are made of much darker and harder stone that that in Ibrahimpasa and were painted in slightly different colours, including orange. The overall feeling of this deserted village was not as friendly as that of Ibrahimpasa, probably because of its situation on such a steep, forbidding incline. I would have hated to be an old person in that village … impossible to leave one’s home without help.

As the day passed, the sky cleared and the sun came out; as a result, though, it got very cold and the snow stayed on the ground. We stopped at a place that sold trout from several large concrete pools in their backyard. After Paul’s conversation with the proprietor, he and his son scooped out several trout and gutted them for our dinner – very fresh fish …

I found the day to be absolutely fascinating. These are places that I would never have found on my own; I would never even have known they were there. And they were some of the most interesting spaces I have ever been in.

See pictures here, here and here.

PS: Today, August 26, 2011, I was delighted to receive an email from Nick, whose grandparents had lived in Nevsehir prior to the Greece-Turkey population exchange in 1924, who provided me with more information about these sites; I take the liberty of posting his message here:

“Vasilis – a cousin of mine – told me about your site, he found newly. I was so fascinated to read your post “Ruins in Nevsehir and Gore” and see your wonderfull pictures!

It’s still a mystery to me, how your fate showed you the way to discover this place, that was till that day unknown to you, but means a lot to us, as this was the city our grandparents lived and had to leave forever 1924 during the dreadful population exchange between Greece and Turkey.

The part of the city you visited was the greek mahalle (neighborhood). The church, dedicated to the Assumption (Ieros Naos Koimiseos tis Theotokou), was builded 1849, during the Tanzimat period and is one of the biggest stone-builded churches in Cappadocia. Unfortunatelly, it was turned into a prison (1950-1983) and still stays in this abject situation…
Also, the chapel you mention was a beautiful hamam (bathhouse), builded 1892. Finally, the tower on your photos is the bell tower of the church of Hagios Georgios, added 1870.

We would like to thank you for posting your photos and sharing your experiences! Looking forward to meat you someday, maybe in Cappadocia”.

Receiving messages like this is one of the joys of blogging!