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The desire to fly got a strong hold on me in Alahan: strap on some wings; jump off the cliff and physically fly above this outrageously spectacular Byzantine monastery to take the spiritual air in before, obviously ascending to an even higher place. Heaven, if lucky. There is nothing quite like Alahan. Its location, high up in the forested Taurus Mountains, is a staging post for elevation.

The monastery sits on a narrow shelf overlooking the valley and the Göksu River and its surrounding mountains. The churches, form the late fifth and early sixth centuries, are grafted onto the rocks that look like melting Mars bars. Elaborate friezes and relief sculptures of the Envangelists and the two archangels, but also fishes and grapes, show a delicate human hand at work. The font in the baptistry is in the shape of a cross and carved from rock. Another church and some monastic cells are set in the caves, caves being the best places to assert the strong point of view that you are here on condition of being left alone by the world.

But Alahan’s reputation as a kind of Christian Delphi guarantees that, helpfully intoxicated by altitude and the spicy smell of pine trees and whatever else was at hand, the early Pagan-Christian rituals were vigorously excercised here. And that after a quick session in a cave, you could worship a tree or go dancing with the fairies in the woods. The steep road up into these solitary mountains slowly prepares for it. Apricot- and ecru-coloured cliff faces; charcoal-coloured rock formations, a thin bluish haze and then, suddenly, the odd tree decorated with coloured strips of fabric. This is a modern ritual in Turkey, for good luck, to wish for something better in the future, to entice God to make those wishes come true. Call it superstition, magic, an Anatolian form of flower power, whatever, the mountains edging the coast east of Antalya have always been home to it…

From notes by Jacqueline de Gier for her article, ‘A spectacular point of view’, Cornucopia 23

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Issue 66, December 2023 Turkey’s Centenary Issue
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