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The cradle of civilization reaches across Asia and Europe welcoming all who enter with its majestic beauty.

  by Wafa Kanan

There I was in Europe’s Capital of Culture: Istanbul. Sitting astride two continents, I awoke to a crisp October morning, barely 55 degrees, gazing from Istanbul's heart across the Bosphorus strait to its Asian shores, scarcely a mile away. While all of this glory ahead of me I was daydreaming about another place in Turkey that promised gluttony for my eyes aching from seeing strip malls for hundreds of straight days. My mind was on Cappadocia.

Turkey's geological phenomena are prominently displayed at the massively eroded plateau of fragile volcanic stone in Cappadocia some 200 miles southeast of Ankara.

There, not far from the market town of Nevshir, wind and water have carved out pyramids, caves, columns and cones. Your imagination takes you from there, drawing a thousand ancient pictures.

The compelling natural beauty is accompanied by the the unique hollowed-out caves of chapels and cells which early communities of hermits and monks carved into the soft rock. As a salute to Byzantine architecture, the chapels are shaped like crosses and have columns, arches, vaults and domes, all sculpted from the rock.

Along the walls of their cells the monks carved tables, benches, cupboards, ovens and sometimes even graves. To reach many of the rooms, they cut deep passageways into the rock, devising hidden ventilation shafts and an intriguing security system where flat rounded stones could be rolled by a single man on the inside, but couldn’t be budged from the outside. Here they waited, hidden, through long silent days of siege, or retreated from passing marauders. It's easy to see why the visions of Cappadocia carve a permanent place in your memory.

Back to the present, I check my watch, almost willing the room service to my suite at the sprawling Bosphorus Four Seasons. [Don’t let me get too misty about the Four Seasons in the middle of my article, so check out the sidebar piece in another part of the ALO site.] I can taste the foul (fava beans seasoned with garlic, lemon, olive oil and salt), fresh pita, soft cheese, olives, and Turkish coffee. The thought of the rich coffee recalls the strong blends of the brew I had yesterday during my self-guided Istanbul walking tour.

The best thing about the Middle East is the outdoor dining. All of my U.S. meals seem to be within the confines of a restaurant's four walls. Here, you enjoy the fresh air and gain a cultural perspective over some coffee. About the only thing better than the coffee is the heritage and sights found at the Basilica Cistern. 

The gigantic underground water storage chamber located in the heart of Istanbul was used for over 1,000 years during the Byzantine Empire. The yellow-shadowed stone and marble columned masterpiece are magnificent, while the acoustics inside create an interesting mood. As intriguing as Basilica is, Topkapi Palace provides an even greater shock to the senses.

Home of sultans for almost 400 years, the Topkapi Sarayi aka the Palace of the Cannon Gate was the seraglio at the heart of the immense Ottoman Empire. Topkapi's hundreds of rooms, concubines, children, and eunuch servants were subject to each Sultan’s iron fisted paranoid rule, replete with secret chambers for listening to furtive discussions by his senators.

The sheer size of the palace mandates...


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