Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Glorious Ceramics of Cappadocia

Tourists seem to wear some sort of invisible sign that says "I want to spend lots of money! I especially want to spend money on local or ethnic craft goods! Fleece me!" Any tour or cruise I have been on inevitably lands in some workshop where we are given a complimentary snack and/or beverage, we sit through a detailed demonstration of the local art form, and then we get the hard sell:

Buy Mexican silver jewelry! Buy Indian carpets! Hey, buy Turkish carpets instead! Buy Italian shoes! Indian marble inlay! Mexican blankets! Indian silks! Turkish dolls! Hungarian dolls! Turkish leather! More jewelry! Pottery! Buy it, buy it!

Well, I'm a dutiful tourist; I admit it. I buy stuff. I try to avoid spending too much, but I do want to take home just a little memory or two... or more...

My trip to Turkey was no exception. Our tour group was taken to a leather store, a pottery store, and two rug stores, all of which did the "dining, demo, and sell" combination. That's not even counting all the shopping I did on my own every chance I got!

Ceramics in Cappadocia

The Cappadocia region of Turkey is famous for its earthenware pottery, even back in the times of the Hittites. The red silt from the local river, Kizilirmak (Red River) makes good pottery. We went to a ceramics place called Omurlu Ceramic in Avanos, Nevsehir, Turkey.

One of the potters demonstrated making thrown pots using a kick wheel. Omurlu is a family business, and he has been doing this for most of his life.

He constructed a teapot during his demo. First he made what looked like a tall thin vase, then a fatter, wider pot. He cut the tall thin vase and formed it into a spout, attaching it to the pot. Finally he made the lid of the teapot. The last test was to see if he had gotten the lid to fit perfectly on the first try. He is a master potter, so of course it fit!

One member of our tour group answered his challenge to go up and try it. She has done pottery as a hobby for many years, so she did a pretty good job, though she had some trouble with the kick wheel. Hobbyist potters in the U.S. generally use electric wheels, which they expect to keep going around without being kicked!

We also saw demonstrations of making white ware, the fine ceramics that are beautifully glazed in fine detail with lustrous colors. The clay for white ware is much firmer and withstands the higher firing temperatures needed for the fine glazes. Here a potter spins the clay down over a mold that is attached to an electric wheel.

This plate shows the various stages of coloring, glazing and firing.

One of the big, complicated vases can take multiple months to make! I can't even imagine working on drawing a single design for months, but I'm not a master craftsperson like this woman...

Here is one of the big fancy vases finished, similar to what the woman was drawing in the demonstration workroom. A vase like this costs thousands of dollars just because of the intense skilled labor involved.

They had many beautiful pieces on display in the demonstration workroom.

For a color junkie like me, though, the main showroom was heaven.


My favorite pieces were the ones with the turquoise and dark blue glazes. This has always been one of my favorite color combinations--even when I was a kid, my bedsheets and curtains had turquoise and navy prints on them. The turquoise and blue pieces here just glowed in the light, with a depth of color that captivated me.

Even the ashtrays were beautiful!

After much wringing of hands and squeezing of wallet, I finally settled on a small plate and a tiny bowl from the following display:

My two little pieces didn't look like much compared to the magnificent vases and other large pieces in the showroom, but when I got them home, they still glowed. Ahh.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

It's a Tuff Life in Cappadocia

The Cappadocia region of Turkey is famous for pottery and carpets, but it's especially famous for its rocks. The volcanoes in the area, Erciyes and Hasan, spent millions of years belching out tons of volcanic ash and lava. Over time the layers of ash compacted, hardened, and became a soft crumbly rock called tuff (also called tufa). Because this rock is soft, it is easily eroded by water, wind, and sandstorms.

The landscape in Cappadocia is straight out of a sculptor's fantasy. Towers and turrets, caves and caverns abound.

During the last few thousand years, humans have helped the erosion along by carving into the rock to make homes, churches, and roosting holes for pigeons. Even entire towns were carved into the sides of hills.

In the picture below, people had been living and carving in this hill for so long, without knowing where other people were carving, that it weakened the rock too much. Eventually the whole hill face broke off and crashed down about 50 years ago. The village has been rebuilt nearby (on the ground).

The hotel I stayed in, Cappadocia Cave Suites, was built into existing caves that had been carved into a hillside (the government now restricts new carving to avoid further overcarving problems like the collapsed village above). The picture below shows the remains of an old Christian church whose outer wall had collapsed previously. The hotel room is right underneath it. Builders shore up or augment the caverns with blocks of stone (more tuff) and concrete.

Here is an area where humans haven't changed the landscape quite so much (though the small trees in the foreground are part of an orchard of fruit trees):

Note the size of the poplar trees at the bottom of the ravine in the following picture. They are probably 30-40 feet tall.

Ashes Aren't Just Ashes
The location in the picture above is known for the thickness and whiteness (purity) of the uppermost ash layer (because it was late in the afternoon, there isn't so much light down in the ravine, so the colors aren't as vivid). Other layers are different colors. Red layers indicate ash that had a high amount of iron in it, while yellow layers indicate a high sulfur content.

Sometimes you see larger pieces of rock (lava) that were caught in between layers of ash and then eroded into view. Look for the little dark rock about halfway up the tower:

The layers have different hardnesses as well. That's why erosion leaves the "mushroom caps", or seemingly-loose rocks perched atop a rock column. The harder layers don't erode, while the softer layers erode out from under them.

Up, Up, and Away
Flying up above Cappadocia in a hot air balloon provides a very different perspective of the lava and tuff rock formations. From here you can get a much broader view of the various layers. For example, it's easy to see that thick white layer of ash across a wide area that includes many ravines:

It's also easy to see how the lava created a huge flat surface, and how water created valleys as it ran down the rock (and you can see the snow-covered volcano in the distance):

Farmers have planted everywhere they can find a flat surface, including on top of the ancient lava and ash flows and down inside the water-carved valleys. Volcanic soil is very fertile if you can find a big enough space to plant.

Towns huddle at the bottom of the carved rocks:

Cappadocia is a true wonder of the world. For the gawker, it's an amazing place with fantastic formations every way you turn. For the day-dreamer, it's a place to imagine castles, camels, and embracing lovers. For the artist, it's Nature's Art on a grand scale. For the geology fan, it rocks!